In the first part of this two-part column, I described the traits of high-performing IT managers. Here, I'll lay out what I think it takes for those managers to go from high- performing to CIO-caliber.
Future CIOs figure out the players. They get to know the senior line-of-business execs who deliver the core business results--on both professional and personal levels. They ask them how things really work, how decisions get made. They figure out the results those execs are accountable for, and, most important, how the execs' performance is measured. And they ask IT questions like: How do you know IT excellence when you see it? They then use this information to elevate their influence in the organization.
When I was an IT manager, I interviewed our LOB VPs. During the interview with Reggie, our sales VP, he told me he would know that IT is well managed when every employee is using the same laptop computer. I was shocked. This was my opportunity to understand strategic selling and devise an IT strategy to make a difference, but Reg thought my job was to standardize on a laptop. Still, it gave me insight into what he valued in IT. In the coming months, I made certain he saw the standards we were implementing. And as I built credibility on his terms, our chats turned to strategic selling. Over lunches in the cafeteria, we collaborated on a CRM application that subsequently became a foundation for our company's sales strategy.
Future CIOs understand the language of accounting and finance. Every VP or senior manager must understand those fundamentals. They set budgets, revise forecasts, approve fixed asset spending, understand depreciation's impact on profitability, and hold themselves and their teams financially accountable. Individuals who don't understand this basic language can't ascend beyond a midtier level.
Future CIOs don't just complete a project; they create a solution to a business problem. And they make sure everyone knows it was their baby. For example, our VP of sales blamed our poor customer survey results on our phone system. We knew that old non-IP system had its limitations, but no one could figure out the root cause of customers not connecting to the right agent. I could have given the job to our communications manager, but I asked one of my top managers to solve the problem. Instead of embarking on a standard phone system upgrade, this manager--who will be CIO someday--took on the mandate to improve customer satisfaction. She established call-handling benchmarks. She interviewed VPs and LOB managers to understand how they measured customer satisfaction. She learned about call centers. She talked with customers. She put a technology project in place as well, and when process changes were completed, she demonstrated, using the same metrics, that satisfaction levels had increased significantly. She then presented those results in regional departmental meetings.
Future CIOs keep the engine running. No one gets to be CIO if the core IT engine is misfiring. Networks must work--all the time. Same goes for Web services, ERP transaction systems, storage systems, virtualization environments, the public Web sites. Future CIOs make this happen through superlative people management. They develop and motivate their teams to work on the right things at the right times. They plan and execute aggressively.
The managers who demonstrate these attributes will likely see their names on my succession plan.
The author, the real-life CIO of a billion-dollar-plus company, shares his experiences under the pseudonym John McGreavy. Got a Secret CIO story of your own to share? Contact email@example.com.