Stop Your Company From Looking Outside for the Next CIO

Advice on how CIOs can give their chosen successors a better chance.

When I ask CIOs about their successor, I get one of three answers: Fifty percent tell me, “I am grooming two people, but they still have some development ahead of them.” Roughly thirty percent say, “I have someone who could be CIO tomorrow.” The rest of the time I hear, “Not by a long shot.” Despite the fact that most CIOs have a successor in mind, I would wager that fewer than 10 percent of today’s large-company CIOs have been promoted from within. Hence the paradox: You develop successors, yet the CEO almost always goes outside for the next CIO.

This paradox has one obvious explanation: The CEO is dissatisfied with IT, and the CIO’s would-be successors are guilty by association. But there are other, more manageable challenges at play in the succession-planning paradox. The following CIOs and their named successors offer pragmatic solutions.

The Stovepipe Dilemma. IT leaders tend to come up through applications or infrastructure, while the CIO role requires experience with both.

Solution: Give your successor all of IT. Bruce Goodman joined Humana in 1999 as CIO, but three years later he took on responsibility for service operations as well. As chief service and information officer, Goodman worked with senior management to give IT operations and technical services to CTO Brian LeClaire, his named successor. LeClaire also kept his existing responsibility for applications engineering. “Years ago, I had an opportunity for advancement that I did not receive because I did not have a successor,” says Goodman. “If you want to advance past CIO, you have to hire people who have the potential to do your job and then give them as much of IT as you can.”

Solution: Recruit well-rounded direct reports. When Rick Davidson was CIO at Manpower, he had openings in his applications and infrastructure leadership. But he did not recruit people with stovepipe backgrounds in those disciplines, as many CIOs do. Instead, Davidson, now a director at AlixPartners, kept an eye on bringing in possible successors and so hired people with broad experiences in shared services operations and business functions.

The Exposure Dilemma. Too often when the outgoing CIO recommends a successor, the executive committee has had little exposure to the internal candidate.

Solution: Get successors in front of the business. Davidson gave Denis Edwards, who succeeded him at Manpower in 2009, responsibility for a front-office transformation program—“the largest, most complex program in the history of the company,” says Edwards. Because of the program’s impact, the entire executive committee was invested. Davidson, rather than acting as the executive face on the program himself, gave Edwards the highly visible role of providing the steering committee with updates and presentations.

The Desire Dilemma. Not every direct report wants to run IT, so it is critical that CIOs be in touch with their VPs’ career plans. Then they know they are backing a candidate who truly wants the job.

Solution: Have the conversation. “Several years ago, Bruce gave me the opportunity to articulate where I wanted to go in the organization,” says Humana’s LeClaire. “I told him that I wanted experience managing service operations, so Bruce and his colleagues gave me some responsibility for that part of the business in addition to IT.” LeClaire’s advice to direct reports: “If your CIO is not having the conversation with you, then the onus is on you to initiate it.”

If you as CIO have credibility with the executive committee, it is in your power to instate a successor. Rather than wait until you are planning your departure, take the time now to give your best people a shot at the job.

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This story, "Stop Your Company From Looking Outside for the Next CIO" was originally published by CIO Executive Council .

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