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The Increase in CIO Turnover

by Jack Santos  |  March 22, 2011  |  Comments Off on The Increase in CIO Turnover

The informal talk at a recent CIO awards conference was about a perceived increase in CIOs losing their jobs.  I don’t have any hard data on that, but here’s my take on CIO turnover.

The street line is that CIO’s average 3 years in a position.   I actually think it maybe be closer to 5.   In general, jobs, especially IT jobs, seem to be following a similar trend where someone will have worked for AT LEAST 5-6 companies over a 20-30 year career – the days of lifetime employment are over.

I have always admired Michael Malone’s  “ The Future Arrived Yesterday”.  It takes this trend of more externalized companies, and ad-hoc work engagements, and hypothesizes what a company may look like in the future.  An interesting vision.

My role as an interim CIO saw the whole question of CIO longevity from a different perspective – I would have to work closely with CEO’s on why they eliminate the last guy; and what they were looking for in a new one.  That was always a treat.

I had a conversation a few years back with a CIO yenta  (someone – who shall remain nameless –  that perennially went around to CIOs (both socially and in business settings) and just talked about anything, while arriving at some very cool insights.  He pointed out that over the course of five years his contact book of CIO names and addresses had a 80% turnover rate – many just disappearing.

My experiences have made me come to the conclusion that the whole CIO turnover phenomena really is pretty simple and hinges on:

“Normal” turnover: The CIO doesn’t like the job/company, The boss doesn’t like the CIO, or a better opportunity comes long.  This probably accounts for 50% of the CIO shifts.  Some of this is just due to an in-demand profession, and the more opportunistic CIOs move more often.

“Fire for cause”: A low number (probably <5%) of those that are SO BAD (don’t meet committed to goals on a regular basis), or do something unethical/wrong, that they are summarily dismissed.  Should match the general population.

“Retires/burnouts/career changes/sabbaticals”: I grouped these together, since it is often had to distinguish the three groups, especially with retirees working.  Generally, this group has had enough – and they aren’t CIO’s anymore; or they are taking a break from the playing field.  I dare say many of the ex-CIOs at Gartner are in this group.  Overall, my guess would be that 20%  of turnover is in this category. And it’s rising.

and finally,

“Dysfunctional organizations”: through no fault of the CIO, the company is in a state of serious flux, chaos, or has generally taken on the personality of the leader (owner/CEO/Chairman) who needs some serious therapy.  These are the companies that churn through key positions, and the CIO is probably one of the most likely “high churn” candidates for a variety of reasons (tech phobia, center of attention, whipping boy, etc.).  I actually think this could be a whopping 25% of CIO turnover – and could be even higher if some of the “normal” turnover falls into this camp.  The only way to tell (my rule of thumb) is whether the organization has gone through 3 or more CIOs in in less than 5 years.  There is often a correlation between high CEO and CIO turnover as well, adding to this number.  Oh, BTW: there is nothing to say that a dysfunctional org can’t still win in the market.

It would be interesting to hear from you, dear reader.  What’s your take?

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Category: cio-issues  

Tags: career  cio  management  

Jack Santos
Research VP
7 years at Gartner
40 years IT industry

Jack Santos is a Research Vice President with Gartner, part of the Enterprise Architecture and Technology Innovation team within the Gartner for IT Leaders product. He focuses on enterprise architecture and technology trends. Mr. Santos' specific area of research covers individual development, leadership and management practices for enterprise architects, EA innovation, and collaboration approaches. Read Full Bio

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