Strategic CIO // Team Building & Staffing
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8/27/2014
09:06 AM
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CIOs In Training: 3 Factors For Success

At Interop New York, I'll reveal some secrets about getting to -- and staying in -- the CIO's chair.

IT workers: If someone asked you, "Do you want to be CIO?" your answer, most likely, would be "yes." But, apart from desiring the greater salary and influence, are you willing to fulfill the job requirement of being the type of CIO that the CEO will value? And are you willing to switch gears from being a technologist, become a hybrid business-technologist, and do what it takes to be an effective CIO in the digital age? At my quickly approaching Interop New York session, I'll start exploring those questions. Here's a preview.

It's not enough to be named CIO. You actually have to be able to stay in your seat for some length of time in order to effect positive change to your IT organization and ultimately to the larger organization.

There's good news, and bad news. The good news: The Society for Information Management's most recent data shows high-level IT execs spent an average of 5.2 years, up from 3.6 years in 2006, in that role. And, the 2014 InformationWeek US IT Salary Survey showed that the median of an IT exec's tenure was 7 years. But not all is rosy: The InformationWeek research also showed that just 51% of IT executives rated their positions as very secure, with only 25% "very satisfied" with all aspects of their jobs.

My take on the upward trend: Our profession has learned, the hard way, the factors that make an IT leader sustainable. These also happen to be the factors that help future CIOs climb their way into the big chair.

[And when you become a CIO, you will have to deal with the outsourcing question. Read 4 Outsourcing Mistakes Companies Still Make.]

Factor #1: Understand business. A would-be CIO must learn the language of business. If you're not understood, expect your tenure to be brutish and short as a new CIO. Or, expect not to be selected for the big seat in the first place.

Cut acronyms out of your language when you're addressing execs. In the same way that you've spent time learning everything about the business of IT, learn everything about the business of business. Do you need an MBA? It helps, but it's not necessary. What is a must is that you must value business value over technology. Your CEO will know if you don't.

Prospective CIO to-do: Spend an equal amount of time reading business publications as you do technology publications. The Harvard Business Review and Wall Street Journal are a good start. If you're not terribly up to speed on your core business already (baseball, publishing, wine making, government, banking, whatever), spend some time coming up to speed. Consider a certificate class in the field that has nothing to do with IT.

Factor #2. Get sideways. We mostly think that we must manage "up," because we want to keep the boss happy. And that's true. We also think that we must manage "down" because we are responsible for a staff. That's also true. More on that in a moment.

But oftentimes, IT pros forget that they must manage "sideways," that is, there's a certain amount of communication and relationship-building with your peers inside the organization, but also outside of the organization. A CIO who wants to be more of digital business enabler than an infrastructure manager needs to forge deep relationships inside the organization, because digital business is all about business. And nobody's going to hand off an important business initiative to someone he or she doesn't trust.

A CIO who wants to establish her own balance between leading edge and bleeding edge innovation, must, of course, deeply understand staff capabilities, internal business needs, and what management will tolerate. But, she'll also forge relationships outside of the organization so that she gets a true sense of what others are doing, what technologies, techniques, and vendors are contributing to business success, and what the real skinny is on limitations and risks. In short, building an external network provides valuable market intelligence that allows a CIO to minimize risk and cost, and maximize results.

Prospective CIO to-do: Be the kind of IT middle manager who gets out of the office, out of the building. Get into the field and figure out how IT is harming the business, and how IT can help. Help where needed. Rinse and repeat. Your CIO will appreciate you taking on some of the load, trust me, and you'll be creating a rep at your business as a potential CIO successor. And, stop going to inane "networking" cocktail hours. Spend that time joining a mastermind group, volunteering, or doing something else that forges meaningful relationships outside of a networking meat market.

Factor #3: People first, not tech. If I have learned anything in my career, it is that IT is a people business first, not a technology business. You can have the most wonderful data center in the world, but give a monkey a hammer, and he'll make a shambles of it all.

If IT was a static, unchanging profession, I'd grant you that the opposite might be the case. But tech is never static. People code new tech, deploy new tech, break new tech, have security breaches in new tech, troubleshoot new tech.

If we want that new tech to serve the business rather than the other way around, we need the right people working with and making the right decisions about that tech. If we didn't understand that in the 80s or 90s, surely we understood it by the 2000s, when consumerization was starting to rear its head. BYOD was a great example, when it became apparent that too much control over employee devices could be as bad as too little control. In the new digital world, we will only be able to make those decisions and implement technologies with the right people: those who understand business, technology, customer service, marketing. Who's going to pick, lead, manage, inspire, act as a sounding board to, and double-check those people? Maybe it'll be the CMO at your organization. But my bet is in many cases it'll be the CIO. Maybe it'll be a new CDO who eventually absorbs IT, but I'd argue that in that case you had the wrong CIO to begin with.

Point being: The right CIO will steer the right people into IT, see that they stay, make sure that they have the right skill sets and adapt to changing technology, and will never tolerate sociopaths. The right CIO understands that folks with this alchemical blend of skills can get another job tomorrow. It's up to him to make sure this doesn't happen so that the business continues to have an edge over the competition.

