According to a report, ‘How Newly Appointed Chief Information Officers (CIOs) Take Charge’, anecdotal data suggests that while CIOs have average tenures comparable to other executive roles, the rate of involuntary job termination is higher than other executives at approximately 23 percent.
The report’s researchers, who conducted in-depth interviews with 21 CIOs, believe that this is because too much is expected of the new CIO.
“You need to give [new CIOs] two to three years to have an impact,” said Joe Peppard, from the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin. He wrote the report with Anthony Gerth from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.
“They’re not given the time to be effective. The process of taking charge takes longer than 90 days,’ he said.
While it may be that some CIOs are just not up to the challenges of the role, Peppard said that others are just not given time to make the change the business hired them to do.
“They have to spend the first few months just looking at the business and understanding the culture,” he said.
Ninety days is often quoted by management books, such as Michael Watkins’ ‘The first 90 days: Proven strategies for getting up to speed faster and smarter’, as the critical amount of time an executive needs to succeed in their role. However, Peppard believes that there is a process of learning that all CIOs have to go through until they have mastered the assignment of a new role, which takes much longer.
In the report, he refers to this as the three phases of entry (getting to know the business and diagnosing IT-related problems) , stabilisation (taking corrective action and building the IT leadership team) and renewal (CIOs build on their credibility to implement changes that position them as legitimate business leaders).
“CIOs always experienced an entry phase of between four to six months upon initial transition into the new role/organisation. A stabilisation phase began shortly after the new executive started and lasted nine to 12 months. A renewal phase started approximately six months into an appointment and overlapped the stabilisation phase,” the report said.
Based on the findings, the report makes some recommendations to help newly-appointed CIOs.
“Be prepared for surprises, even after due diligence,” Peppard said. “Things were often a bit worse than expected.”
Peppard also advised CIOs to try to not implement change too quickly, warning them that what worked in a previous company may not work in the new place.
Know your transition type
“A lot of CIOs are not aware of the type of transition,” Peppard said.
“For example, a turnaround transition is quite different from a successful-sustaining transition.”
The report identified four types of transition, comprising start-up, turnaround (getting a troubled IT organisation back on track), realignment (revitalising an IT organisation that is drifting into trouble) and success-sustaining (preserving a successful IT organisation and taking it to the next level).
The type of transition was the most influential factor in how CIOs took charge, the report said, affecting the intensity of the three phases of the learning process, though not the phases and the associated timeline themselves. It even led businesses to choose their next CIO from different sources, for example, those requiring a leader for a turnaround or realignment were more likely to hire outsiders, while those looking for success sustaining looked at insiders and outsiders almost equally.
“CIOs need to ask the questions and recognise the transaction type. As a CIO, you’ve got to be clear about what constitutes a success to the CEO. What worked in the past might not work in the future,” Peppard said.