My Sunday morning breakfast with a CIO proved to be quite an interesting discussion. He was wondering whether it is time to change now, since he will be completing almost five years in the current company. “Renewal is necessary to keep the learning going”, pronounced the person sitting across the table, as he mulled over his toast. It’s not that he was underperforming, or that the company had suddenly decided to defocus on IT spending. The diversified enterprise enjoyed healthy above market growth. It was recognized as a strong company on the leading curve of technology adoption. Curious, I dug more.
The CIO’s reminiscence of his journey proved to be very enriching and rewarding. Industry recognition and internal appreciation from across business units helped with continued investments and new initiatives. So there was no adverse impact in overall sentiment during 2008-2009’s difficult times. I could not uncover any recent or past incidents that may have even triggered the thoughts of movement to pastures unknown.
Global surveys generally indicate the CIO tenure to be between three to five years depending on industry, geography, and personality. There are some who move like clockwork every three to four years. Compulsions vary for most of them, while words imply, “no new challenges to address … or no new opportunities”. Analysis indicates the existence of a well defined pattern across these movements.
Now, I am not outlining the type who has spent over a decade in a company and done very well. They are a small breed, who are either cherished by their companies or work in public sector enterprises or equivalents (yes, there are many enterprises where the culture, urgency and behaviors are akin to a public sector enterprise). Nor am I including the IT Managers with CIO titles—people who are called upon (and indeed enjoy fixing) the board room’s faulty projector.
Many CIOs are recognized as successful leaders who specialize in implementation of ERP solutions. Once these missions are executed, their interest in sustenance or alternative solutions diminishes quickly. These are the ERP specialists who get into enterprises with struggling legacy systems. They are masters in the implementation of a specific ERP that brings some efficiency, who then move on. They are extremely useful to set a foundation of technology; average longevity is in the range of three years.
Another type of CIO flirts from company to company. He is able to communicate effectively hide his ineffectiveness with a choice of phrases and jargon. Thus he impresses upon the CEO why he is their man Friday. With strong political skills, such a CIO uses the three envelope process quite effectively to last anywhere from two to four years in the organization (depending on how political the company is). With little to demonstrate as delivery, their networking and communication skills save the day with amazing consistency.
The last category consists of CIOs who are aggressive, consistent, demanding, and articulate. They get in, transform, create the next line of leadership, and move on to the next challenge—typically achieving this within a three to five year timeframe. It dawned upon me that the person across the table was such a leader who had completed the wave of innovation. In the pause that came after addressing all the discussed challenges and opportunities, he had a crisis of “What next?” These leaders grow from strength to strength, are not tied to any industry or technology, and are truly business leaders who understand how to effectively leverage the tool.
As the discussion progressed, it was evident that the question was rhetorical. It’s just a matter of time before the CIO finds another large enterprise to host his quest for innovation.