Interviewing for a new role? The killer question that CIOs dread.
Imagine this scenario, you are almost at the end of the interview where you have dazzled the headhunter with your digital transformation examples and explained with delicacy how you saved your previous company from certain death. Now, the moment of truth, because you know are going to be asked:
why, if you are so critical to the firm’s success, are you leaving with no new role to go to?
If any question was designed to strike fear, uncertainty and doubt in a candidate, it is surely this one. Headhunters around the globe are hearing the same explanations; here are six of the most common:
- The CEO/CFO and I didn’t really see eye to eye, she/he saw me as a threat.
- The new CEO wanted to bring in her/his own person.
- I had achieved all the goals I had been set when I joined.
- They stopped investing in technology so it became a business as usual role.
- I didn’t agree with the new strategy.
- The business wasn’t doing very well and they want to downgrade the role.
What these candidates don’t realise is that with only a small number of credible headhunters at this level, there is a good chance I would already have heard a different story from the CEO/CFO who needs to find a replacement CIO and may have already given us the search contract.
If we look at the reasons they shared for seeking a new CIO, unsurprisingly, they never told us they simply dumped the last guy, to whom they took an instant dislike since he “threatened to knock me off my perch”, or that they had a mate they were hoping to bring in so they could watch each other’s backs, or that they had no money to spend on new technology since the firm was clearly moribund, or they hated the fact the last CIO dared to challenge the strategy nor indeed that they were expecting the business to drift for a year or two with no change programmes at all planned. Nobody told us the previous CIO was amazing but going forward, they wanted someone more average.
What they did often tell us (either up front of half way through the assignment when they started to open up fully) was:
- Our CIO was technically capable but was not a fully integrated member of the EXCO – she/he didn’t really fit in there (lacked political acuity).
- The CIO added little commercial value and did not deliver the programmes which added to our top line. In fact I can’t see what we are getting from the enormous spend on technology (lacked commercial acuity).
- She/he wasn’t very strategic – if we told him/her what we wanted, he was good at delivery and operations, but didn’t help us reinvent ourselves/innovate/seek out new business opportunities (lacked strategic vision).
- CIO’s leadership skills were poor and the technology teams are not well regarded/delivering what we need, quickly enough (lacked inspirational leadership).
- It was fine for a while but we now need someone more future-focused/less inwardly focused (lacked innovative thinking).
In short, they let the previous CIO go because of her/his lack of the core competency required to deliver what they needed.
In the UK average CIO tenure is as low as two years – not long enough to assess the potential for the business to grow, create a strategy, oversee delivery of the programmes and assess the business benefits. Thus, many CIOs only get time to focus on internal issues and to re-jig the technology function (introduce agile, new org structure, new tools and governance, select new partners etc.) and never get the time to focus what they thought they were brought in to do: help the firm to identify and capitalise on new technologies which will deliver new opportunities for growth and profit.
No other function on the Exco has such a short shelf-life: CFOs HRDs and CEOs don’t usually exit after a couple of years. They use their emotional intelligence to navigate the politics of a new firm, and quickly work out how they need to get the key things done in that specific culture and so how they can belong. They recognise that they must wear two hats; the day job and the membership of the team which is shaping the future of the firm. These are the skills world-class CIOs develop so they can stay the course and achieve their potential.
For a confidential conversation about how you can use our specialist coaching to highlight your key CIO competencies and give your career a boost contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.