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.
The Come and Go of CIOs
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 Whys of CIO Turnover
The CIO faces challenges across the board, and there are various factors that lead to turnover in this position:
- Security breaches – A significant security incident has the power to alter and end careers
- Project failures – Including misses on deadlines, budget, and objective fulfillment
- Burnout – Accelerated timelines, bureaucratic resistance, and resources challenges
- Uninteresting work – When the grass is greener somewhere else and the technology goals do not match what the CIO wants to do
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.
Who is Right and Who is Wrong?
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.
Building and Creating Great CIO Stories
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.
- Think BIG – the CIO should envision the big picture and act with essential intent. Establish that critical connection between bytes, results, and opportunities. Remote work, IoT and AI systems, rapid application development, and global capabilities are just a few of the difference-making journeys that CIOs must embark on.
- Tap the Untapped: The untapped capabilities for the average organization are essentially limitless. With innovation and proven cloud technologies powering enterprise sails, a lone CIO can be the catalyst that raises the bar across business units and delivers transformative value to the organization.
- The Customer Experience: The modern technological needs feature an intense focus on user and employee experiences, profitability and 24x7x365 availability that depend on rapid, flexible technologies in addition to well-run operations. The CIO needs to lead this charge with innovation as the technological heart that drives everything forward.
- “Goldilocks” Partners to Mitigate Challenges – When the challenge is technical, or a security failure, specialized partnerships always produce better results than internal efforts. Find partners that match your needs and can take full ownership, rather than piecemeal. Treat partners well and you can invoke their full knowledge and networks. Bigger is not always better, and too small is often too risky.
- Recognize Your Top Solution is People – Technology isn’t everything. In fact, it’s not even the first thing—people are. Develop. Coach. Work together. Include end users, developers, IT, and leadership as you work down this route.
- Focus on Acceleration – At every turn, opportunities through technology and services can change the game and help you achieve goals. Going it alone can be thrifty, but rarely fully delivers.
- Resolve Conflicts – The waters will rise, the milk might spoil, things might seem destined to go wrong. Navigate these challenges with elegance by finding the best possible solutions.
From CIO 1.0 to CIO 2.0
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.