Over the years, I’ve lost count of the number of times I attended an IT conference where a CIO was doing a presentation on IT Best Practices not knowing that a search was underway for his job. Similarly, I have had many CIOs who are friends unexpectedly lose their jobs. Many thought they were doing well because they were executing on projects and maintaining their uptime service levels. Those are things that CIOs keep a close eye on and can tell when they are not performing. What causes them to fail is what they don’t see. It is similar to hypertension; in that, most people don’t know they have it until they have a heart attack. Here are the three top reasons that cause CIOs careers to have to be resuscitated:
They don’t manage their time correctly: The far majority of CIOs spend way too much of their time internally focused on tactics, technologies and tasks. This fact was pointed up in a survey last year titled “How CIOs Spend Their Time.” I attended a session in which the results were presented. When I saw them, I immediately jumped up and said, “The CIOs who completed the survey won’t be in their jobs long.” Reason being, there was no time spent with external customers; hardly any time spent on self-development; and not enough time spent on staff/team development. If you are not staying close to the end customer, making yourself a better leader, and developing your team into a world-class one, you will be replaced because the speed of change and its impact on leadership are now at such a fast pace. Because they don’t spend the time with customers, CIOs can’t constructively participate in strategic discussions about the company’s business model, distribution channels, and customers. And, since they don’t spend time on leadership development, CIOs can’t add value in strategic talent management and workforce development discussions. At least 15% of a CIOs time should be spent with customers; 5% on personal development; and 15% on staff/team development.
They don’t play corporate politics correctly: Too many CIOs focus just on pleasing the CEO. To be successful, CIOs have to develop personal relationships with the following three people: (1) The CFO; (2) a leader of one of the most powerful and profitable business units; and (3) at least one board member. Why? Because they know what the politics are in the C-Suite and boardroom. Knowing what they are allows a CIO to figure out how to successfully navigate them. That’s critical because CIOs will never have all of the resources they need to please everyone all of the time, so that have to know the politics at play when making those decisions. Another benefit of having those relationships is that they will speak up for the CIO when he can’t speak for himself. To that point, I always tell CIOs that they are only as good as the number of people who will speak for them when they are not in the room. A quick way to tell if you have personal relationships with them is to take the “Beer test.” In that, if you have not had a beer after work, you don’t have a personal relationship with them.
They don’t manage their budgets correctly: Too many CIOs are risk adverse because of the budget pressures they are constantly under. They spend almost all of their dollars on “Me too,” incremental projects. They don’t partner with R&D and Marketing to work on any “Game Changing” projects. As a result, when the company is in need of growth, the CIO is viewed only as an operator and not a “C-Suite” strategic partner. In addition to being too risk adverse, CIOs can also be too controlling, wanting to have direct control over all IT spending. They fight to end “Shadow IT.” (That’s what it is called when business units and functions spend their own dollars on IT.) I didn’t mind Shadow IT as long as I was the one casting the shadow. Indeed, shadow IT is a good thing because those dollars aren’t in the spotlight like the CIOs budget is. You can work on some very innovative projects with R&D and Marketing with those dollars. In addition, we would work with suppliers and have them give us rebates on technology purchases and use those dollars to fund innovative, growth-oriented projects. I’ve partnered with R&D and Marketing to create Innovation Centers when I was CIO at both Medtronic and Georgia-Pacific, which were a hit with customers and our sales teams.
In summary, a quick way to tell if you are making any of those fatal mistakes is to look at your schedule, relationships, and budget. To prevent yourself from making them, start viewing yourself as the Chief “Influence” Officer instead of the “Chief Information Officer. To influence, you have to correctly spend your time, play the politics, and spend your dollars. For the CIOs who do, they will never have to worry about their careers being on life support because they are their companies’ lifeline