Here’s a scenario that might sound familiar:
The CEO of a mid-sized organization calls in the CIO because times are desperate. The company needs to deploy new technology to increase revenue — quickly. The organization has already invested in a variety of tools and technology… but it’s not getting the job done. Now the CEO wants the CIO to find the right tool, the one that will help the organization, and it needs to be cheap and it needs to show results quickly. The CIO — who up until this point, has had little opportunity, much less been invited, to interact with other departments to identify needs and pain points with the current toolset. In fact, beyond any initial training and implementation of the current tools, the CIO has been relegated to sitting on the sidelines. But the CEO is convinced that new technology is the answer, and expects the CIO to get it done to get the organization back into the black … and the clock is ticking.
Scenarios similar to this one happen all the time in organizations. The pressure is constantly on the CIO, but she is often not enabled to be proactive or even part of the larger conversations with the business.
For CIOs, it often feels like they’re being given a teaspoon of gas and asked to get the company through the end of the cross-country road trip. They’re being asked enormous tasks with little budget or agency over previous decisions. They’re damned if they do — and damned if they don’t.
And this happens over and over! The CIO constantly jumps through hoops… only to land and then have to run back around to jump through it all over again. It’s no wonder that CIO position has one of the highest turnover rates among the C-suite, with an average tenure of just 4 years, according to TechTarget.
The relationship between the CIO and CEO has been fraught in the past and unfortunately in some organizations, that hasn’t improved. Even as the CIO becomes more influential and valued within the organization, many CEOs are still stressing out their CIOs!
For many organizations, there’s a gap in what the CEO expects and what the CIOs need to be able to deliver on those expectations. The CEO is the one with the power to bridge the gap. Let’s address those CEO expectations and how CEOs can give CIOs what they need to meet them.
CEO Expectations and CIO Needs
CEO Expectation: Business perspective.
The CEO expects the CIO to be the bridge between technology and the rest of the company. The CIO needs to look ahead and align technical benefit with the initiatives of the company and tailoring systems to meet business needs. This is absolutely critical for success in any business. Every business needs to use technology to its fullest potential and the CIO is the only person who can ensure that is happening. If the CIO and CEO are unable to fully enable the organization with technology, the organization is at risk of losing business to the competition.
CIO Need: Business enablement
In order for the CIO to have a business perspective, the CEO needs to recognize the role the CIO and IT play in business enablement. The CEO must ensure that their CIO is part of developing business strategies and plans. The CIO’s voice in business matters should be just as important as the voices of other leadership roles. That means the CIO has to be involved from the beginning of strategy conversations, instead of at the end of them.
CEO Expectation: Leadership
CEOs expect CIOs to be self-starters. The CIO needs to be able to motivate their teams and get buy-in from the rest of the organization. Because they often work closely with other members of the organization, the CIO needs to be viewed as an influential member of the organization who can lead the way.
CIO Need: Sponsorship
The CEO can strengthen the CIO’s credibility with peers by providing strategic support. Whether it’s inviting CIOs to strategic meetings or voicing their support of a CIO’s decision, the CEO can help the CIO attain the needed credibility to influence the organization. The CEO can also help the CIO form partnerships with external partners by starting introductions or including the CIO in communications.
CEO Expectation: Vision
The CIOs need to see the big picture of the business. CEOs want CIOs to be visionaries who are constantly moving toward the future vision of the business. The CIO has to buy-in to the CEOs vision and help the CEO turn the vision into a reality.
CIO Need: Vision and Strategic Consistency
However, for the CIO to become this visionary, the CEO needs to formally articulate the vision and mission for the company. The CIO will need to interpret how that vision fits into technology strategy, but that vision has to start from the top. Additionally, the CIO needs consistency and clarity in that vision. If the vision or strategy is constantly changing, the CIO won’t be able to create systems or initiatives to sustain it.
CEO Expectation: Innovation
Turning any vision into reality needs an innovative leader. The CIO should be on the cutting edge of all the trends and continually looking for new and better ways to leverage technology to propel the business. But the CIO also needs to be able to balance innovation and risk. She has to be able to explain the cost trade-offs with every innovative initiative.
CIO Need: Challenge
If the CEO wants an innovative CIO, they need to give the CIO those opportunities to be innovative. Challenge the CIO to use her talents on things that matter to the bottom line of the business. Don’t use her as a task rabbit who can simply pull the business over the finish line. Incorporate their expertise at the start of business challenges.
CEO Expectation: ROI
Finally, the CEO expects — and needs — the CIO to enhance ROI margins and profits. The CIO must contribute to the bottom line these days. Technology is inextricably linked to the success of any business today, so the CIO has to think in terms of ROI.
CIO Needs: Flexibility
The CIO can contribute to ROI, but she needs the CEO to understand the challenges of deploying and managing technology – at least at a high level. The CEO needs to give the CIO the chance to explain the complexities and challenges they face and demystify the technology. Then they need to allow them the flexibility to develop different approaches to solving problems. The CEO needs to understand that some IT investments take time to deliver their full potential value and allow the CIO that space to ensure that value is delivered.
Now, I don’t think CEOs should give CIOs any kind of “favored status” or special accommodations within the C-suite. The CIO doesn’t need to have her hand held, but CEOs do need to consider the impact of their own actions when they review how the CIO is operating. If there is high turnover in the CIO role, perhaps the first place to look is to determine if there are gaps between the CEO expectations and the CIO needs.Share