Maintaining the pipeline of future CIOs

My staff could look at any single day of my professional life and decide based on this that they would never want to be a CIO.

They see me as the person that must answer all the hard questions when systems and processes don’t work. They think my job is hard and complex, and that it appears to be nearly impossible to succeed at.

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This perception is widespread in the IT industry, which makes it all the more important for the current generation of CIOs to develop and maintain a robust pipeline of future CIO candidates. Being prepared to rapidly replace people in critical leadership positions is also a business imperative. Thus, we need to make the case for the CIO job to the IT and business professionals who we believe can step into our shoes.

I am always looking for IT or business leaders who I think can make the jump to CIO. But it’s not enough to identify them; we also have to develop them as leaders. Even when individuals say they want to be a CIO, often they don’t really know what the job entails or what it could require of them.

I use my CIO office to provide potential CIOs with a formal development process to support our future IT leadership needs. It includes rotational positions on my team and opportunities to serve in business leadership roles. It is also important to look at external talent. A promotion to CIO should not be a rite of passage or an entitlement.

Nevertheless, CIOs are responsible for developing talented people, giving them the right experience and then selecting the very best talent for open positions.

What Future CIOs Must Know

I start by explaining the core responsibilities of my job:

I oversee information resource management and operations for the business. While it is helpful to have IT skills that can be applied to solve problems, the primary role of the CIO is to tie corporate strategy to IT investment in order to improve business capabilities and efficiencies.

I believe that the core abilities people need to become successful CIOs are:

• Analysis skills. The CIO career path should include business systems analyst experience. Such jobs prove that a person can use problem-solving skills and analysis techniques to apply technology in the right place at the right time, in support of the business needs. CIOs also need process analysis experience so they can leverage knowledge of current and future IT capabilities that will improve processes.

• Financial acumen. Experience managing financial investments is critical. CIOs are responsible for one of the largest investments the business makes, and we must be able to evaluate the effectiveness of these investments against the business cases that established their requirements.

• Communications expertise. CIOs must be able to communicate with-and listen to-business leaders, the workforce and the IT industry. This give-and-take is the only way to ensure that the CIO office is making a difference to the company and that systems are working as intended.

With these capabilities as development goals, I use my CIO office as a place to develop up-and-coming leaders.

How to Teach Them

My approach is to teach potential CIOs how the IT department functions within the business as well as provide training in specific business disciplines.

I start by using the CIO office as a development opportunity. Most CIOs would agree that exposure to top-level business decision making is essential for people who are interested in becoming CIOs-they need to understand how IT systems and processes interrelate with other business functions. What better place to provide that exposure than within the office of the CIO? My CIO office consists of dedicated and matrixed personnel, with the positions of business systems analyst and portfolio systems analyst identified for rotational development. For 24 to 36 months, we expose the individuals in these positions to the executive level of the business and hone their skills in IT capital planning, business process analysis, communication of IT value and management of large programs.

One of their key duties and most important experiences comes in defining the enterprise system plan and architecture. To do this, they interact with senior leadership to collect information about the business strategy and organizational requirements. They use this information to support enterprise architecture development.

People in rotations also study where the business will be in the future, look at the technology infrastructure we have in place today and plan the migration to systems that will represent the future state.

Through such experiences, these individuals gain first-hand exposure to strategy and long-term planning from an IT and business perspective. They learn that the systems that are here today are not necessarily going to be here tomorrow. And they learn how to budget for, plan and execute programs that get us to where the business needs to be.

After the potential CIOs spend two to three years in the CIO office, I work to provide them with experience in managing a part of the business. They may run a P&L center in one of our lines of business. They may work in functional areas such as human resources or finance. Or they may run an internal IT program such as implementation of a major ERP subcomponent. In these roles, they take and apply the knowledge they have acquired in direct support of the business. These assignments can last for two to five years.

The Well-Rounded CIO

Once individuals have sufficient background and work experience-and when they decide that they really want to be a CIO-we provide further development. For example, we might send them to formal training programs that teach the fundamentals of IT capital planning, investment control, portfolio management, IT security or IT leadership-whatever is needed to round out their capabilities and qualify them for a potential CIO role in one of our businesses.

Ultimately, CIOs determined to build the leadership pipeline need to consider why today’s IT professionals would care to step into our shoes. The people I see who really want CIO jobs are the people who are focused on making a difference in how IT contributes to the success of the business. They also want a job where they have the freedom to contribute to the business as a whole.

This kind of freedom to make things better across the business spectrum is not only the key attraction to the job, it’s our value proposition. We must work harder to get that message across to those we hope will follow in our footsteps.

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