7 signs of success for insurance CIOs

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Today’s CIO position is becoming increasingly more challenging. CIOs are expected to understand and embrace new technologies, defend the company against market disruptors, manage reliable services at lower costs, and, above all, keep corporate assets secure. Core system implementations can take years, making it hard to maintain momentum and enthusiasm within your organization. Here is a self-assessment checklist to better understand if you are doing enough to be successful in your role:

Do you have a clear set of priorities that are shared and understood? Organizations need leadership in times of uncertainty. If people don’t know what is truly important, they can’t make informed choices. Effective CIOs establish and communicate a short list of priorities linked to business objectives so that everyone can align and contribute. Ask your direct reports to list the top priorities for your organization, then ask them why these priorities are important and what they mean to them individually. You’ll know immediately if your message is clear and understood.

Have you identified current risks and are you managing them? It’s one thing to know you have software on unsupported versions or key positions that lack depth. It is another thing to actively manage these risks. Do you have an evergreen policy and are you investing in renewing your technology portfolio? Do you have a cross training, recruiting, and retention program? Do you regularly review large program risk assessments and mitigation strategies against objective criteria? Too often, risks are known and accepted by default. Your assessment should focus on how objectively you are identifying risk and how proactively you are implementing mitigation plans.

Do you talk more about the future rather than explaining the past? CIOs who are constantly asked to explain outages, overages, or service gaps need to recognize this as a sign that customer satisfaction is not at the level it should be, and that they need to accelerate improvement or try a different approach. CIOs who try to talk about the future but aren’t listened to need to realize that they have yet to establish credibility within their organization. Successful CIOs look for modest initial quick hits at the start of long term programs to establish credibility and establish transparency and partnerships within their organization so that overruns are rarely a surprise and are managed as joint decisions. They articulate a plan, initiate action, and continually communicate about the steps needed to achieve their goals. They establish a vision and have others contribute ideas and energy to help realize the desired future state. While CIOs need to have internal operational metrics, you should also evaluate whether you are communicating in terms of expected and actual impact measures that are likely important to your peer group.

Are your direct reports bringing you problems or solutions? A successful CIO is continually developing his or her surrounding talent, encouraging analytical thinking, decision-making, and risk-taking. Autocratic CIOs who make all the decisions for their organizations are not developing talent. In today’s world, where talent is in demand and tours of duty are short, leaders need to be constantly developing talent and bench strength. One way of assessing your skills in this area is by noting the number of open-ended questions you ask each of your direct reports, who sets agendas for update meetings, and how often positive feedback is given. A great way to improve in this area is to create soft skill-development plans for each of your direct reports, periodically discussing how to approach problems, and having informal feedback sessions.

Are your employees actively recruiting for you? If you have created a positive work environment, then your employees will tell their friends. Conversely, if they aren’t enjoying their current position, they will be talking to their friends about other opportunities. People want to be proud of where they work. What is the brand reputation you are establishing for your company? Studies show that recognition and engagement in decision-making are key to retaining and attracting talent to your organization.

Are major corporate decisions made with or without you? Direct reporting relationships and titles are often listed as measures of organizational respect and position. However, the real test is looking at which decisions involve you and which decisions exclude you. With Chief Technology Officer, Chief Digital Officer, and Customer Experience Officer positions being created at many organizations, CIOs must operate in matrix organizations. This can lead to role ambiguity and, at times, self-doubt. CIOs who are engaged and add value to decision-making processes by objectivity, technology, and fresh business insight are invited to participate. CIOs who are negative, lack creativity, and talk only about risks can find decisions being made for them by others. The most successful CIOs are helping organizations make the necessary decisions. It is important for CIOs to look externally for ideas and trends and to make sure they are bringing the right perspective to strategic decisions.

Are you having fun? Chances are, if you are doing the things listed above, you are having a lot more fun than individuals who aren’t, but the real fun comes when you have a passion about your work that becomes contagious. Do you celebrate minor successes? Do you make time to keep balance in your life? Do you greet people enthusiastically at the beginning of a meetings? If your life were made into a movie, what would be the theme music played as you walked through the office? Most people would agree that leaders like Elon Musk or Richard Branson would be very interesting to talk to. Are you? Do you bring energy into a room or do you create stress?

If you aren’t satisfied with any of the answers to these questions, it is time to reevaluate your decisions and priorities. As a leader, you can be a change agent for your organization by starting with yourself. If you need help, seek a mentor or look for examples from others who are succeeding in areas you are targeting for improvement. The most important thing is not to become complacent. You can always learn and improve.

This blog entry has been reprinted with permission from Novarica.

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