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Does Your Life Depend on Your CIO? Mine Does

A rock-solid strategy for improving communications between you and your CIO.
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Like many CEOs, I'm more than a tad confused, if not frustrated, by the techspeak-laden emails distributed by my firm's CIO, Deivis Baez.  

Whether they are about cloud-computing updates, mobility, analytics, or technical upgrades being made on our server, I sometimes feel like I'm trying to decipher the Dead Sea Scrolls.  
 
And, I know I'm not alone. A recent 
McKinsey survey of some 1,700 CEOs, CFOs, and CIOs pointed to a major communications disconnect between the groups. That's because we speak different languages. 
 
We entrepreneurs pontificate about vision, strategy, outflanking competitors, and understanding the mindset of the customer. CFOs care about profit and loss, cash flow, head count, and year-end bonuses. As for CIOs, well, they talk about a lot of things that make my eyes gloss over.  

A New Path 

That remained the case until three years ago, when Deivis, our longtime top technology honcho, caught wind of one of my passions: mountain, ice, and rock climbing.
 
He asked if he could tag along on the next trip. I was delighted. But I had no idea what to expect, because I was used to climbing with buddies, not co-workers.  
 
Well, Deivis is now a buddy and a co-worker whose techspeak I finally understand. And, in exchange, Deivis has become part of my inner climbing circle. We simply don't plan a new trip without including Peppercomm's CIO.  
 
But the benefits go far beyond male bonding.

An Atypical Water Cooler Conversation 

When we climb, we begin at sunrise and continue until sundown. That's a lot of time to spend with someone, even as part of a group. So, as you might expect, our conversation inevitably turns to either my firm's strategy and direction, its IT infrastructure needs, or a status update on the latest office romance.  

I'll bet I've had more in-depth conversations with Deivis during the past three years' worth of climbing than we've had in the entire 10 years prior to our climbing connection.  
 
When we're not roping up, setting an anchor, or battling the loose scree near the top of a 7,000-foot, 12-mile-long mountain, Deivis will take the time to explain Peppercomm's technology challenges. And he does so in layman's terms. He'll describe the various options for, say, connecting our four offices by videoconference technology and why he prefers one approach over another. That's key, because I can now run interference when one of our other executives turns down Deivis's recommendation because of cost or capabilities. I can help him fight his fights for the good of the business.  
 
And, on his end, Deivis receives early-warning alerts about planned expansions, new high-level employees, and competitive issues that keep me awake nights. He also provides an extra pair of eyes and ears in terms of workplace culture developments.  
 
We recently rock and mountain climbed five or six mountains in Nevada's rugged Red Rock Canyon. I do not exaggerate when I say that, at certain points in time, Deivis held my life in his hands and vice versa.  

IT for Dummies

I no longer furrow my brows when Deivis sends a staffwide memo explaining some new technological marvel. Instead, I'll IM him and write, "WTF, D. Put that last announcement in one sentence that even I can understand."  
 
I'm not suggesting that you, and your top technology whizzes, risk life and limb in order to build a better working relationship.

But I will tell you this: Deivis and I are at the point where we can finish each other's sentences. And, critically, he now knows Peppercomm's strategic direction and can make the right technology choices because of the level of trust we've created.  
 
So, who's up for tackling the Physical Graffiti multipitch climb in Red Rock Canyon? Sure, it's 1,000 feet above the desert floor, and the only thing keeping you, and your IT guy, from certain death is a rope about the width of your index finger. But just think of the money you'll save the next time you want to invest in technology and your CIO sends you a note you actually understand.  

IMAGE: Courtesy Company
Last updated: Apr 4, 2014

STEVE CODY | Columnist

I'm a climber, comedian, and dog lover. But not necessarily in that order. I also happen to be co-founder and CEO of Peppercomm, a strategic communications firm headquartered in NYC, with offices in San Francisco and London. I publish RepMan, a daily blog, and have had the opportunity to appear on CNBC, MSNBC, NPR, and a host of other top-tier media over the years. scody@peppercomm.com

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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