CIO to CEO: The Path to the Top

Use these approaches to open the door to the rest of the C-suite and increase your influence.

Guest Commentary, Guest Commentary

May 27, 2020

4 Min Read
Image: Pixabay

Chief information officers are used to complexity -- they thrive in challenging business IT environments and provide crucial leadership to teams. Since IT systems are at the heart of almost all business activities today, CIOs also shoulder heavy operational responsibilities. These are just two of the reasons CIOs are poised to move on into other operational and executive roles.

In addition to responsibility for the company’s IT strategy and systems, many companies are now asking CIOs to ramp up their business and relationship skills. As digital transformation evolves across industries, CIOs are now seen as innovation drivers, decision makers and the force that unites business and IT. Rather than seeing this as one more hurdle to overcome, they should find the opportunities hidden within this transition.

As a former CIO who transitioned to chief executive officer, I’m sharing insights for CIOs who are looking to advance. Start by looking for opportunities to stand out and gain positive attention across the organization.

Focus on results, not effort

Business users do not care how hard you work; they only care about the results. So, leverage other people’s experience wherever possible, and choose tools that minimize the amount of work required by your team.

For example, to avoid challenges with custom-coded legacy systems, it’s wise to leverage no-code application development platforms as they significantly reduce the cost of building and maintaining enterprise applications. No-code is the natural successor to low-code and solutions built on this technology are far easier to adapt to ever-changing business needs. And they are not only faster to adapt, but no custom code means no custom bugs or security holes.

That said, they are not necessarily the right solution to every challenge. You should check whether the vendor has previously built applications similar to the one that you need, or ideally, has a prebuilt configuration that is already close.

Achieving consistent success while saving money and reducing the time for developing major applications to a couple of months are sure to get you noticed and drive you toward your goals.

Trust your instincts, but back them up with data

The secret of being a great manager is having great employees. Unfortunately, it is very hard to find them through the traditional interview process.

As a fast-growing company in Silicon Valley, one of our biggest challenges was hiring qualified people who also fit in our culture. The traditional process of screening resumes and in-person interviews was consuming a huge proportion of our cycles.

Worse, while experience is a good indicator of how much a candidate will cost, it is a poor indicator of performance. As Malcolm Gladwell and others have documented, interviews are hardly better than random selection in separating out the good prospects.

The solution is objective online testing. It is not only more effective, it also saves time to provide tests that single out the strong candidates before they come in for an interview, and it eliminates bias. A quick examination of our company’s strong performers indicated many shared traits. So, we designed aptitude tests that measured these traits and now administer them to all candidates. The results have been dramatic. The tests not only streamlined the selection process, but the proportion of new hires who proved to be strong performers rose from 60% to over 90%.

A positive side-effect of objective testing is that it has also resulted in a diverse group of employees and senior management.

Get involved with every aspect of the business

Sit in on high-level meetings and demonstrate your knowledge and passion, while also listening to your team and receiving feedback. Be adaptable both as a CIO and a CEO to shifting business needs and climate. A willingness to change and recognize shifts in the industry are essential skills.

I’ve covered several ways to advance your CIO career while on a path to becoming a CEO. Leverage the experiences of others, recognize that business users are purely focused on results, and build a recruiting process that will find the right employees. Making these changes will take effort of course, but building a career requires that you act decisively. Finally, don’t neglect other aspects of the business, your interest in the success of all departments signals you are ready to step up.


Agiloft CEO and founder Colin Earl is a software industry veteran with over 25 years of experience as a developer, product manager, and CIO. He worked at IBM, General Electric, and three start-ups before founding Agiloft in 1991. His vision was to accelerate the building and deployment of enterprise business applications by removing the need for manual coding. Under his leadership, Agiloft has achieved this goal, creating a market segment for agile business software. Earl's focus is on growing a world-class team and aligning the interests of staff, partners, and customers. He has an engineering degree from Imperial College, and moved to Silicon Valley in 1986.

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Guest Commentary

Guest Commentary

The InformationWeek community brings together IT practitioners and industry experts with IT advice, education, and opinions. We strive to highlight technology executives and subject matter experts and use their knowledge and experiences to help our audience of IT professionals in a meaningful way. We publish Guest Commentaries from IT practitioners, industry analysts, technology evangelists, and researchers in the field. We are focusing on four main topics: cloud computing; DevOps; data and analytics; and IT leadership and career development. We aim to offer objective, practical advice to our audience on those topics from people who have deep experience in these topics and know the ropes. Guest Commentaries must be vendor neutral. We don't publish articles that promote the writer's company or product.

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