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CIO succession planning critical as IT drives business growth

Clint Boulton | Aug. 27, 2015
CIOs say proper succession planning is a crucial part of their responsibilities. But it's not an easy job at a time when talented IT staff can rake in big salaries working on innovative projects, without putting themselves under the C-suite microscope.

Not every organization looks inward for CIOs. In fact, a quick perusal at CIO hires of Fortune 500 and larger organizations over the last few years suggests companies simply went out and bought a CIO. Marc Cecere, a Forrester Research analyst who has helped the likes of Disney, Capital Group and NASA redesign their IT departments, says that some companies look at external candidates when they don't feel they have the staff on hand to accomplish a crucial project. Cecere says knows of one company that hired an external candidate to consolidate seven application groups into one. "They needed someone who could manage the applications, as well as work with the business leaders, so they targeted someone from outside the organization to take over the group," he says.

Most organizations don’t have succession plans at all, says Reed. Of 1,400 IT leaders Robert Half Technology surveyed in 2012, only 20 percent had such plans in place. He says that one reason is that most companies simply don’t have time to cultivate understudies in the IT department because they’re so focused on growing the business. It's a battle everyday just to keep pressing forward, they don't have the time, strategically, to think that one day someone will take their place,” Reed says.

Another reason is that most CIOs don’t want to feel as though they have to look over their shoulders at someone who could take their job one day. “Most CIOs are not real comfortable developing somebody who can come in and take their jobs,” he says. The problem with this thinking, he says, is that it encourages talent to leave because they feel as though there is no path forward for them. He urges CIOs to cultivate potential successors. “People see movement and progression so they don't need to leave to achieve their goals,” he says.

The CIO-mentor paradox

Regardless of whether CIOs groom within or their CEOs go CIO hunting, succession planning can be difficult, particularly at large companies, where there is a shortage of CIOs who are prepared to manage IT for multi-billion-dollar corporations.

Why are CIOs for Fortune 500 and larger organizations so hard to come by? One reason is that technology has diversified so much in the last 20 years that that candidates who may be talented enough to be CIOs may not want the jobs because they can forge high-paying careers in IT without the administrative responsibilities required of the CIO role. "Unless you're deeply motivated by crafting an organization and running an organization" other IT positions may be more liberating because you can work "under the radar" without the watchful gaze of the board or other senior managers, Zerby says. "I kind of get it."


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