Monday, December 07, 2015

First generation CIOs are vacating their positions; bridging the leadership gap

At the age of 25, I aspired to retire after putting in another 25 with a view to enjoy the rest of my life the way I wanted to with my friends and family. I did not want the compulsion to get to a workplace which expected me to put in 40 hours a week, but ended up demanding 65-70; not to talk about the travel and homework (as my kids called it) that took my attention post dinner when I was not traveling. I wanted to be the master of my destiny, time, and fulfil my bucket list before age related ill-health incapacitated me from living my desires.

It took me a year post the landmark and mid last year decided to hang up my boots. There were a few who preceded me in the same quest – most of them having crossed the golden milestone a little earlier. In the last few months I met many CIOs who want to take the plunge and get out of the rat race to do various things that they are passionate about. Most of them wanted a view on how green the grass is on the other side, pros, cons, challenges and opportunities; it’s evident that the trickle will become a flood sooner than later.

The CIO role has evolved and changed from techie to business leader with many taking on dual/multiple responsibilities; some have made it to the corner office and a place on the Board. With every new technology disruption irrespective of whether it impacts the enterprise and its customers, noise levels challenge the existence of the role which subsides as quickly as the hype is created by consultants, vendors and others. The business criticality of the role is now beginning to be felt and many companies are making efforts to retain their CIOs.

But what has been the trigger point for the CIOs aspirational breakout into newer horizons ? Why are they in droves wanting to get off the corporate treadmill into different roles ? They have started consulting companies, some joined hands with startups; academics has been the calling for a few, while the rest search for meaning in their life. Whatever they decided to do, the number of active first generation corporate CIOs, most of who started their professional lives at the bottom of the technology pyramid, is slowly and steadily dwindling.

Their experience makes them valuable contributors to industry bodies and associations where they rally resources and support to solve common problems. They are also active participants in Angel networks investing time, effort, and money into nurturing startups helping them take off and realize their true potential. Those who started work on succession pipeline and coach their teams to be ready for the eventuality are able to move off with relative ease with the knowledge that their legacy shall be remembered positively.

Everyone however has not been able to create smooth transitions; their teams were not perceptibly ready to take on the role. Thus the vacuum that they left behind was filled by external hires similar to a situation where the CIO would have left for other corporate opportunities. The interesting trend that appears to be emerging is to hire from big consulting and IT companies – practice heads, technology experts, and at times even senior project managers – each of them vying the CIO position and wanting the corner office.

Early results appear to indicate that successful succession planning and transition delivers better results for an enterprise with continuity of the journey; getting a seasoned CIO from outside fares better than a first time CIO from other disciplines despite their technical or functional expertise clearly demonstrating the complexities and nuances of a CIO role now having moved beyond technology. Organizations would do well to take cognizance of how the role impacts their ability to continue using IT as an effective tool to differentiate.

The CIO role and IT leadership is not just about the number of years of experience, it is about relevant experience that marries together technology, industry expertise, domain knowledge, people skills, and the generally accepted managerial skills. Current economic ecosystem with new disruptive business models necessitates the need for strategic CIO skills that were not so critical in the past. It is contingent upon CIOs to develop such skills in their teams to create a multiplier effect and also help them move off whenever the bug bites them.

If you are a CIO, get started now so that you can follow your heart when you are ready to graduate to the next level.