Good Career News For CIOs

According to a new Forrester survey, tenure is up, along with job satisfaction

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

January 23, 2006

5 Min Read

After years of bad news about CIO tenure lasting less time than it took to deploy the average ERP project, a new Forrester Research survey reveals some promising news. The survey of 140 enterprise and SMB CIOs shows job tenure gaining strength and job satisfaction high. Even better, respondents report that their focus has shifted away from IT cost cutting and toward generating revenue. Who could ask for anything more?

In this Q&A, analyst Heather Liddell talks about these shifts in CIOs' job perception and how they should now capitalize on them.

Q: What were some of the highlights of the CIO career situation in 2005, based on your survey?

A: We found a few interesting things. For one, CIOs at companies with more than a thousand employees have been in their job for an average of 3.6 years. That's a lot longer than the tenure of 18 to 36 months that people were citing a few years ago.

We also found that job satisfaction for both enterprise CIOs [at companies with more than 1,000 employees] and CIOs at small and midsize businesses [companies with fewer than 1,000 employees] was high. We asked them to rate on a scale of 1 to 4 how satisfied they were, and the average rating was 3.1, which we defined as mostly satisfied. Breaking out the size of the companies, we saw minimal difference: 34% of the enterprise CIOs were highly satisfied with their jobs, compared to 33% of the SMB CIOs. Another third characterized themselves as very satisfied. The only place there was a difference was among those who weren't at all satisfied: 7% in the enterprise but very few in the SMB space.

Q: Did you qualify what high satisfaction meant? Was it based on whom they reported to or anything like that?

A: No, but we did cross-reference tenure and job satisfaction and found that CIOs reported higher satisfaction if they had been in the job for less than one year. That satisfaction rating was 3.25. Then job satisfaction dipped for those who'd been on the job between one and three years, down to 2.96, but after that the average went back up to 3.0.

Q: So initially they were excited and then disappointed; then reality set in, and they actually started appreciating where they were.

A: Yes, at that point there was healthy job tenure.

Q: How do you characterize what's healthy?

A: Anything that hovers around the average rate of 3.6 years I would categorize as healthy. It's hard to read healthy job tenure, because there are folks who've been there nine years and they're not doing much; they've found a place, and they're happy to be there. It doesn't necessarily mean they're successful, although we do find a strong correlation between the two.

Q: In what way?

A: We asked them to rank their predecessor as successful or not successful and to list that person's tenure as well, and we found that anyone who was perceived as less successful had had an average 2.5-year tenure. Those who were deemed successful had had an average 7.3-year tenure.

Q: Your report seems to indicates that part of the increased job satisfaction comes from changes in the way CIO success is judged.

A: Yes, usually CIOs were judged on whether projects came in on time and on budget—straightforward metrics. Now there's a second, fuzzier measure asking whether the CIO helps set strategic direction or not. Is the company getting leverage out of its IT investment? They're also being judged on how they interface with the rest of the team, what kind of guidance they give in the boardroom. It's a lot more subjective than you would have thought a couple of years ago. Although it's a soft way to judge success, they're being rated on whether they're a good businessperson or not and whether they have the trust of others. That's pretty subjective.

Q: What can CIOs do to take advantage of this situational improvement?

A: We've seen some folks who've moved into operational roles, taking over business roles in addition to IT roles. The Lands' End CIO is also in charge of customer service, for example. That's a great step to take—moving into operations or another business role—because you have one foot in the business while you're still driving the technology. At Avnet, Ed Kamins went from being CIO to being in charge of operational excellence.

Q: You need to have your own shop in order before you can do that, though.

A: That's right, but if you have aspirations to join the executive rotation, it's a great way to avoid being pigeonholed as just an IT guy.

Q: An interesting facet of the report was the shift from cost cutting to revenue generation.

A: Yes, we asked what their bosses' priorities for them as CIO were, and 40% said that the highest priority was using technology to enhance business unit revenue. The lowest priority was to cut cost. That's a sign that things are shifting and that CIOs have less pressure from a budget perspective.

Q: What does that let you do?

A: It means you're freed from the rigorous benchmarking of the line items in the IT budget and an ongoing justification of your budget. CIOs have been under a lot of cost cutting pressure over the past few years, but when the boss is saying to grow revenue, that makes IT a much more interesting place to be.

Feedback question: Tell us how your role as a CIO changed in 2005.

Q&A conducted by contributing Web editor Howard Baldwin.

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