Whatever Happened to Harry?
By: Milton Wood, President/CEO

Turnover in the Chief Information Officer (CIO) rank is far too common today. For the past twenty-five years, I have worked with CEOs across industries, to recruit CIOs onto their management teams. One of the first questions I ask the CEO is, "Why did the previous CIO fail to work out?" The most common responses are

  • Lack of staff leadership and development.

  • Failure to develop and implement a performance appraisal system.

  • Failure to bring about the changes the company hired the CIO to initiate and implement.

  • Failure to understand the corporate metrics which determine success and failure. Inability to sell and justify initiatives to the executive team and secure the necessary funding.


Moving into the CIO ranks requires more than technical skills. Many CIOs have spent their entire career in technology positions focusing on planning and implementing new technologies and keeping current with technical knowledge. Today, CIOs need to demonstrate leadership and possess strong people management, communication and interpersonal skills to be successful in their role.

I recall one client sharing his frustration, "The CIO is a great person, but he cannot do it all himself. His staff does not get it! Worse yet, he did not seem to be doing anything about the situation." The CIO must establish clear objectives for the IT function and performance expectations for the staff. Having to make tough staff decisions when individuals are not meeting organizational goals is a difficult part of the CIO responsibilities.

Managing senior management expectations and delivering on business objectives are crucial to all executive positions - including the CIO position. Assuring the staff has the technical competency is equally important. Failing to recognize this is the undoing of many IT officers. Establishing yourself as part of the team and building relationships within the organization is as every bit as important as technical competency and delivering projects on time. Ninety-nine percent of the time, having your new system implemented on-time and on-budget is the last of your worries. Many CIOs have spent hours defending their honor on how they are perceived in the organization. Remember the executive team's perception of IT is your reality! No matter how well you think you are doing, and you may actually be doing well, it can soon be over if the corporate metrics say otherwise.

Another potential pitfall for many CIOs is their belief the funding for new initiatives has been approved prior to their arrival. Suddenly, they find themselves in a debate about funding allocations and become frustrated. Some CIOs fail to understand in their discussions with the CEO, he may be sharing a vision of what the IT function needs to accomplish to support the organization. This does not mean the project is either finalized or funded. Achieving that vision will require you to develop and implement a plan to accomplish it. Your plan needs to outline the objectives, the specific deliverables, detailed time frames, funding requirements and business value.

The senior management team will evaluate the IT plan along with other business initiatives in the funding approval process. Be prepared to sell your ideas by articulating the business benefits. Failure to do so will prevent you from bringing about the changes they hired you to achieve.

Understanding corporate metrics, delivering what is expected, and managing expectations, is part of all executive's responsibilities, including the CIO. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the CIO function aligned on the same level with other senior officers within the company? If not, how do you communicate IT's successes and receive feedback on its' shortcomings?

  • Are your IT goals and objectives consistent with your company's overall plan?

  • Has your staff been trained and made aware of those metrics, goals and objectives?

  • Have you developed and maintained a consistent performance appraisal system for your staff?
If you answer no to any of these questions, you could be traveling down Harry's path. Failing to recognize these issues, as Harry found out, has been the undoing of many CIOs. To be successful you must take accountability for your department champion and your ideas. This ultimately may mean spending eighty percent of your time managing senior management's expectations. You must have a strong support team within IT to bring your strategies to fruition.



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