CIOs need to examine what they've done -- or not done -- that perpetuates the no respect mantra.
For how many years have you been hearing that CIOs "need to get a seat at the table"?
Why would CIO magazine's Web site -- ostensibly in business to enlighten CIOs -- make the irresponsible and preposterous claim that the only way each and every one of you became a CIO was through political scheming, back-stabbing, and "butt-kissing"?
Why do we rarely see surveys on how many CFOs report to the CEO, while such research about CIOs is commonplace?
Why is it news when a CIO is a member of the executive committee, instead of that being the norm?
Why would a global executive-search firm say that "few IT executives have the business qualifications or capitalist's killer instinct for making money"?
Why, here in the year 2009, would a director at a nationally known IT consulting firm feel the need to offer CIOs condescending advice that should have been obvious 20 years ago: "Don't talk 'new technology' with the CFO, talk the CFO's own language. That's how to communicate."
Why would a national business publication portray CIOs in a breathtakingly degrading fashion as socially retarded dorks who have no idea what their business does or why it does it?
How many times have you heard that insipid joke that CIO stands for 'career is over'?
Why are many CIOs regarded as last among equals in the C-suite?
Why, indeed, do CIOs get so little respect?
For the substantive issues above, I think there are four primary reasons. For the lightweight ones -- the asinine spoutings of journalists who have no clue what they're talking about -- well, I don't really have any idea, but I'll share the evidence and let you decide.
1) Failure to engage with customers. Many CIOs have failed to stay ahead of the trend lines in their industries and even in their own companies and instead have been overly concerned with internal issues. If every other part of the organization but IT is connecting with customers -- of course sales and marketing, but also engineering, design, manufacturing, service, logistics, and even accounting, for goodness' sake -- then is it really a surprise that IT is also a step behind in its thinking, its approaches, its language, and most of all its results? There are two and only two categories here: leaders and followers. And for those CIOs and their IT teams who do not create ways to establish meaningful, business-driven, and quantifiable engagements with customers, the lack of respect you get today will never change.
2) CEOs' unwillingness to drive substantive change. Look at car companies, retailers, banks, airlines, music companies, movie studios, and media companies: All are facing brutal challenges, and most have been facing those very same challenges for at least 10 if not 20 or more years. Over that time, many CEOs in those industries have become celebrities for making big (and often unsuccessful) acquisitions or for embarking on global (and often unsuccessful) expansions, but most of all for ignoring the profound changes that technology has been unleashing on their industries and their customers, competitors, and business models. CIOs have been trapped in the middle: forced to perpetuate processes and systems that didn't address the rapidly changing world, and then at the 11th hour being told to shift into some hyperevolutionary gear to make their companies' Web sites appear to be cool and hip in hopes of catching the latest trendy wave. Perhaps the CIOs didn't object loudly enough, and deserve a good chunk of the blame, which is expressed as a lack of respect. But the real blame for the "pay no attention to the man behind the screen!" lies with the CEOs who chose to pretend that if they just went on talking long enough without doing anything, then everything would somehow come out OK in the end.
3) CIOs' failure to offer quantify business value. How many CIOs have C-level peers who can explain in clear and straightforward terms the business value that the CIO has delivered to them in the past 6, 12, and 24 months? How many CIOs have C-level executives who could defend not just vigorously but intelligently every capital expense in the CIO's 2-year strategic plan? How many CIOs have C-level peers who could go into a board of directors meeting and deliver a very cogent 15-minute summary of the company's business-technology strategy and the customer value it's creating now and will continue to create into the future? For the CIOs who don't have such peers, the fault is yours: it's your responsibility, not theirs, to create and share the metrics and analytical tools that prove the wisdom and value of your investments, your teams, your vision, your decisions, and your leadership.