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Across industries, we commonly talk about the lifecycle of products, computers, and software, yet we rarely hear about the life cycles of the Chief Information Officer (CIO). When it comes to technology, modern organizations are as complex as they are unique, and it comes down to the CIO to navigate through a wide sea of technology that reaches into every aspect of the organization. With an increasingly heightened importance on the execution of transformative information technology projects, the turnover rates for the CIO position are becoming a challenge for organizations across the spectrum.
Amidst the technological climate of business today, the expectations for organizational success have never been closer to the actions of technology executives and the leadership they provide. Thanks to the rapid evolution of technologies, the role of the CIO has progressively shifted from the person responsible for running IT, to the purchaser of selected services or technologies, to that of a tactical technology strategist. The CIO can affect the very DNA of an organization, making it better, faster, and more able—or sometimes quite the opposite, unfortunately.
Across the Fortune 500, the issue of high turnover rates, even at the executive level, is hardly an industry secret. CIOs average from three to five years of tenure according to various industry reports, making consistency in IT delivery a challenge widely felt throughout the organization. This heightened criticality—combined with the rapid nature of the technology business as well as global technology skills shortages—are all factors that lead to this relatively high degree of CIO turnover. Incumbent CIOs face continual performance reviews from their CEOs and sometimes their company boards. They also have career aspirations; they get poached often and may just get burned out. The overall direction of a company can shift, as we saw with the COVID-19 pandemic, and fresh initiatives create demands for the CIOs and their teams to fulfill. Turnover is rampant when change is about, and change comes with the territory of business and technology.
The CIO faces challenges across the board, and there are various factors that lead to turnover in this position:
Technology executives also report that when they leave on their own terms, they have achieved a state where technology is on the right trajectory, even without their presence. They also share that they have achieved all that they wanted in their scenarios.
Analyzing these overall factors, it is difficult to choose a side. Organizations need capable and experienced executives which means the search for talent can never stop. In some cases, the union between exec and organization can decay. What is more useful is to characterize successful CIOs.
Regardless of tenure, the successful CIO has positioned themselves into a position of an essential nature. Around the office, this is easy to spot. Peers, leaders, and co-workers will naturally gravitate to an effective CIO. They lead through clear missions, and they recognize how to leverage technologies to drive improvements across the organization, create and capitalize on opportunities, and help manage costs. In various scenarios, CIOs are also able to deliver competitive intelligence that is actionable and useful to the organization’s goals. The successful CIO continuously learns on the job and balances risk factors, budgets, utility, and more in new technology scenarios.
Striving for reduced CIO turnover is an exercise in improving outcomes and creating consistency. Whether from the position of the CEO, the board or the CIO, the responsibilities of this critical position are essential to the health of the organization and specific goals can help reduce the short-nature transitions and satisfaction.
The Chief Information Officer will further move forward from day-to-day operations to picking up innovation, becoming de facto Chief Innovation Officer formally or informally. With each passing year, the role of CIOs becomes increasingly important to the core operations of a company. With everything that has happened these last two years, technology is more critical today than ever and as we roll into the future, there is no stopping this critical shift. Enterprise goals and achievements are contingent on the success of modern technologies.
Upon reviewing the scenarios between the organization and its CIO, it is clear that objectives are critical and opportunities to evolve the organization drive this relationship. Just as the universe of technologies is boundless and without limits, the CIO can unleash growth through continually questioning, solving, and delivering toward their individual goals and those of the organization.
Check out this piece, originally published in Forbes and follow me on LinkedIn.