You're a CIO -- What Next?
By: Jane McCarthy - Director Executive Search & Organizational Development
As a MWC NETWORK member, you have most likely experienced M. Wood Company's expertise in working with candidates to map their career paths. Considerable data is available, both quantifiable and anecdotal, that points all of us to the same conclusion - The most highly trained, talented, and successful executives are managing their own careers. But as a senior executive, you must already know that! Hard work, training and intellectual capacity have allowed you to successfully assume your current challenges as the CIO for your organization.
Many organizations expend considerable resources on succession planning and training - seeking to retain, groom and promote talented high profile employees. One would suggest you probably spend a healthy portion of your time mentoring staff, aligning skill sets to existing tasks and planning for future challenges. But how much time are you devoting to your own career planning?
Through our experience, M. Wood Company has identified the three most likely paths that today's CIO is apt to take.
- CIO, Extraordinaire. Congratulations! Your goal was to head your own IT organization. Now that you are there, you challenge yourself to be the very best. Is IT positioned as a strategic function of the business? Are you seated at the table when the most critical decisions are made? Do you influence the organization by integrating the advantages provided by today's technology to meet the priorities of the business?
- CIO, Value-Added. Since IT is a strategic function that crosses all areas within an organization, if positioned correctly, you should have a firm grasp on both the strategic direction of the business and significant role IT is playing in that strategy. The knowledge and experience derived from heading the IT function positions you for additional roles and responsibilities. You may assume increased responsibility within your current organization; perhaps overseeing a functional area or an additional administrative or staff function. Or maybe its time to evaluate your growth in terms of size or scope. Have you thought about a larger company or a company with increasing technology demands? Could you add texture to your resume by having been successful in more than 1 or 2 industries? How open are you to change and exploring new opportunities?
- Executive or General Manager. Today's successful executive needs to determine and manage multiple priorities across his/her organization and respond decisively to the challenges of limited resources and a rapidly changing marketplace. That is the challenge of people, process and tools. Our almost 30 years of experience working with both IT professionals and executives has convinced us that IT is one of the ideal training grounds for general management. In your role as CIO, you operate in a cross-functional arena, which presents you with the ideal opportunity to identify business issues and strategies and maximize an efficient solution through process and people.
Due to M. Wood Company's consultative approach to executive search, we have not only been an active partner with talented executives as they made that transition, but also have worked with the many companies to recruit new executives. From this experience, we are able to share some important guideposts.
- In your role as CIO make sure you are a business partner. One of the members of the MWC NETWORK who successfully made the transition from CIO to general management is Charles A. Price, Senior Vice President for Providian Financial Corporation in Louisville, Kentucky. Price commented on his philosophy. " As a CIO, I always took the position that I was there to provide solutions to the business problems and then align IT accordingly. Given that perspective, it is pretty easy to get a feel for what goes on in the operating units and to get close to the methodologies."
Another MWC NETWORK member, Karim Hadchiti, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of an internet company, Shopping4Sure, took the opposite approach - moving from general management (VP Operations) to the CIO role. When asked to compare and contrast the roles, Karim volunteered, "The best (executive) is someone who has been exposed to other areas of the business. This exposure helps the executive understand how technology works with other pieces of the business." He added, "As a general manager you have to understand technology; how it integrates and affects the different parts of the business. As a technology manager you may be swayed into thinking just about technology and sometimes not taking the business issues into account. You may be hung up with making sure your technology is sound and perfect at the expense of running the business."
The M. Wood Company conclusion: Whether as a CIO or general manager, be a good businessperson who uses technology as an enabler. Do not pride yourself on a reputation of being the technical expert.
- Don't overwhelm others with "techno-speak". This is a natural extension of the last point - being a businessperson first. If you are serious about making the move from CIO to CEO or COO, you need to be perceived as being able to clearly understand and communicate problems and solutions - from all areas of the business. No one ends up being the leader if the rest of the organization cannot understand the answers or alternatives you provide.
Price volunteered this advice, " Leave the jargon at the door. Try to understand each function's needs by what they are saying - in their language. By taking this approach, you gain a basic understanding of the organization piece by piece. When the time comes to move into managing that operation, because you listened and provided a creative solution that was stated in business terms, you will be readily accepted." The M. Wood Company conclusion: Develop and utilize good communication skills to become a leader who is easy to follow.
- The problem-solving process and systems analysis expertise are valuable assets that a CIO brings to general management. As you plan for a general management career, one of the challenges is "how do I prepare to manage departments or operations whose functions are unknown to me? As a new General Manager, how do I get smart, quick?" Use of the problem-solving skills that helped you succeed as a business partner CIO is a key ingredient. The use of business analysis techniques is also very important. By applying these skills through your career in IT you possess the ability to manage people, process and technology. Karim Hadchiti commented, "On the macro level you need to understand what needs to be done. Then if you hire the right person to get you where you need to go and you understand how the pieces fit, you'll be able to eliminate redundant processes, streamline the operation and improve overall efficiency. Take the time to hire good people because that is where the difference is going to be." Charles Price's comments emphasize the process piece of the transition, "Most CIOs know how to ask questions that give specific answers to write specifications and make the systems work. They know the process and how to recommend a solution. Once you have acquired the knowledge of the operating unit from a systems prospective, you can run them as long as you are a good manager." The M. Wood Company conclusion: Continue to develop and use your process, problem-solving and people skills.
If this is a career path you've chosen, to become a General Manager, COO or CEO, you will need to actively manage your career with that purpose in mind. What steps will you take this week to add to your credibility as a business problem-solver within your organization? How can you use your current talents and abilities to bring value to your company? What specific general management position are you targeting? M. Wood Company's experience and expertise can be an invaluable resource as you wrestle with these and other aspects of your career planning. The path you take and where it ends depends on your planning and actions. Respected CIO? Talented contributor? Headed to the corner office? What's next for you?