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Some colleagues have told me that CIO stands for "Career Is Over." I don't think so. Of course, if you are just trying to survive in an end-of-career position, that attitude likely will end your career. But it doesn't have to be that way.
It's very important for CIOs to see what's coming down the line. Where in the organization should you go next? Should you be looking to move on? If this has not entered your mind, then you might have a problem on your hands. The fact is, some CIOs have successfully evolved their position into a type of COO.
How can you get there? Here are a few questions for you to answer that will get you thinking in the right direction:
Do you spend enough time with the business? We all agree that strategic CIOs need to spend more time with their business counterparts. I would recommend spending at least 20 percent of your time in related business activities. Eventually this number should move toward 50 percent. Not doing so suggests a weakness in your IT organization, either in your management team or with the progress of projects within the business.
Work on a plan that begins to free you up to accomplish this, or start questioning the value of some of your IT-related activities and whether you can start deferring them to others.
Who is your replacement? Don't get trapped in your job because you do it too well. You need a strong candidate to take over for you at some point. Not picking a replacement reflects on you, as well as the strength of your team. Another reason you might not have time to spend with the business could be that you don't have the right person below you. It often seems to me, unfortunately, that the minute I step out of the CIO's office there's a huge fall-off to the next level. This is never good.
Do you know your individual weaknesses? Every individual, no matter how experienced, has weaknesses. These weaknesses can be attributed to personality, technical skills, speaking ability, appearance, etc. While we can improve any weakness, we may never be able to make them our strengths. Being aware of your shortcomings is half the battle. The other half is surrounding yourself with staff that complement your weaknesses. Remember, it is not a negative to have strong complementary staff--in fact, it's a positive sign of your management strategy.
Where is your IT organization vulnerable? Every organization has weaknesses. Even if no one outside of IT is focused on them now, they eventually will be. So you need to establish ways to improve your organization's vulnerabilities. This typically can be accomplished through improved processes or better personnel. A consultant can help identify process improvements. You should also rate your personnel to determine those who continue to improve versus those who are not evolving with the needs of the business.
Are you involved with corporate social causes? Executives are often expected to be involved with social causes that promote the reputation of the business. But just as often, CIOs are involved with too many low-end IT-specific causes as opposed to ones that are higher level and companywide--that is, the ones that bring more attention and value to the executive team. Don't worry about whether IT is directly involved; rather, demonstrate your executive presence and business savvy as a leader.
Are you involved with getting new clients? Every IT leader can be an asset when it comes to attracting new clients for the business. This doesn't mean you need to go out and sell. The trick is to become part of the executive team that drives major business opportunities and to show how technology is an advantage that can help win new business.
These actions will help you to move to a higher position inside or outside your company. All good C-level executives should be strategizing their next step. Remember: "Stagnation breeds failure."