CIOs: what legacy are you creating?

Making your mark

By Dejan Slokar

Most of the CIOs I work with are generally more focused on what’s on their plate today than conscientiously planning what they want to leave behind when they move on. But they might all want to take note: given that so much of what businesses do today is driven by technology, CIOs might start moving into the corner office and the top seat. So, it’s in the best interests of a CIO – and those who aspire to the role – to think strategically about shaping a legacy in their current jobs and positioning themselves for an even bigger role.

In our 2015 global survey of CIOs, Deloitte wanted to determine how senior technology leaders around the world perceive their role. More specifically, how they’re currently creating value and how they’re positioning the CIO role and the associated teams, processes and technologies their organization will likely need tomorrow. Just over 1,000 IT leaders responded, of which 62 are from Canadian organizations.

Two aspects of the report resonated with me.

The first is the fact that many CIOs feel they have room to grow, either to develop their own capabilities or to reposition their role to better add value to the organization. Only nine percent, for example, feel they have all the leadership skills they believe they need. And the majority think the CIO would be most effective if the incumbent reported directly to the CEO. Interestingly, this sentiment was more pronounced in Canada than elsewhere: 68% of Canadian CIOs thought they should report to the CEO, as opposed to 51% of global respondents.

These findings tell me there’s work to be done to unleash the full potential of the CIO and to better capture the opportunities this leader has to build a legacy. This may be even truer in Canada, where the tenure of a typical CIO seems to be longer than in other countries. Canadian CIOs may have more time than their peers abroad to create a legacy with depth and breadth.

The second element of the report that stands out for me is the identification of three different patterns of CIO activity, classified by how they’re providing value now and how they’re preparing for the future. These types are:

  • The trusted operator: adds value through operational performance, focusing on cost, operational efficiency and performance reliability. (42 percent of survey respondents fall into this legacy group.) 
  • The change instigator: drives technology-enabled business innovation and customer value. (22 percent of respondents.)
  • The business co-creator: leads business strategy and enables change to ensure effective execution. (35 percent of the survey population.)

There’s no right or wrong type of CIO to be or legacy pattern to leave. In fact, the CIO should be what the organization needs at a given point in time in order to reach its business goals. Nothing prevents a leader from shifting between these types as the company’s needs evolve -- starting as a trusted operator then becoming a business co-creator to push the business forward, for example. 

The more flexible the CIO is, the longer their lifespan is likely to be. Those who deliberately look to where they need to be for the organization also tend to ensure they have the right people in the right teams to support them for success.

Create a roadmap

Whether you’re benignly neglecting your legacy or actively following a plan, now is a good time to reflect on what impact you want to have on the organization. A few things you might want to think about include:

  • What kind of CIO are you now – a business co-creator, a change instigator or a trusted operator? Are you satisfied with that or do you want to evolve?
  • Are you in the right organization for your skills and aspirations? Is there potential for good growth – for both of you?
  • How and where does your role fit into the organization today? Where should it fit in the next three to five years, based on the organization’s strategy?
  • If you’re invited to draw up a permanent chair at the executive table – or even if you’re already there – will you continue earning it, such as working on your leadership skills?

Make a roadmap to get there, setting clear goals for yourself and your team that follow the organization’s current and projected business priorities. Roughly outlined, it could include the major goals you plan to achieve in Year 1, Year 3 and Year 5, for example.

At the end of the day, most people want to have made their mark. It could be anything from transforming an antiquated IT system into a state-of-the-art technology powerhouse, or bringing the CIO role into the C-suite. The question, therefore, is simple: what do you want the organizations you worked at to remember you for?

Read Deloitte’s 2015 Global CIO Survey for a more in-depth exploration of creating legacy.

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