by Mark Polansky

Top 10 Qualities Executives Are Looking for In a CIO

Sep 15, 20015 mins

Q: What are the professional experience requirements and personal qualifications most frequently required by your clients in executive searches for the position of chief information officer?

A: While the precise order of priority varies from company to company and from one situation to the next, these are the top 10 prerequisites for the CIO search assignments that I conduct.

10 Ability to hire, develop and retain high-quality IT professionals. Surprisingly, this critical proficiency is often not high on the list of required attributes of a great CIO, and sometimes not at all. This ability is too often broached by me rather than my client, and then is it is almost always added to the list if it was missing. Accordingly, I give high marks to CIO candidates who spontaneously promote and substantiate their prowess in this area.

9 International or global experience. This item probably would not have been on this list 10 years ago. As companies seek to serve international outlets, and cross-border acquisitions become more common, it is frequently expected that a top CIO possesses an appreciation of foreign cultures and an understanding of doing business in foreign markets. Knowledge of a specific market, country or language is sometimes required. More generally sought is an openness and awareness, based on experience, that there are different ways of interacting and diverse modes of conducting business in other parts of the world.

8 Knowledge of and experience in a specific industry. A very common request?sometimes the client will insist on finding individuals from his own industry, for example banking, retailing, insurance, hospitality and the like. To increase the potential candidate pool, I usually suggest consideration of candidates with alternative experiences in industries with parallel business models. Occasionally a client will specifically request that a CIO candidate search be filled from another industry in an effort to import new ideas and thinking from a more progressive sector of the economy.

7 Ability to create and manage change. This is a very common and important requirement since most searches are not initiated to simply replace a CIO who has moved on. Far more of these assignments are undertaken for newly created positions in organizations that have never had a CIO or to significantly upgrade the post from a legacy set of responsibilities to a true CIO role. Changing the posture of the IT function from an operational necessity to a strategic element is the highest priority here. The ability to create change in the corporation’s operating and business processes, for both efficiency and competitiveness, is also commonly sought. Business process reengineering and continuous process improvement are on the minds of many CEOs, especially in tougher economic conditions.

6 Communication skills. The ability to intelligently articulate a strategy or a feeling in a clear and appropriate manner is an absolute must. Add in great listening skills as well as strong abilities in negotiation, persuasion and conflict resolution. This can encompass the written word, one-to-one verbal communication, group platform skills and public speaking.

5 Management skills. Proficiency in directing and supervising people, projects, resources, budgets, vendors and other business partners is essential. Great managers are also expected to be accomplished team builders, motivators, coaches and mentors. Setting priorities, assigning the appropriate resources against those priorities, and delivering projects on time and on budget are always seen as key requirements for a top CIO.

4 Relationship skills. From the vantage point of the CEO or COO searching for a CIO, whether for a new position or a replacement, dysfunctional connections and low rapport between the CIO and other C-level officers and business unit leaders is a highly observable and all too common reason for failure. That expectation also extends to interactions with customers, suppliers and partners. Relationship building takes interpersonal communication to the next level by establishing and maintaining a strong understanding, rapport, bond and trust between individuals.

3 Business savvy. In the eyes of senior management as well as peers, the most visible and frustrating shortcoming of senior IT managers is a lack of business understanding?both the employer’s specific area of commerce as well as business in general. CIOs who don’t make a strong effort or don’t have the capacity to develop an in-depth knowledge of the industry served and the company’s business strategy are doomed to fail because they are inherently limited in the value that they can add to the organization’s progress and well-being. Similarly, a foundation in the principles of accounting, finance, supply chain management, marketing, sales and distribution channels, both traditional and online, is necessary to succeed.

2 Expertise in aligning and leveraging technology for the advantage of the enterprise. This requirement is always a cornerstone of the CIO search specification process. Specific facets of technology, such as ERP, Web infrastructure, e-commerce, CRM, sales-force automation, data warehousing and so on, come up frequently but are often downgraded to preferred status. Even less commonly required is experience with specific application software packages, such as SAP (the most requested), or any particular operating software platform, such as Unix, and almost never any specific brand of hardware.

1 And the number-one requirement for the position of chief information officer is leadership. This is the quality that is not only in every search specification but most frequently comes up first and most emphatically as in, “What we really need is a leader.” Leadership is that subjective but easily discerned quality that sets great CIOs (and other types of great managers, for that matter) apart from good CIOs. Leaders are special people?visionary, passionate, inspirational, wise, charismatic, confident, influential, risk-taking, encouraging, positive, reassuring, creative-thinking, goal-setting, helpful, supportive, principled, honorable, fair and open individuals. Leaders serve as role models. They stimulate ideas and coax the best from, and give recognition to, all those around them. Leadership is the very best career currency one can have.