What do you do when your current Chief Information Officer leaves? In this blog, you’ll learn what to do whether you have a succession plan in place or not and a few tips on how to identify and support your new CIO.
In today’s business world, a Chief Information Officer (CIO) is an integral part of the organization, and for good reason. This person works closely with the Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer and other C-suite executives to ensure they properly manage their information technology (IT) function across the organization.
The CIO ensures that the IT organization’s strategic plan supports and integrates with the company’s strategic plan. They are also responsible for seeing that all projects supporting that plan are implemented on time, on budget and meet the prescribed company requirements. Failure in this area, sometimes referred to as an organization’s “central nervous system,” could have catastrophic consequences.
So, what do you do when a CIO chair is suddenly vacant? Here are the two most common situations and the best steps to take in each: :
Situation 1 – You Have a Succession Plan:
If you have a current CIO succession plan already in place, then the advice is straightforward: execute it. That’s why you have these plans.
However, while a succession plan indicates who within your company takes over the CIO position, it usually does not indicate how to make this person as successful as possible. Here are some important items to consider as you implement the succession plan:
- Quickly get the new CIO joined up with the other C-Level executives. This helps ensure a fast track to aligning IT strategy with business strategy.
- Assign one of the other C-Level executives to be a personal mentor to the new CIO and help strengthen their technology leadership. Your entire IT team stands to benefit from the strategic vision that other C-Levels can provide.
- Hire an experienced CIO as a short-term coach to provide insight and support. This is often an excellent time to get some outside counsel. Realize your new CIO has come from inside the system, and it is often difficult to judge what’s “inside the box” unless you’re “outside the box.” When you match the new CIO with an independent and highly qualified CIO Consultant, it can show the newly promoted CIO how to do things differently, more effectively and efficiently, or in line with current, innovative thinking and best practices.
- Encourage your newly promoted CIO to get involved in local, regional and national CIO forums where they can work side-by-side with experienced and forward-thinking CIOs. These groups provide the new CIO with a network they can call on to help with tough decisions, provide a sounding board for strategy and offer effective counsel. There are generally no costs or obligations other than to provide similar help for the other team members when the time comes. Working with such groups will accelerate the maturing process and leadership skills of your new CIO. Perhaps your CIO may even counsel others on the value of succession planning.
Situation 2 – You Have No Viable Succession Plan:
If you don’t have a viable succession plan, there are a few steps you should take immediately:
- Hire an Interim CIO as quickly as possible. The CIO position should generally not be left open any longer than absolutely necessary. Hiring a permanent CIO is an important, long-term and often expensive decision which takes time and energy. That is why it is often advisable to bring an experienced but temporary CIO into the organization immediately. You can bring an interim CIO in quickly and they can immediately take over the management of the organization without concern for their own career. This person can boldly recommend decisions that are optimal for the company after giving them enough time to learn the organization, the issues at hand, the quality of the people, the key architecture elements, vendors and more.
- Search for a permanent CIO. As soon as the Interim CIO has a good “feel” for the organization and its nuances, issues and challenges, begin the search for a permanent CIO. You might need to engage external IT employment agencies and IT consultant organizations to help identify the best candidates. Because finding a qualified, permanent CIO takes time, the interim CIO will continue to manage the organization, initiating needed changes, policies and procedures throughout the process. The Interim CIO will also take a lead role in the permanent CIO acquisition process, providing their understanding of the organization’s specific needs and challenges. Because it will take time to hire the permanent CIO, expect the interim to be there for a few months after initiating the CIO search.
- Consider making your search internal as well as external. When a CIO position is vacant, whether the CIO left of their own accord or was forced to do so, it is often a good time to evaluate your current staff. Look for leaders willing to take the next step in their careers to fill this role internally. If you have a truly qualified internal candidate, promoting them will show you value high performance and loyalty to the company. It also will help maintain stability in your organization and streamline processes, operations and projects. With an internal candidate, there may be a temptation to follow previous patterns or “business as usual.” Existing projects, processes and procedures are likely to continue as they have been, and you may miss out on new thinking. For these reasons, the advice given above for the new “succession plan” CIO would apply to any internal candidate as well.
- Prioritize succession planning in the future. Once the dust has settled and your new CIO has found their place within your company, consider the needs of your team down the road. Many companies struggle with planning for succession, understandably so. However, now that you’ve experienced the organizational gap that occurs when you lose your CIO, you should also understand the benefits of preparedness. One way to bake a succession plan into your IT team is to appoint a Deputy CIO. An experienced CIO consulting service can also support your succession planning efforts.
Being Proactive Will Pay Off
Losing your CIO can be a difficult position for any organization. If you are armed with the right tools — such as a solid CIO succession plan and a strategic vision that aligns technology with business — your organization can find the perfect IT executive to help lead the company to success. Plan for the future and consider unexpected hurdles, so if a challenge arises, you’re ready to meet it head-on.