Would-be CIO to-do: If you don't have any formal training in leadership, get some. I am a huge fan of the "Leadership Challenge," and draw many of my leadership techniques from training that I had decades ago. There is also a growing body of literature out there that documents how to manage employees who are more like volunteers than slaves, including Peter Shankman's "Nice Companies Finish First." You probably have good instincts, but leadership is complex, and more complex than programming any router. It's worth an investment of your time to get better at.

In its ninth year, Interop New York (Sept. 29 to Oct. 3) is the premier event for the Northeast IT market. Strongly represented vertical industries include financial services, government, and education. Join more than 5,000 attendees to learn about IT leadership, cloud, collaboration, infrastructure, mobility, risk management and security, and SDN, as well as explore 125 exhibitors' offerings. Register with Discount Code MPIWK to save $200 off Total Access & Conference Passes.

Jonathan Feldman is Chief Information Officer for the City of Asheville, North Carolina, where his business background and work as an InformationWeek columnist have helped him to innovate in government through better practices in business technology, process, and human ... View Full Bio
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SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
9/2/2014 | 7:34:50 AM
Re: Customer Skills
Aside from the additional skills, the knowledge that you have not always been in IT means something to other people.  It is funny to have people guess where I started out my career and they are surprised to find out that my first job was in a large AP department.  I guess as much as I might break the IT stereotypes I'm even further from the accounting ones.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
9/2/2014 | 7:21:45 AM
Re: Customer Skills
I'm not trying to start fights here but yes, IT and marketing skills are not ones that I see mixing very well right now.  I see a lot of marketing push that relies heavily on technology but they don't understand the underlying function.  IT sees the softer marketing skills as a bit of voodoo and I'm sure marketing sees the complexity that IT points out as equally mysterious.
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
9/1/2014 | 11:00:16 AM
Re: Business Knowledge
Exactly - we are handling high-talent people instead of pure labor force. Salary is not the only factor for them. In addition to good offer, they would demand challenging opportunity with a bright future and a team will good climate. So managing tech team is a challenge. You cannot be just a boss but also a coach/tutor.
SunitaT0
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SunitaT0,
User Rank: Ninja
8/31/2014 | 2:37:59 PM
Re: Business Knowledge
Office politics do not allow for such easy management. There always are other factors. IT employees are always looking for advancements in salaries/benefits and for that they are ready to be the pet of managers, and this creates all the problems in managing the Tech directly by the staff without the Boss overlooking the Staff.
SunitaT0
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SunitaT0,
User Rank: Ninja
8/31/2014 | 2:35:35 PM
Re: Customer Skills
Plus there are other benefits as well, like suggesting any other department where one hs previously worked, on some models/ideas. It makes the work flow smoothly and develops better inter-employee relationships and also makes up experience from the one who's helping and the one who is being helped.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
8/31/2014 | 1:11:34 PM
Re: Business Knowledge
@shamika: I think the way to think of it is this:

Your employees manage the tech.

You, as their boss, manage them so that the tech gets managed in the right way.
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
8/31/2014 | 12:10:34 PM
Re: CIOs In Training: 3 Factors For Success
Thanks for this, Jonathan. Maybe most IT professionals don't sit at their desks thinking 'what can I do to become CIO', but then again, maybe they should start. Even if they don't make it all the way to that big chair (at least, not at their current company), there's no doubt that the suggestions you provide here will put them on the right path, and provide them with plenty of valuable skills and experiences along the way. After all, pulling back the veil even farther, it's often not the money that motivates people at that highest level, is it? It's the desire to be better, to improve themselves, and see how far they can go - to that end, these are all great ways to keep building yourself up.

The bit about people being more important than tech at the CIO level is oft-repeated, but it seems that's necessary, as many IT execs still don't seem to embrace it. That thought ought to impact every decision you make - at the macro level, does this technology project serve a business need? At the micro level, you need to build your relationships with other execs on something other than technology and your know-how therein - it's good for the company, it's good for your job security, and it's good for your mental health. SaneIT's point is very good - there's a big difference between thinking you're good with people and actually being good with people. Get someone you trust to tell you the truth.
shamika
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shamika,
User Rank: Ninja
8/31/2014 | 6:19:44 AM
Re: Business Knowledge
I like the fact "People first, not tech." we always need to work with people. Understanding them better and providing them with required trainings, opportunities and challenging work has to be part of CIO role. 
shamika
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shamika,
User Rank: Ninja
8/31/2014 | 6:14:08 AM
Re: Customer Skills
@ Laurianne, you are correct. it is important to have the customer focus at the same time it is also important to know his boundaries when providing the customer service.
shamika
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shamika,
User Rank: Ninja
8/31/2014 | 6:11:53 AM
Business Knowledge
The CIO we had did not know the business at all. And he was trying to incorporate the software development culture, which did not fit in to his current industry. As correctly said it is important to know the business better.
Page 1 / 3   >   >>
2014 US Salary Survey: 10 Stats
2014 US Salary Survey: 10 Stats
InformationWeek surveyed 11,662 IT pros across 30 industries about their pay, benefits, job satisfaction, outsourcing, and more. Some of the results will surprise you.
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