Moonlighting for CIOs: how to get a second job

IT leaders can benefit greatly from getting a second set of responsibilities in their organization: a new perspective on the business, expanding skills and solidifying careers.

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I am not talking about moonlighting as a club “muscle” or flipping burgers at night of course. But any CIO should consider seriously expanding their reach in their organization and getting a second set of responsibilities different from IT.

Why is this important?

Most IT leaders are extremely busy, and adding new workload seems to be counter productive in the short term. However, there is a lot of value in getting involved in new areas:

  • Business value: IT leaders are in a rare executive position, alongside with COOs, to have both a wide breadth of understanding of their company and access to the details of the processes. Expanding into new areas is a great way to leverage this knowledge to create business value.

  • Peer recognition: I can’t count the number of articles, discussions and conferences around the role of IT and “how to get a seat at the table." This a great way to build your seat, instead of begging for it.

  • Job satisfaction: CIOs sometimes feel pigeonholed as a “techie” or “keeper of the lights on,” and that is extremely frustrating. This is especially true when the cool stuff happens outside of IT like innovation, digitization, analytics, customer experience, etc. Why not getting a bit of the fun, too?

  • Personal growth: Building expertise in a new specialty or leveraging previous knowledge is a great way to increase your personal brand, inside and outside of your company. The objective is to be seen and heard as someone knowledgeable outside of IT and ready to get involved. It is also the path to a resilient career as it increases the options past the CIO role.

How to get started?

A few obstacles stand in the way before getting started down the path of a second role. First is time and availability. There is no point getting involved in something new if you cannot commit to the effort. The key to freeing up time is good delegation and oversight (see my blog on micromanaging damages). Grooming a successor and letting her/him take over some day to day activities is providing double value by having a succession plan and free up your time.

A second challenge is navigating through the skepticism of other business leaders who in some cases would prefer IT remains behind a locked door. Typically, newcomers to their turf are either perceived as a threat or an extra workload for them: it’s seen as a threat because you could be viewed as aiming for their jobs or disrupting their well-oiled management style. Alternately it can be seen as extra workload because they fear they will have to teach you the basics of their business.

CIOs can do a few things to overcome resistance from other business leaders:

  • Educate yourself about the business first. Learn about the market, competition and business challenges. You have access to a great network of knowledge: your team! Everyday they hear the pains of the business users as they manage and implement solutions. Read business cases and project charters, visit plants and offices... you cannot see your business from behind your desk.

  • Volunteer for the assignments that nobody wants, the not so-attractive projects that your CEO needs done but nobody raise their hand to take: cost optimizations, inventory reductions, receivable improvements... all these are valued projects where one can make a difference.

  • Be diplomatic and try not to step on people's toes and territories until you have a couple of successes under your belt. Approach your new area as an internal consultant: offer help but also make clear that if your help doesn’t provide value, you will back away with no harm done.

  • Think broadly when looking at opportunities and apply transferable skills. If you are good at operational excellence in IT (i.e., cost reductions) look for similar opportunities in your business landscape. If you have a background in a functional area like supply chain, offer your help in planning and scheduling or inventory optimization. Again, these are always topics that are perceived negatively by many, but have very positive impact.

Finally, getting a “second job” is about expanding your CIO horizons and understanding your business from  different perspectives. You are now “in” looking at your operation and there will be a lot of value to unlock, both for your company and for yourself.

Building upon your business acumen by practicing other roles is the best way to succeed. By taking an active role in the business, CIOs will meet the essential requirements to long and prosperous career.

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