CIOs can improve their tenures if they think and speak more like business executives, as opposed to technologists, and focus on the issues that create business value.
By Larry Bonfante
For as long as I've been in the industry, CIO tenure has been a hot topic of discussion. At the lowest point, the average tenure of a CIO was approximately three years. Today, at what is arguably the high point, CIO tenure is still under five years. In the 1990s a lot of this was by choice as venture capitalists were throwing wads of money at anything with .com in the name and IT executives were in high demand and living large. Things have settled down considerably these days. Therefore, having a short tenure now is due less to CIOs jumping ship for the next big job opportunity and more about a level of dissatisfaction with the way IT organizations are perceived by their internal stakeholders. What's this all about?
There are many reasons why CIO tenure continues to be shorter than that of other C-suite executives. One factor is a general perception of IT as a business "disabler." IT is viewed in many companies as the "Land of No and Slow!" Everything seems to take forever and things don't seem to get done at a high level of satisfaction. Many CIOs complain that their internal stakeholders don't understand the complexity of the daily issues they face. My response is that the CIO is the one who needs to educate his or her leadership on the various factors that comprise a successful IT organization. I'm not suggesting trying to teach your peers about the complexity of IT by delving into geek speak. Instead I'm suggesting that you help them understand the business implications of issues such as compliance and enterprise security so they see that you are trying to keep your brand safe from danger.
Another reason many CIOs don't have longer tenures is that they are not perceived as business executives but as technologists. To me, technology is no different from any other business asset, such as money and human capital. Technology is only valuable if it is applied to business issues that create business value. How many CIOs are working on projects that are not aligned with the priorities of their corporate leadership? How many are spending most of their time performing hardware and software upgrades as opposed to enabling their customers to have a more productive experience or driving new revenue opportunities or supporting the dozen other things that truly matter to their company's mission?
As I've stated in previous CIO Insight articles, another reason CIOs are viewed differently from their C-suite peers is that they don't always think or speak in business terms but in technology jargon that only a fellow IT executive can understand.
Finally, many CIOs have not taken the time to develop their relationships with key stakeholders, such as their board members or C-suite peers. Nor have they made the effort to be viewed as team builders. So many CIOs are worried about getting the respect they deserve or their "seat at the table" that they focus on their own agenda as opposed to working on being a key part of creating a cohesive leadership team that works across all siloes. Instead of being team builders, they are more concerned with being credit takers or empire builders.
The tenure of CIOs doesn't have to continue to be a challenge. Perhaps if we take our eyes off ourselves and focus on the bigger picture this dynamic might change for the better.
About the Author
Larry Bonfante is a practicing CIO and founder of CIO Bench Coach, LLC, an executive coaching practice for IT executives. He is also author of Lessons in IT Transformation, published by John Wiley & Sons. He can be reached at Larry@CIOBenchCoach.com.