Syncing up with your CEO

Pleasing the boss - simple in concept

Randy G. Burdick, executive vice president and CIO at OfficeMax, reports to the CEO, and he says pleasing the boss is simple in concept. "He is pleased by the business doing better," Burdick explains.

After that, things get a bit more complicated. "It's a matter of being well integrated with the entire executive team," Burdick says. So helping the Illinois-based retailer "do better" requires him to embrace the disparate goals of marketing, finance, supply chain operations, store operations, the legal department and human resources.

Burdick and other Premier 100 IT Leaders can generally tick off precise lists of their CEOs' goals, from high- level guidance such as "Improve our competitive position" to detailed prescriptions such as "Increase margins in Latin America by 3.5%." They report a variety of strategies for meeting these goals, but most say success requires strict discipline tempered by a deft handling of human relations.

As a CIO, Burdick isn't unusual these days in occupying a special role among executives at his company. "The CEO came to me and said he wanted a five-year plan, and he asked me to pull that together," Burdick says. He was also tapped to head an enterprise project management office.

But Burdick is careful to point out that he isn't some kind of planning or project management czar with power over non-IT areas. His role is more one of a "catalyst" around the planning process, he says.

In addition to drawing guidance from overall corporate goals, Burdick is expected to pay attention to the goals of individual projects, not just IT projects. Most of the business projects are measured by their internal rate of return, a way of calculating a financial return via discounted cash flow. Other initiatives, including many pure IT projects, instead have "compliance" goals -- like addressing some regulatory requirement such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

Burdick acknowledges that disputes with other business unit managers can arise over priorities and goals. "First, we have a debate on it, privately," he explains. "If I feel really strongly about it, I'll tee it up at the executive steering committee."

If he doesn't feel strongly about it, he'll often accede to the wishes of the other manager. "The business gets to determine what we do. I get to determine how we do it," Burdick says.

Goal-oriented

Greg Smith, vice president of IT and CIO at the World Wildlife Fund in Washington, says he plays a similar role at the nonprofit organization. "A hidden role of the CIO, and one we should play more actively, is that of gatekeeper," he says. "I'm not going to rubber-stamp a project that has an IT implication that I don't think has merit."

Smith reports to the senior vice president of operations, and "it's pretty obvious what my supervisor expects," he says. One of those expectations is that Smith will vet all major World Wildlife Fund projects against five annual goals from the CEO. The closer a project proposal ties to those goals -- especially revenue-generating goals -- the more likely it is to be approved, Smith says.

One goal is to increase revenue overall, and another is to increase member support in 19 geographic regions where the World Wildlife Fund has special conservation programs.

Smith says the "governance structure" at World Wildlife Fund works well because it adheres to a for-profit model of accountability.

"[Our model] puts responsibilities and roles in the proper places [and] applies standards, procedures, methodologies and signatory sign-off," he says.

For example, Smith says, "I won't even consider buying or building a piece of software for a business unit until we have a signed-off requirements document."

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