Dr. CIO: Prepping Our Next-Gen IT Leaders

By Arthur Langer  |  Posted 04-15-2011

Much is written about the future of the CIO, especially about where the role is situated in connection with executive management. Some have questioned whether the role will survive in the corporate structure or be replaced with operational executives. I have never been concerned, actually.

It appears that the CIO role is more important than ever before. In fact, a number of executives have articulated to me concerns that the CIO talent pool appears to be very shallow, that the same people are mentioned when new CIO opportunities become available--and those positions will be available this year, for sure.

So it is becoming clear that the profession needs to start thinking about the next generation of talented CIO leaders. That responsibility lies with our existing leaders--leaders who need to prepare for the education and development of their most talented staff.

The problem is, we are not seeing enough investment. Corporations have continued to cut their education budgets. Case in point: In the Master's degree program in Technology Management at Columbia University, my colleagues and I are seeing little increase in applications.

On top of that, new CIOs cannot learn the job solely by studying those who came before them. Further, the candidate pool lacks diversity, especially with women in IT.

Not enough future stars are investing in their education and may be ill-prepared for the challenges that lay before them.

Far more concerning is the lack of interest in becoming a CIO. There are too many negative discussions that occur at the conferences I attend, with the persistent joke that CIO stands for "Career Is Over." If CIOs themselves are not excited about the role, then who will venture to take it on in the future?

Simply put, our CIO leaders need to accelerate the search for their successors. They need to create a pool of potential future stars. That includes experience in the field with the business units and an education program that broadens knowledge beyond what current managers are experiencing in their jobs.

Below are some of the talent-nurturing options to consider:

  1. Rotational Programs. Put your star managers in six-month roles in the business units. This allows them to become much more knowledgeable about the operational aspects of the business. More importantly, it gives them exposure, so they become known across the organization.
  2. Education. Continuing education and conferences are fine, but allow your managers to enroll in a part-time degree program where they get exposed to a broader education and get to network with other executives. A committed degree program also nurtures a critical and reflective person, one who can think in the abstract--beyond just the concrete needs of the business today.
  3. Diversity. This issue is of paramount importance to our future generations. Diversity goes beyond the legal and corporate requirements. The world is flat, as they say, and having a pool of diverse candidates provides a company with broad knowledge and enhanced decisions. Leaders must promote more women and more ethnicity.
  4. Up and Out. Do not worry about losing those in whom you invest. It happens--and should happen. Great companies develop talented workers and lose some of them; there are only so many positions at the top. If you provide the program, those who leave will always remember it--as I have from my days at Coopers & Lybrand--and some will return.

Remember, talent development is a responsibility as much as it is an investment. Being known as an organization that invests in its people only adds to the prestige of your company. While these are just some tips, it is critical that every CIO have a clear succession strategy. If you don't, someone else from the business will.

Arthur Langer is senior director of the Center for Technology, Innovation and Community Engagement at Columbia University, serves on the faculties of the Graduate School of Business, the Graduate School of Education and the School of Continuing Education. He is also Chairman of Workforce Opportunity Services. Send your comments to editors@cioinsight.com