How to Gain Stakeholder Engagement

By Martha Heller , CIO |  Career, project management

While one might hope that business leaders, who have everything to gain from process improvement, would recognize the importance of their own leadership role in driving change, we all know that is not always the case.

Most CIOs have no trouble assessing the goals of the business, developing and articulating an IT strategy, and getting funding approval. But where many fall down is in actually getting the business to engage in the execution of that IT strategy. A business-led steering committee may agree on the investment, but the business does not always participate through the project's lifecycle. Since "accountability without authority" is never a great place to be, I asked four CIOs to offer techniques for enlisting the business to do its part.

[ Project Management: 3 Keys to Working with Stakeholders ]

Two in a box. When Carol Zierhoffer was CIO at a former company, a group president asked her to lead a major ERP transformation. "The business was eager for the transformation, but they did not identify a business leader who was willing and able to lead the project with me," says Zierhoffer. "So I refused to start the project, and we waited two months until we had a business leader to drive the change. We would not have been successful otherwise." Now CIO at ITT, she is building a structure of global process owners who are culled from the business to work side by side with IT project leaders. Every project has a paired leadership team. "Some people say that every major project needs 'one throat to choke,'" says Zierhoffer. "But I believe strongly that two in a box is a better way to go."

Don't try to own the gray area. "'Process' is this thing that sits in the gray area between the business and IT," says Mike Jackson, CIO of Celanese. While it is tempting for CIOs to step in and own business process change, "that ownership and understanding belongs in the business." At a previous company, where Jackson was launching an ERP program, the business did not have the resources to redesign its own processes. Jackson hired external resources for a central team that conducted the initial process design, but eventually many of these people moved into the business. "Sometimes you have to start with your own resources, but you cannot go more than halfway. You have to leave the business with the expertise," Jackson says.

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