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Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Mike McCarron, Partner, Advisory Services at PwC.
I was DSI for more than 20 years in several sectors. My job now is to advise CIOs on how not to make the same mistakes I did.
Every article I’ve read about how to be a successful CIO has the phrase “getting a seat at the table” buried somewhere in the content. Why, after CIOs have been around for so many decades, are we still struggling to legitimize the function as a true player in the C-suite?
I see a lot more CIOs getting pushed off the table than I see gaining more responsibilities and gaining strategic legitimacy. What I’ve seen over the years is a deep lack of trust in CIOs – and the high turnover you can expect as a result.
There is clear evidence of this failure of CIOs to gain strategic legitimacy since the early 2000s with the dot-com boom, when every business wanted to do e-commerce.
Instead of looking to their CIOs to grow these operations, they hired e-commerce leaders.
Fast forward 20 years: now every company wants to digitize their operations, and instead of outsourcing that job to CIOs, they hire chief digital officers.
What are companies turning to to meet the growing need for better data insights, to harness artificial intelligence, oversee robotics, and crack the blockchain? Not to their CIO…they hire chief data officers.
Why? It’s not because of the reasons often associated with CIO turnover, such as security breaches or project failures, although these can sometimes be secondary factors. It’s mainly because we haven’t done enough to establish ourselves as strategic business leaders first and technology leaders second.
Everyone else at the C-suite table is a business leader first, followed by the function they lead. Many of them are functionally interchangeable.
Most CIOs enter one of two paths: the world of application development, where you understand things like how code works, or the world of network servers, where you understand infrastructure and data centers. data.
Unlike a progression to COO or CFO, these tracks do not lend themselves to in-depth knowledge of the business.
Take any network manager or any app developer and ask them what the business outcome of the work they do every day is, and I guess none of them know. In my experience, it’s nearly impossible to get the network/infrastructure manager or application developers to understand why a company is doing something.
You rarely find someone who has depth in both worlds – and the one thing you almost never see is someone from elsewhere in the company playing the role of CIO.
Conversely, how many times have you heard of the CIO who would eventually become the CEO? Almost never.
CIOs who follow up networking or application leads can do a great job ensuring that printers, servers, and accounts payable applications are running. But that doesn’t earn them a seat at the table where business strategy is formed. It’s just the basics.
Because they focus on these tasks, many CIOs end up becoming highly paid help desk managers. It is much easier to fall back on what you know than to take a risk.
Lately, I’ve also seen a lot of opposite issues. Regardless of their lack of understanding of business results, someone gets promoted to CIO and forgets that job #1 is to make everything work 100% of the time.
They become so impressed with themselves and their new “C” title that they lose sight of one of the pillars of the role: service.
They say to themselves, “I’m on equal footing with the CFO and the COO, so I don’t have to listen to them. Then they make decisions in a vacuum. They don’t cooperate, and they fail.
If you’re a CIO, you need to be a strategic business leader while running a service organization. You need to understand that you are there to make the CEO, CFO, and everyone else in the C-suite more successful and to fundamentally improve the business, whatever that means for that business.
It’s up to you to bring ideas to the table to drive additional sales, improve customer intimacy, create a better product, and more. your budget each year.
CIOs need to be able to have a conversation with CEOs and CFOs about how they’re going to make them and the business more efficient without using a lot of tech jargon. And then they have to fulfill those promises.
Another problem that confuses some CIOs: they make promises they can’t keep because they don’t know how to manage expectations.
If I were hiring a CIO tomorrow, I would first look for someone with demonstrated leadership abilities, not necessarily someone with networking or applications experience.
You can teach technology – or hire great technologists to work for you – but teaching leadership and listening skills to an older person is difficult.
It’s this disconnect between not knowing enough and knowing too much that creates a problem for so many CIOs. Because you want to be the smartest person in the room and you know too much about technology, that’s what you’re talking about.
Instead, the main topic of discussion should be of utmost importance and resonate with your C-suite peers: business growth.