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Jeff Ton is honest and direct when he says nobody grows up wanting to be a CIO. If you ask Jeff, he’ll say he thought he’d be a rockstar, touring the backroads of the country in a van, playing gigs on weeknights. That was always the plan…until an impulse purchase of a Commodore 64 changed Jeff’s path forever. Jeff is now a multi-time CIO, currently serving as an IT Strategy Advisor at InterVision and the Founder of Ton Enterprises and he joined IT Visionaries to take us through his journey. On this episode, Jeff provides insights into the role of the CIO and divulges some of the key questions current CIOs are trying to find answers to, including those surrounding diversity.
- Embed Yourself in the Business: In order for IT professionals to advance their careers, they need to begin taking on a larger role within the organization. That includes having a better understanding of how the business operates and how technology is deployed across all departments.
- Go Where the Talent is: In order to diversify your teams, you need to go where diverse candidates are. It’s important to familiarize yourself with alternate avenues to pursue candidates that are outside the traditional recruiting grounds, and it’s even more important to know how to connect with those candidates. Once you find those team members, the next step is to make sure they feel empowered in their workspace.
- A Man with a Plan: If you’re a new CIO, you need to have a 60- to 90-day plan, but understand that plan will change. During those first few months, you are going to do a lot of learning on the job. Have honest conversations with your team members and stakeholders and understand how they can help you succeed in your new role.
For a more in-depth look at this episode, check out the article below.
Jeff Ton is honest and direct when he says nobody grows up wanting to be a CIO. In fact, if you ask Ton, he’ll say he thought he’d be a rockstar, touring the backroads of the country in a van, playing gigs on weeknights. That was always the plan…until an impulse purchase of a Commodore 64 changed Jeff’s path forever.
“I fell in love with that Commodore 64,” he said. “I learned that I could program it and make it do all kinds of neat and amazing things. And I just got consumed by computers and computer programming.”
From that moment forward, Ton set forth on a career in technology, a path that has seen him hold numerous roles over the course of a 30-year run, including as that has also seen him hold the CIO at Goodwill. Today, Ton serves as a consultant, speaker, and an advisor for InterVision Systems and he joined IT Visionaries for a conversation centered on what businesses are demanding from their IT leaders today.
“The leadership skills that got us here over the last 50 or 60 years are not the same skills that businesses demand today,” he said “Neither are they the skills that are going to take our departments and our companies into the future.”
One of the major changes Ton has seen in the industry is that businesses are making IT departments more important overall within the company — especially when it comes to comprehending how the organization runs, where its sources of revenue come from, and how technology is deployed amongst employees.
“As [employees] get more embedded in the organization, they’re going to end up becoming verticalized,” Ton said. “People want to hire technology professionals that have experience in their industry because it’s going to be important for them to be able to differentiate against their competition, they need that deep business acumen.”
The days of IT professionals sitting in their offices just keeping things running are long gone. Instead, those professionals need to be more engaged with their co-workers, they need to be more collaborative with other departments and IT teams need to be more diverse across the board.
So how have IT professionals been able to accelerate their careers in recent years? Ton explained that it all boils down to taking ownership of your role, while also investing in the company.
“I would encourage the IT professionals out there who are looking to grow in their career to focus on some soft skills, but essential skills now,” he said. “Collaboration, communication, design thinking, systems thinking, critical thinking, all of those skills that when you know those things, and you’re good at those things, the languages can change, or the technology can change, and your skills are transferable.”
Another way young professionals can grow their skillset is through shadowing other members of the organization in order to get a better understanding of other parts of the company and answer some important questions that might otherwise remain mysteries.
“What things were important to them, what were they looking for?” Ton said “What things caught their attention? [The answers] enabled me to begin to understand what role our technology played in the organization. It shows you how they interact with the technology and what things are working, and maybe what things could be done better, both for the employee and for the customer.”
Ton then shifted the conversation more toward how the current climate is affecting some of the larger decisions CIOs are struggling with today. Among those decisions include employee diversity and how CIOs can make the greatest difference.
“We need racial diversity and diversity throughout our teams in order to meet the business demands.” he said.
So how can IT departments look to diversify? According to Ton, it’s all about setting a goal and then taking steps to actually achieve it.
“I think what it boils down to is being intentional,” Ton said, “You have to go where the diverse candidates are, whether that’s a Women in IT group or perhaps it’s the Black Data Processing Association. There’s various groups that bring people of diverse backgrounds together. And if you’re looking there for your candidate pool, you’re going to start to be diverse.”
But being deliberate and intentional doesn’t just stop at the hiring process. In fact, according to Ton, it extends during the employment process as well because diversity in the workplace only has an impact if all your employees feel empowered and confident that their voices matter.
“I think that’s the other part of diversity is you have to make sure that all the voices are being heard,” he said “If all the voices aren’t speaking up, you have to draw that out of them. You have to make sure that they’re raising their voice and sharing their opinions, sharing their thoughts, and that they feel safe and comfortable doing so.”
So how can a new CIO make the biggest difference? Ton said it starts by having a plan before you ever take the role, but also having four important conversations. Those conversations with yourself, your teammates, leadership and vendors are the keys to understanding how to best succeed in the role of CIO
“Entering your first 90 days, you have to come in with a plan,” he said. “When you come in at an executive level, you have to remain open to the fact that you are going to learn a tremendous amount in the first 30 days, that’s going to require you to adjust your plan.”
One of the ways that Ton recommended learning on the job was to have conversations with company stakeholders and vendors. This allows you as a CIO to gain valuable insight from those partners, while also giving them a seat at the table.
“Treat your vendors as partners,” he said,“I was always guilty of saying, ‘I want more partners and fewer vendors.’ And I had to finally ask myself, what do I mean when I say partner? There has to be trust. There has to be respect, and you have to build that over time, and that’s not going to happen if you don’t let your vendors in.”
To hear the entire discussion, tune into IT Visionaries here.