by Sam Gordon & Simon La Fosse

The road to CIO

Jun 08, 20115 mins

As a recruitment agency you are are often asked for advice from aspiring CIOs on how to make that important step into the top job. Clients are also interested in being able to identify the next generation of technology leaders. There are the key questions to address in assessing a future CIO.

What skills are required? How do you spot your next CIO even if they have not yet performed the role? If you’re currently a direct report to a CIO what steps should you be taking to become a CIO?

1. Do the job, before you get the title

It’s an old adage that you have to do the role before you get the title. There’s an important message here that to be considered ready for a CIO role you need to demonstrate the skills and leadership qualities associated with the people already effective in the role. This is the only way to make you an obvious contender and critically this applies to both internal promotion/succession planning and when interviewing for an external role.

In practical terms this means pushing for the opportunities and experiences that will help you to develop rather than waiting for them to be thrust upon you. Without usurping your boss, you should be seen as close to peer level to the CIO before you will be seriously considered CIO material. This means asking your manager to continually devolve additional responsibilities to you and ensuring that you exceed performance expectations when this happens.

2. Ask yourself some questions

There are many skills required for a CIO role and there will be nuances depending on the organisation structure, industry and company culture. To be considered ready for a CIO role you should be confident of the following statements:

  • The rest of the business sees you as an integral part of their decision making and regardless of reporting line your input is sought out by senior stakeholders.
  • You have a track record of shaping and consistently delivering business solutions that have created tangible value.
  • You are commercially astute and numerate with the confidence to discuss finance at board level.
  • You feel confident driving strategy as well as leading operational and programme execution simultaneously.
  • You have a reputation for developing people and have a team of strong candidates for succession into your role. Few people would be surprised to hear you have been appointed CIO.

3. Raise your profile but focus on business value

When considering how you drive your own career agenda and gain the experiences you must be sure to place business value as your overriding priority. By doing what is right for the organisation and achieving success for the business you will enhance your profile internally and also from an external CV perspective. Success tends to follow those who focus on business value and develop a reputation for consistent delivery. In our view people who focus on personal agendas may have some short term wins but tend to lose perspective and don’t seem to create stable career platforms.

4. Take risks

Few CIOs reached their position by playing safe. From a candidate perspective you will need to take some calculated risks and be bold. This may mean moving from a secure company environment to join a high growth business where your career has the potential to accelerate. It certainly means moving on to a new environment if it is clear your aspirations will not be met or there is simply not much opportunity to deliver value. From a client perspective this means being open to candidates who have not earned the title yet but clearly demonstrate all the competencies necessary for the role. Although it may feel riskier taking a candidate who is ‘unproven’ in the role they invariably bring fresh ideas, real energy and are unencumbered by past legacy. The smart ones will also surround themselves with mentors and a management team that help to challenge them.

5. Assess your current talent pool

As internal candidates are the obvious first port of call for the next generation of leadership it is important to look at the succession potential within the CIOs current leadership team. If there are no credible options then the CIO should be encouraged to address this issue; the most effective leaders invariably make their roles redundant as they make space for their successors to step up. You must be willing to remove ‘blockers’ from stifling talent. Your high performers will need to be able see or sense a meritocratic culture where success is rewarded with career growth. In a highly competitive market for top talent, the more opportunities you give for people to progress the more attractive your business will be to the best people in the market.

About the authors:

Sam Gordon & Simon La Fosse are Directors at La Fosse Associates, a technology recruitment firm.