CIOs face a high-pressure environment to deliver results in an environment of tight resources and rising expectations. One question, sitting in the minds of many CIOs is “how can I keep my job?”
CIO tenure is a perennial issue and while current CIO tenure remains stable at around 4 years and 4 months the change in economic conditions will challenge many CIOs. An announcement of the 2009 findings can be found at http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=855612.
It is reasonable to assume that CIOs will face increased pressures in the coming year. While it is impossible to highlight all the risks that will challenge CIO tenure, one of the most important factors I have observed is how your executive peers answer the following question:
“Is the CIO on-side?”
Executives see the CIO as being ‘on side’ meaning ‘on our side, with us, part of the executive team.’ It is an important question, particularly in challenging times and uniquely in these challenging times for one simple reason: no executive has had experience, much less success leading in this type of environment. This means that there are significantly more questions than there are answers, more risk than ever before and the stakes could not be higher.
In this environment, top executives often pull together to provide a unified front to the customer, investor, market and employee community. Sure there may be deep debates within the executive team, but externally they present a united front. The value in appearing united is immeasurable compared to the damage of showing differences.
This is what makes ‘being on side’ so important. If the CIO is part of the executive team, then they are part of the unified front – even when it is not to their advantage. CIOs who take internal executive disagreements and make them external to their teams, or into the corporate culture show that they are not part of the team. They can be great leaders, brilliant technologists, accomplished program managers, etc, but when the chips are down (like they are now) being on side is more important.
Executive logic in this regard is simple “we can always find someone who can run IT, but we need a leader who is part of our team.”
Being ‘on-side’ does not mean you capitulate your position, compromise your values or beliefs. That is an immature way of looking at the situation. CIOs are encouraged to bring their ideas, operational information, the capabilities of their teams to the executive table. They must defend their budgets, the value streams they are creating, and how IT can contribute to business success. I am NOT saying that CIOs have to lose in those discussions. Quite the contrary, you have a set of unique capabilities in IT that the enterprise needs. However, all of that happens within the four walls of executive suites and once the group has made a decision, the CIO needs to be part of that decision and lead in its implementation.
This phenomenon may be new to you as a CIO or a CIO who is now being brought into the senior executive team. It may be puzzling to see how executives disagree in private and yet publically support the same position. When you were a manager that was part of the “executive lobotomy” your friends used to joke about. Think about the executives who are successful in your company and chances are that when the decision is made there are part of the team.
We face a challenging environment fraught with risk and pressure to perform. There are many reasons why a CIO might leave a company, some of which are outside of their control. However, one reason that is within their control is the degree to which the CIO puts themselves ‘on side.’
Whose side are you on?