Grooming the 2010 CIO

Demand for CIOs is up, but supply is not. A new report aims to establish best practices in pipelining contenders for leadership roles ahead with a focus on talent development, role rotations and metrics to ensure effectiveness.

Business forces may be driving up demand for CIOs, but few concomitant forces are driving up the current supply. In fact, a mounting shortage of qualified candidates for top IT positions has caused companies to increase their focus on pipelining contenders for leadership roles ahead.

A report released by the Society for Information Management Advanced Practices Council May 16 examined what companies should be doing right now to groom their next CIO and attempted to establish best practices.

By culling best philosophies and approaches from hundreds of companies, the report suggests that CIO development is laddered and persistent, emphasizes rotation and employs metrics to assess the programs effectiveness.

The 2010 CIO is expected to be more of a leader than a manager. Tasks that previously burdened IT leaders—such as managing IT projects and infrastructure—will be easier to delegate, allowing the CIO to resurface as a strategist, relationship architect and leader, highly visible to business and upper management.

"The thing we know is that CIOs have undergone a lot of flack in the last 10 years, but we need to look ahead. How can we evolve over the next five?" Ritu Agarwal, SIM APC researcher and professor and deans chair of information systems director in the Center for Health Information and Decision Systems at Robert H. Smith School of Business, told eWEEK.

The 2010 CIO is expected to engage with top management not just on technology-related decisions but strategy, marketing, production and financial decisions, with a more clearly demarked path from the CIO to the CEO position.

Supply-demand imbalance

Companies interviewed expressed concern that the pool of IT leadership in the profession may not be increasing at a rate that is consistent with the demand, which is driven by economic growth, large companies adding second and third CIOs, as well as an increased demand for individuals with CIO-like capabilities among IT service vendors, due to their own rapid growth.

Yet a slowing investment in IT following the dot com bust as well as the impending baby boomer retirements create a situation where there is very little existing supply.

"Less than 50 percent of companies formally think about developing leadership talent in IT. They dont see immediate and tangible results in long-term development programs. They havent shored their spending back up since dotcom cutbacks," said Agarwal.

Suggestion 1: Laddered, persistent development

Research found that viewing leadership development as a journey that had to start early in an individuals career and then progressively reinforced through richer and complex experiences led to successful succession planning.

"Its not an unequivocal necessity to find your next CIO from within your companys ranks, but there are certain advantages. Each company needs to assess whether they will need that internal company knowledge to form a CIO. In general, its the best idea to start developing you leadership talent early," said Agarwal.

This laddered approach—in which individuals graduate from one program to the next as they move up their career ladders—provided employees with a foundation of business and leadership capabilities, as well as a basis for forming relationships across a company.

"A lot of companies pay lip service to succession planning but they end up only doing it for one or two key roles in the company. But overall, we found that it was ignored," said Agarwal.

Companies in the report recognized that there was no one-size-fits-all approach to executive development at senior levels and therefore the program for a CIO-in-grooming needed to be carefully crafted to the needs of the specific individual.

"You cant take someone who has been elsewhere and just plop them in a leadership role, and in three months, theyll be fully trained. Youll need many years of leadership development to get someone to the right place," said Agarwal.

Suggestion 2: Emphasis on rotation

Workplace role rotations—in which a peer apprentices another peer, switches jobs with a manager or takes on an additional area of responsibility—were seen as an excellent way of customizing development to address specific capability gaps. Rotations also gave the CIO candidate an opportunity to elevate or gain a truly enterprise perspective.

"The thinking of most managers is that people pick up leadership skills by just working at a firm for a while. But it rarely works that way unless there is a very open corporate environment," said Agarwal.

"Actually putting individuals in leadership roles—For this project, you will be the CIO. Youll see the project through and make a presentation to the executives.—is far more effective."

Suggestion 3: Monitoring through metrics

The report found that most companies did not evaluate their formal development programs but instead believed that satisfied participants were indication enough.

At one company investigated—HealthSvcs2—the success of their emerging leaders program was determined by how many individuals get promoted after completing the program. They also tracked how many outside organizations poached their talent, which they saw as a positive indication that they were grooming good leaders.


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