>CIOs, Earning The Right To Peer Parity

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There are a lot of jokes about being a CIO—it is one of the toughest professional level jobs and has a high turnover rate (average is barely 24 months according to Public CIO Magazine 2009)—hence the moniker “Career Is Over.”

Depending on the organization, CIO’s may be up against a host of daunting challenges—the fast pace of technological change, an organizational culture that can’t or doesn’t want to keep up, resource constraints, inflated expectations, vague requirements, and shifting priorities.

On top of these, the CIO is typically last in the executive pecking order, and so carries less authority than his/her peers. This is the subject of an article in the Wall Street Journal, 24 May 2010, called “Why CIOs Are Last Among Equals.”

According to the article, “most CIOs don’t have the broad business understanding, strategic vision and interpersonal skills that it takes to runs a company.”

The authors call out the following common CIO deficiencies:

  1. Leadership—“Too many CIOs and IT managers fail to take the lead in determining how technology can help the company,” instead relying on those outside the IT department.
  2. Strategic Thinking—“IT managers are seriously deficient in their knowledge of strategy,” most can’t articulate their organizations or IT’s strategy, “and (they) don’t appreciate the importance of strategy in guiding both long-term and short-term actions.”
  3. Communication Skills—“IT people don’t communicate effectively due to the absence of good questioning, listening, and sales skills.”
  4. Influence Skills—“Most CIOs are not good at marketing themselves and their IT organizations…[they] need to be out in front of every major technology, educating their senior corporate team on what it does and what it means for the company.”
  5. Relationship Skills—“IT managers know what characterizes strong relationships, but lack the skills to build such relationships at work.”

While, of course, these deficiencies do not apply to all CIOs—i.e. they are generalities—they are indicative of where as a profession IT and leadership need to focus on and look for ongoing improvement.

Clearly, IT leaders must be not only experts in the technology and operations, but must become true strategic leaders of the organization, able to formulate a way-ahead, articulate it, build consensus around it, and drive it to a successful execution. Keeping the proverbial IT “lights on” is no longer a viable CIO option.

What got us into this situation?

In my opinion, the notion of promoting for technical skills alone is mistaken. Rather, we need a holistic approach that emphasizes what I call “The Total CIO,” which is broad-based and includes the people, process, AND technology skills to truly see the big picture, and know how to drive real change.

While technology operations is critical for keeping our organizations running, they must be supported by strategic IT functions, such as those that I have called for in “The CIO Support Services Framework” including: enterprise architecture, IT governance, project management, customer relationship management, IT security, and performance management.

I believe that the leadership skills of “The Total CIO” and the strategic support functions of “The CIO Support Services Framework” will drive us to successfully progress our organizations, “earn our daily keep,” and achieve the right to peer parity based on executive skills and competencies that are expected and necessary.

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