CIO Careers: Learning from System Quarterbackspost by Chris Curran on October 28, 2009
After an embarrassing loss to Kansas State last weekend, my Texas A&M football team responded with a resounding whooping (that’s a Texas term) of the Texas Tech Red Raiders Saturday in Lubbock, racking up a 52-30 victory. This is a big win for our program, for sure.
Whenever the discussion involves Texas Tech, the idea of a “system quarterback” usually is in the mix. The concept of a system quarterback is that a well-defined system made up of coaches, culture, personnel, league and offensive philosophy together can make a solid but not spectacular quarterback flourish. In Texas Tech’s case, their Coach Mike Leach has helped several quarterbacks put up unbelievable numbers - however, none have had anywhere near the same kinds of success in the NFL. Some attribute this disconnect to the idea that Leach and Tech have established this kind of system.
Similar conversations exist at the NFL level too. A QB like Trent Dilfer was never considered a superstar, but when put in a system at Baltimore, he won a Super Bowl. The inverse could also be discussed (see Dan Marino in Miami).
Does a Great System Make a CIO Better?
Could a similar situation exist for senior leaders in top companies? Could some companies have a system that combines coaching, culture, personnel and a set of core processes (plays) that could make its leaders better?
GE comes to mind. It’s generally accepted that GE knows how to build good general managers, CEOs in particular. Diamond’s founder and chairman, Mel Bergstein, describes this kind of company as an “academy firm” and talks about Goldman Sachs as having a similar capability. A University of Western Ontario study found that GE has an exceptional management development process and that ex-GE managers bring significant enterprise value to their new companies.
In understanding exactly what kind of system GE has built and the value it adds, they used the VRIO framework to analyze it:
- Value - can it directly address opportunities and be applied to threats?
- Rarity - do other firms have this resource?
- Imitability - can other firms quickly/inexpensively replicate it?
- Organization - is the firm organized to take advantage of the resource?
Using the VRIO lens, the Western Ontario team concludes that GE’s management development program adds sustainable competitive advantage. While not easily replicable, H-P, Johnson & Johnson and a few other companies are also known for leadership development. Within these companies, the CIOs and CIOs-to-be take advantage of their general management program along with their peers across the organization.
However, I wonder if a company can have a system that is particularly well-suited to help a CIO excel, even if it doesn’t have a program and culture like GE’s? Thinking out loud, here are some of the characteristics that I think create an environment in which a CIO can excel:
- Products: information-based products or significant information “wrappers” around products (eg, UPS)
- Organization: CIO core member of executive team; clear responsibility and accountability across IT leaders (enterprise and BU CIOs)
- Innovation: IT is looked at as a leader in enterprise innovation
I’d be interested in hearing about organizations in which IT leaders flourish. Thanks for your comments.