CIO Tenure: What is Wrong (if Anything)?post by Chris Curran on April 22, 2009
Along with IT project failure rates, the average time a CIO stays with a company is one of the most often quoted metrics in our trade. Recent studies cite that 1 in 4 CIOs are fired for poor performance and CIO’s have an average tenure of 4.4 years. These don’t seem to bode well for the CIO. Why is the tenure so short? And, is this seemingly short tenure really a bad thing?
While certainly not scientific, I’ve been trying to find similarities and differences in the CIOs I work with as they enter a new job and navigate the waters of the enterprise. By personally observing 30+ CIOs over the last 10 years or so and adding to this the observations of my Diamond partners, I have developed a perspective that tries to match the core skill set of a CIO with the point in a company’s developmental lifecycle. I believe that these matches (or mismatches) can lend some insight into the reasons that CIOs do or don’t last in their role.
There are several views of the types of CIOs and I have my own version:
- Strategist - very strong CxO collaborator who brings innovative, often disruptive thinking to an enterprise, visual communicator, conceptual and is frustrated with detailed planning
- Transformer - comfortable directing large portfolios of projects, both strategic and tactical; great team builder and communicator; develops and understand business cases
- Value Manager - comfortable optimizing IT’s processes and platforms, very good sense for IT efficiency and effectiveness; effectively understands and applies benchmarks and frameworks such as CMMi and ITIL
When a new CIO enters, it is interesting to look at where the enterprise is in its developmental lifecycle. I define the developmental lifecycle as having three simple stages:
- Evaluation -assessing its business design in light of competitive pressures, cost challenges, or M&A opportunities
- Change - planning and implementation of a new business design
- Stabilization - operating the new business design and measuring its actual versus desired impact
Obviously, there is a strong correlation between the CIO types and enterprise lifecycle stages (funny how that works). So, my proposal is this:
A CIO will be most successful when his or her skill “type” matches the developmental stage of the enterprise.
Assuming you have a good skill match as a new CIO, the next question is what happens when the enterprise shifts into the next stage. One of three cases exists:
- The CIO combines good relationships and a strong IT leadership team to handle the different IT leadership needs
- The CIO doesn’t have what it takes to manage the transformation and leaves/asked to leave as the effort stalls
- The CIO is “bored” with the changing role and eventually leaves
Before you dismiss the “bored CIO” as a ridiculous scenario because it doesn’t fit you or your colleagues, take my word that they do exist. In fact, they are some of the most effective and creative CIOs out there.
Consider one CIO I am working with now who is a “strategist” (my term not hers). Over the last five years, she has had three CIO positions in different companies. Her style is intense and creative. She sees her role as a disruptor and seeks to turn the enterprise on its head to get real transformational value from IT. Along the way, unfortunately, her style can create relationship challenges and she tends to leave. I would say that in the end, she puts firms on a better path then when she got there. In fact, she is to the point where she considers herself more of a contractor than an employee. This model may not fit you but it does exist.
From a career management perspective, it may be eye opening for you to think about what kind of core skill you have - strategist, transformer or value manager. I’m not saying that you don’t have or can’t have some of the other two, but one is likely dominant.
Now, consider what your firm is trying to do. Is there a match?
If not, what can you do about it?