Workplace Issues

Five Rules for Hiring the Right CIO

Sooner or later, you'll need to hire a new CIO. Here's how you should proceed.
Martha HellerAugust 1, 2011

If it has been four years since you hired your last CIO, you are probably ready to replace him (or her, if you are one of the 9% of companies that has a female CIO). The short tenure of CIOs is nothing new, and it’s no wonder: the IT function – and its value to the company – continues to be a mystery to the executive committee. As veteran CIO Charlie Feld points out in his new book, Blind Spot, unlike finance, sales, and operations, IT is unfamiliar terrain to most executives who tend to look away rather than figure it out. Hence the persistent disconnect between you and your CIO and your immediate need to hire someone new.

With the burgeoning demands on IT (mobile applications, support of consumer technologies, and the role that data plays in your product or services lines), your need for really good IT is only increasing. This time, why don’t you follow these guidelines and hire the right CIO?

1. Evaluate and be able to articulate the CIO’s first-year priorities. Are mobile technologies the key to unearthing a new revenue stream for your company and you are ready to invest? Has a major outsourcing situation gotten out of control and needs to be reined in? Are your infrastructure costs bleeding you dry? Does your IT organization need a complete overhaul? CIOs come in all different flavors: innovators, strategists, turnaround leaders, and operational experts. Of course, you want someone who has a little of everything, but CIOs tend to excel in one area more than others. If you know what your greatest IT pressures are, you’ll be more apt to focus on the right CIO model.

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2. Think through the reporting structure. While I may be unwise in offending my readership in my very first blog, I should let you in on a little secret: CIOs do not want to report to you. For many CIOs, reporting to the CFO is tantamount to giving up hope that IT will have any kind of strategic impact at all. By being relegated to finance, CIOs worry, IT will never be more than a cost center and the CIO will not have the influence or visibility fully to bring the power of IT to the company. Now, this varies by industry (in manufacturing, for example, reporting to the CFO is an accepted norm), but in consumer-facing companies – and other companies where technology or data is tied into revenue — that is not the case. You will lose good talent if you insist on being the CIO’s boss. Is that really so important?

3. Make sure the entire interview committee is on the same page. Too often, my best CIO candidate will return from a day of interviews and tell me, “They don’t know what they’re looking for in a CIO.” Before your CIO candidates begin their interviews, meet with the interview committee to be sure everyone knows the first-year goals for the CIO and the particular traits and experiences they are hoping to find in these candidates. Also, determine the particular focus for each interview. Who is best positioned to probe on technology knowledge? Who should delve into industry expertise? Who is best suited to assess management skills? A well-planned day of interviews will impress the candidate and net you the most valuable feedback.

4. Be sure to interview on the five pillars of IT. My good friend, former CIO of Harrah’s, John Boushy, recently turned me on to Peter High’s wonderful book, World Class IT, which I now use to structure my own CIO interviews. Create question sets around High’s five principles of IT: recruiting and developing a great team; building and maintaining a robust infrastructure; managing projects and portfolios; ensuring partnerships with the business; and developing good vendor relationships. Since those pillars pretty much define the CIO role, it makes good sense to organize your CIO interviews around them.

5. Make a decision and make an offer! This comment applies to any search for any position in any company. Time…kills…deals, and the longer you take to collect feedback and generate an offer, the greater the chance your chosen candidate will turn you down. Even in our challenging job market, great CIOs – those who have technical and business acumen, can lead in good times and bad, can talk about technology in a way you understand, and fit into the culture of your company – are still in high demand. My best CIO candidates tend to have competing offers by the time you have decided to hire them. Don’t lose the first-mover advantage.

So you’ve used these techniques and made your hire. Congratulations! But don’t rest there. You have plenty more to do to be sure your new CIO is effective in the short and long term. (But that’s a subject for a future blog….)

Martha Heller is President of Heller Search Associates ([email protected]) and a contributing editor to CIO Magazine.