Do You Know Who Your Next CIO Will Be?

Succession planning is an important part of management strategy. Unfortunately, it's a practice more breached than honored -- especially when it comes to CIOs.

John Soat, Contributor

November 26, 2007

4 Min Read

Succession planning is an important part of management strategy. Unfortunately, it's a practice more breached than honored -- especially when it comes to CIOs.In today's Wall Street Journal, career columnist Carol Hymowitz makes a good point about many companies -- and their CEOs -- failing to take the time to identify and develop the person or persons intended to take over the top executive spot.

It's a basic rule of management, yet one that more and more corporate directors and chief executives seem to be ignoring. Only about half of public and private corporate boards have CEO-succession plans in place, according to a survey by the Center for Board Leadership with Mercer Delta Consulting. This is the case even at giant global companies that have thousands of employees and spend millions each year to recruit and train talent.

If it's true about CEOs, it must be even truer about CIOs. My guess would be that very few companies have spent time developing an IT management bench, much less planning the pathway to the CIO office.

That may be one of the reasons why every executive recruiter I talk with tells me that CIO searches have increased in the last year. While CIO doesn't actually stand for "Career Is Over," as some wags have suggested, the position isn't known for its longevity. The average tenure for the 130 CIOs and senior IT executives who responded to the Society for Information Management's most recent survey is 4.1 years, with an almost equal number saying they've held their positions for a year or less (27.8%) or for seven years or more (26.8%).

The CIO promotion track used to go like this: programmer, systems manager, VP of IT, CIO. In the last several years, though, as the demands on IT have increased in both size and scope, companies have begun looking outside the IT organization to fill the CIO position, as well outside their own corporate walls. I wonder: Does this create something of a closed-loop phenomenon, where an outsider CIO begets another outsider simply because of the success of the initial process?

Take Microsoft, for instance. The software giant brought in its most recent CIO, Stuart Scott, from GE two years ago. When Scott was forced to resign last month for violating company policies, Microsoft hurriedly installed two tangential execs to oversee the CIO duties, and launched a CIO search that is still going on.

Talent development involves corporate culture. The Wall Street Journal column makes this point:

"Succession planning isn't an event, it is a process that is best managed over three, five, even 10 years," because it involves building a pipeline of talent, says Joseph Bower, a Harvard Business School professor and author of "The CEO Within: Why Inside Outsiders Are the Key to Succession Planning." Yet, "a lot of CEOs are focused mostly on getting through the next quarter, and they ignore the hard work of grooming future leaders," he adds.

How many companies have that process going on within their IT organizations? I know of one: Cummins Inc. Gail Farnsley, VP and CIO of Cummins, gave a presentation at the Indiana IT Symposium last summer entitled "Creating The Leadership Pipeline." The session was described this way:

Cummins Inc. is experiencing unprecedented growth and expanding markets for its products. To support this success and global growth Cummins IT leaders must build critical skills such as project management, leadership, and business collaboration and alignment. In this session, Gail will provide an overview of how Cummins is creating new processes to proactively develop IT leaders. Discussion topics include: IT leadership portfolio of tomorrow, pro-active talent management programs, key leadership development opportunities to successfully prepare the high potential IT employee, and how Six Sigma can be used to develop these processes.

As IT becomes more integral to how companies innovate their business models and interact with customers, IT management skills will become more important. Whether the CIO position stays put or morphs into something more closely resembling a chief operating officer, the skills necessary to perform the function will have to be proactively identified and developed. Or the short tenure of the CIO will turn into a closed-loop phenomenon.

Does your company actively develop IT management talent? Let us know.

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