The Successor Paradox (Chapter 9)

The Challenges of CIO Succession

  • When the CEO or the board perceives that something with technology has gone horribly wrong, the technology organization suffers a negative halo effect.

  • Some challenges in the succession-planning paradox, is the stovepipe dilemma, where IT leaders come up through either infrastructure or applications. The CIO role requires experience with both.

  • Another is the exposure dilemma, where the executive committee has had too little interaction with the internal candidate to accept him as a C-level executive.

  • CEOs & other business executives still struggles gaining a clear understanding of the CIO role, they identify & define the role by the qualities of the person who is in it at the time.

  • Technology changes so rapidly, IT’s impact on the business is always changing.

  • Each new generation of CIOs has difference in skill set, approach, even personality than the previous one.


Identify a Successor for Tomorrow, Not for Today

  • Be out in front of the company, envisioning the future of your industry, business, technology marketplace, the way that your company & customers will make effective use of technology.

  • Maintain a staff that has the skills of the past, who can work on legacy systems & keep everything running as it should. But you also need to develop talent that can lead in the future.


Train your fellow executives

  • Unless you’ve readied the business for a new leadership style they won’t accept the successor you’ve been grooming, and you’re stuck.

  • Many CIOs cannot get the business to respect & value the current IT organization, let alone set a vision for the future of IT and for the ideal set of attributes of the next CIO.


Start now

  • Don’t assume that the candidate you have in mind is a shoe-in; test your assumptions.

  • Ensure that the candidate will be accepted by the business community.

  • Make a conscious effort to be that person’s agent & put feelers out to your informal network to gauge their reaction.

  • Do an inventory of where the gaps are in terms of this person’s ability to be accepted.

  • Decide how you will close those gaps or whether there are just too many.

  • Develop the needed skills in your successor.


Create mini-CIO roles

  • Create a senior divisional level CIO role where the mini-CIO would own all of IT for that business.
  • Through the divisional CIO model, you could evaluate potential successor’s ability to handle end-to-end accountability.


Build a rotational program

  • It is critical to the development of potential successors that they serve time in non-IT leadership positions.

  • The business is still struggling with the definition of the IT leadership role.

  • Rotational program in IT provides rotational opportunities for high-potential employees across the enterprise.




Build a CIO University

  • The leadership, confidence, & mental model in IT organization should not be a culture of IT as an order taker.

  • IT culture should be a mind-set of leaders, trying to bring technology and the business together.

  • The CIO University” is a year-long internal leadership development program, that would instill new skills into the leaders in a collaborative experience that could be applied day in & out.



Define the competencies

Identify the areas of competency that you want the program to focus on & put together a core curriculum like this:

  • DiSC profiles: DiSC is a personal assessment tool used to improve work productivity, teamwork, and communication.

  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni (Jossey-Bass, 2002)

  • Leadership Pipeline

  • Stakeholder Management

  • Thomas-Kilmann—Practical Tools for Reducing Conflict: The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI)

  • 7 Survival Skills

  • Employee Engagement Improvement

  • Managerial Effectiveness

  • Communications

  • Walking in our Customers’ Shoes

  • Organizational Values

  • Technology Best Practices

  • Leadership Lessons Learned (guest speakers include CEOs, CFOs, COOs, from the company)



Think about the classroom environment & Balance classroom instruction with small group projects

  • It is important to have the participants to have a university experience.

  • Create a program of full-day sessions coupled with on-the-job small team projects for an entire calendar year.

  • Bring in executives from other parts of the company.

  • Create a great bond between your team and major stakeholders.

Emphasize humility

  • Your team must know more about the business than most of the stakeholders, but not to be overconfident. stakeholders can be offended by arrogance.

  • Tell your leaders that people are experts in their field for a reason.

  • Inculcate in them that they need to feel comfortable bringing ideas to the table, but they need to be careful about overstepping your boundaries.




  • Rotate your high potentials into the business: By all means, having your best senior leaders present to the board is one way to give them executive level exposure, but that exposure is short lived. A rotational program will let successors build the relationships (and the skills) to secure the top spot.


  • Don’t stop with IT. CIOs who have managed to succeed despite the many paradoxes of the role have something in common: they have initiated in IT a program or methodology—like strategic planning, project management, or, in this case, leadership development—that their peers decide to adopt for their own departments.


  • Do it yourself: Do not wait for the company’s organizational design experts to build the program for you. You can involve organizational design, and human resources, and anyone else, for that matter, but it is your succession plan & you need to make it happen.


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