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How Can a CIO Win Technologists’ ‘Love and Trust?’

Former public-sector IT leaders recently discussed how they learned to pivot, communicate and trust their teams — skills that they’ve carried over into their roles in the private sector.

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How does a chief information officer win the “love and trust” of their tech team?

That was among the questions posed at the recent California Public Sector CIO Academy* to a couple of veteran executives with deep backgrounds in public-sector IT governance who’ve transitioned to their current leadership roles in the private sector. One of the session attendees, Delegata President and CEO Kais Menoufy, posed that question to panelists.

Michael Hussey.
Michael Hussey
One of the panelists was Mike Hussey, who’s been Oracle’s executive director for State and Local Strategy for eight months following a long career in the public sector including stints as the CIO and IT director for the state of Utah. For Hussey, the way to win the trust of a team is to create an environment of growth and potential. During the session, Hussey cited the example of a receptionist he once worked with who ultimately became a project manager because she took advantage of opportunities.

Hussey used that example to illustrate the importance of being a “transformational CIO” rather than a “transactional CIO.” When he was Utah’s CIO, he knew that his role was to “fill the void” whenever a governor outlined a mission or a goal. Having worked in various capacities under four governors, he knew that his role was to carry out the incumbent’s mission and goals.

“Being able to pivot,” Hussey said, is an essential skill for a CIO. “That’s really what the governors want, at least in my case, and rising to that occasion and making those pivots … they’re not easy. It’s not easy going from hands on a keyboard to ‘All right, now we’ve got to understand the business process and how to adapt technology.’ And I would always hang onto the coattails of my colleagues — watch and listen to that peer group and learn how to fill that void for governors. … These are things you have to look at as a CIO. It really is a wonderful opportunity to apply technology, especially emerging technology, so that you can be a transformational CIO when you’re trying to take care of a governor’s initiatives.”

Jamia McDonald.
Jamia McDonald
Panelist Jamia McDonald, principal in Deloitte’s Government and Public Services Practice, cited her own transformation from the business side to the tech governance side. From roles as acting commissioner for the Chicago Department of Buildings, to serving as the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, she then moved to the Rhode Island governor’s office, serving as director of Economic Recovery and Reinvestment and then deputy chief of staff. From there, McDonald was named director of the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency and then director of the state Department of Children, Youth and Families. She made the move to her current role with Deloitte in 2017.

For McDonald, whose background was in governance, learning to serve as a translator between the business side and the technology side was one of the keys to her success. The other was setting priorities.

“For me, it was not to feel stupid,” she said. “I came from business, and I had to learn technology, and most of the technologists I worked with were so much smarter than I was on the things they were trying to explain to me that I couldn’t communicate with them very well. … I knew how I wanted to run the business, but when the technologists came in and said, ‘What you really need is this shiny thing,’ I was like, ‘I don’t know what that is.’ So when I transitioned to the CIO role, I tried to — forgive me — dumb my language down and use more realistic business terms that they would accept.

“So the trust was very individualized,” she said, adding that one way she built that trust was to use a lot of pilots and proofs of concept to demonstrate tangible results for those on the business side who didn’t know — or want to know — the details of the technology.

*The California Public Sector CIO Academy was presented by Government Technology, a sister publication of Industry Insider — California. Both are part of e.Republic.
Dennis Noone is Executive Editor of Industry Insider. He is a career journalist, having worked as a reporter and editor at small-town newspapers and major metropolitan dailies in California, Nevada, Texas and Virginia, including as an editor with USA Today in Washington, D.C. He lives in Northern California.