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CIO Job Description And The Need For Technical Experience Mon 22 Sep 08

Geekyderek_penmachineLast month Laurie Orlov had an interesting article on CIO.com. Her article "Why Specific Tech Experience Shouldn't Define the CIO Resume" has been rattling around in my mind (as things so often do) since then.

Laurie was commenting on CIO job descriptions "that demand skills in configuring servers, designing the website, creating a long-term strategy, 20 years of experience plus a deep track record in a subbranch of financial services. Or that specify knowledge of an arcane, perhaps obsolete technology."  I can relate to this as I've seen job description calling for the CIO to have specific programming skills in the latest technology and even list specific programming languages.  In short, these types of job descriptions focus on tactical, technical skills. 

The irony in all this is as Laurie correctly points out is that "They want CIOs they can understand (no techno-speak, please) and who understand business. So even if a CIO enters with a laundry list of technical experience that matches what the company asked for in the job description, chances are she's going to spend virtually no time in the new job using those skills."

The part of all this that been rattling around in my mind is -- Why?  Why do people write these kinds of job descriptions.  After giving it some thought, the answer that I come to is rather straightforward and simple -- they don't know any better!  I'm not trying to be mean or belittle anyone but state this very plainly.  The people that write these job descriptions (probably someone in Human Resources) and the hiring managers don't really understand what a CIO can or should do. 

We can argue about who's fault this but that is not helpful.  Rather than argue about fault we should ask the question -- What can we do to change this so people understand what CIOs do?

Here are my suggestions:

  1. Drop the jargon - I previously mentioned a conversation with Kim Denney, President of Air Liquide America who indicated, the business folks are looking for IT people "that talk like the rest of us."  I previously suggested Schaffner's Rule of Communications to Someone in a Different Profession:

    When speaking with someone in a different profession, do not use the jargon and acronyms of your profession.  Only use the jargon and acronyms of their profession.

  2. Understand the business - We need to understand the business of our company not just the IT aspects.  Who are our customers?  What are the business drivers?  Company leaders want to feel comfortable that we understand their needs before they will consider listening to us on strategic items.
  3. Talk in terms of value not just cost - IT is pretty good at explaining what things will cost but that is not enough.  Company leaders are sensitive to cost but they view it relative to the benefits, i.e., the value.  We need to be more proactive in explaining projects in terms of value. 
  4. Focus on what can be done rather than what can't -  We often tell people what they can't do.  You can't go to non-business websites.  You can't keep more than xMB of emails in your inbox.  Let's focus more on what they can do.  Yes, maybe its spin but lets work toward getting people to think of IT in positive terms rather than just the technology police.
  5. Show IT can help -  Technology has tremendous potential to change the way people do business.  Let's become evangelists in showing them new possibilities to make their jobs easier, to lower their costs and to sell more.
  6. Don't get hypnotized by the shiny new stuff - Everyone always wants the latest technology but we need to look at this not in terms of how "cool" it is but what does it provide to the business and the articulate to the business.  One of my favorite IBM commercials may have said it best:
  7. It is not about us - We put a lot of effort into being efficient to lower our costs.  However, I believe it is more important to focus on making our customers more effective.  It doesn't matter if the HelpDesk is efficient is it is not providing the needed service.

Those are my suggestions on what we can do to get people to think us as more than just terms of wires and circuit boards and instead start thinking of us in terms of how we add value to the business.  After all that's what the CIOs job is really all about, isn't it?

What are your suggestions on how we can better explain the CIO role to company leaders?

"geekyderek" photo by penmachine

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