Is your CIO about to leave? Does it matter?

Why CIOs are the most critical hire your business makes.

wave the white flag surrender give up quit
Thinkstock

In the era of digital disruption, the life of public corporations has been steadily but surely reducing. In the 1950s, it was greater than 50 years, according to Fortune Magazine. It went to 20 a few years ago and has been slipping from that number ever since.

I personally was at a public corporation several years ago that reached 20 years, and in the span of a year, it went from a public company with sub-10% growth to a private company that has reversed direction in terms of growth. And honestly, will likely be sold in pieces or go out of business as technology change makes what it offers irrelevant to customers.

How can companies avoid being left behind in the digital era? It requires the ability to reinvent. And while corporate strategy teams in the past may have been where the action was, today’s business strategies that matter are digital and instantiated in software that is in the cloud. This means CIOs have become, if they weren’t prior, the most critical hire on a management team. They are the person that can help reinvent a company and if required put in place the technology needed to change a business model.

So why are CIOs leaving?

If CIOs are central to business success, why is their tenure getting shorter? There are several reasons according to a recent #CIOChat. Everything starts with the relationship that the CIO has with the rest of the management team. CIOs do not want to have a ‘step child relationship’ with their business collogues. At the same time, they say they need business leaders to have their expectations aligned with reality. They are clear that they will be frustrated when the organization wants IT to enable Ritz Carlton (business capabilities) but only wants to pay for the Motel 6.

Flipping the perspective on IT investment

CIOs say that it is essential that business leaders flip their view of IT costs. Instead of viewing them as an expense, they need to view them as an investment. And you should know that good CIOs are working hard to move their organizations from a utility with most of the expense being about running the business to a change agent with more change the business funding. CIOs are clear with me that good organizations get this, but there are lots of organizations that continue to view IT as a utility and want IT to only keep the lights on. These organizations do not see IT as providing value to the business’ bottom line. Business leaders can help fix this by moving how their teams view IT from a cost center to a value center. It seems increasingly clear that winning organizations see IT as a provider of business value and a critical internal partner.

CIO’s say to me we innovate, we digitalize, and we help companies grow and become agile. CIOs say when their company isn’t able to invest enough to drive innovation this is a red flag. It means they are not likely to be challenged in their job. Business leaders should know that CIOs love challenges and working on technology and innovation that impacts business outcomes. Clearly, where an organization or executive leadership becomes resistant to needed change, this is a problem for CIOs.

Provide your CIO a growth path

In today’s world, CIOs want more and more to have a growth paths. Effective CIOs--as Mark Benioff has suggested--should see themselves as having a path in front of them to COO or even CEO roles. CIOs say they leave when their peers/leadership do not support their goals or their influence attempts fail. For this reason, CIOs say they want organizations that view IT as strategic rather than just as a utility.

CIOs are candid that CIO jobs across business sectors can be very different. For this reason, the skill set of the CIO needs to match their business. Other issues can involve company culture or the team the CIO inherits. Reporting structure and a good boss are also critical to a CIO’s success.

Business alignment matters

CIOs say as well that if guiding principles of business don't align—or stop aligning—it can be over for CIOs. CIOs are clear that misalignment makes it difficult for any CxOs to function. CIOs claim misalignment can influence everything. How the organization treats people? How they explain why the organization exists? How they tell the team what the organization stands for? CIOs indicate that C suite tenures range from 4-8 years these days.

Company leaders should be asking themselves why CIO tenures are the lowest company CxOs. In addition to normal reasons for leaving (a better offer, location, a boss change, or personal reason), the CIO role is more susceptible to an alignment issue regarding innovation or the pace of change required. At the same time, driving transformation and innovation invites detractors and if CIOs do not have enough clout in the organization, this can chip at a CIO’s credibility over time.

As said at the beginning of this post, CIOs really matter today. It is essential that they are an integral part of their organization and have the ability to drive tangible transformation. Without this, CIOs will leave and more importantly, your company could end up like my former employer. In the age of disruption, the ability to evolve a business model is essential. And enabling the right CIO to thrive is essential to doing this.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

NEW! Download the Spring 2018 digital edition of CIO magazine