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Equally adept at tackling technical challenges and convincing teams to put plans into action, the modern Chief Information Officer has a double duty to drive businesses forward while retaining and engaging their sought-after talent.
Telework. Remote learning. Digital healthcare. Cybersecurity. The Chief Information Officer is no stranger to change, but in a short period of time, the rapid developments of digital transformation have dramatically expanded the role of the technology leader.
As digitalisation transforms businesses and industries, the CIO is increasingly involved in all aspects of the organisation, pushing demand for talented technology leaders to an all-time high. Given their expanded role, modern CIOs need a broad range of soft skills in addition to technological expertise to thrive as executive leaders and managers.
From customer experience and supply chain interaction to internal operations, digital adoption has accelerated at both the organisational and the industry level. In fact, McKinsey estimates that companies have sped up the development and launch of digitally enabled products in their portfolios by seven years.
Unsurprisingly, talented technology leaders are more in demand than ever. As Donna Croucher, Partner UK, explains, “E-commerce businesses increasingly want to reach their clients directly, rather than going through a third party. This has led to a surge in demand for expertise in data and customer insights, making it all the more important to recruit the right CIO for the job.”
E-commerce businesses increasingly want to reach their clients directly, rather than going through a third party. This has led to a surge in demand for expertise in data and customer insights, making it all the more important to recruit the right CIO for the job.
Donna Croucher, Senior Partner UK
As technology accelerates all facets of business, CIOs are increasingly involved in all aspects of their organisation. Finance, marketing and human resources are equally likely to be within the purview of the modern CIO as more traditionally tech-focused departments, such as IT and R&D.
CIOs therefore need effective negotiation and persuasion skills as well as technological expertise in order to educate, engage and propel the business forward. An ability to obtain buy-in across the board is essential, because the success of new digital implementations often hinges on human factors. Jaime Dominguez, Partner Mexico, observes, “Throughout the pandemic, digital transformation was a game changer for all industries. A major challenge, however, is knowing how to effectively adapt to a new working culture through technology. The onus is on the CIO, who must be able to foster a new engaged work culture remotely. A strong executive candidate should bring a track record that demonstrates those leadership skills.”
Taking the digital roadmap from vision to action
The role of the CIO is twofold: technology leaders must envision the best digital roadmap for their organisation, and they must also sell that vision to all stakeholders to ensure its successful implementation. Both of those responsibilities require a balance of technical expertise and human understanding.
Developing a digital roadmap involves more than mere considerations of what is technically feasible. Technology serves to build tools for people, but the launch of new digital systems or products can only be as successful as their human adoption. Whether for external customers or internal employees, a people-centric approach is key to developing effective digital solutions.
CIOs can tackle this challenge by first identifying the behaviours that would most benefit their organisation, then devising the digital tools capable of encouraging such behaviours. Naturally, leaders must take into account the needs and desires of the end user as well. While the shift to a people-first approach to technology may initially seem daunting, the results are well worth it: according to Gallup Research, companies that apply the principles of behavioural economics outperform their peers by 85% in sales growth and more than 25% in gross margin.
Once technology leaders have mapped their digital strategy, their next step is to make it happen. Croucher notes, “Communication and people skills are absolutely paramount to success as CIOs need to be able to coordinate between all departments, influence those showing resistance to change and ultimately sell the concept of digital transformation.”
So how can CIOs convince teams to follow them on this digital journey? To earn trust, executives must show they understand not only the technology behind digital transformation but also its impact across the business. Whether through group presentations or one-on-one conversations, the CIO needs to transmit their expertise and convey the benefits of new technologies. Only then can they succeed in obtaining the proactive and enthusiastic support of fellow leaders and stakeholders essential for putting any digital plan into action.
As the role of the CIO has expanded, so too has their influence within an organisation. The modern CIO now has an integral place at the C-suite table. Observing this shift, Croucher says, “Traditionally, in mid-size businesses, the IT director reported to the CFO. Only recently have we seen a rise in demand for the role at C-level, as companies increasingly recognise that digital technology is fundamental to driving the business forward.”
Much more than simply the head of a department, today’s CIO is tasked with fostering innovation across the entire organisation. This process begins with enabling the leadership team to understand how technology can be adopted to enhance the business as a whole. In order to propose and to persuade, the CIO must be a commercially strategic thinker as well as a digital expert. Technology leaders should be well versed in risk management and the financial and legal implications of matters such as cybersecurity and data privacy.
Likewise, executive leaders have come to rely on the CIO as an indispensable decision-making partner. “The new CIO is no longer just the tech professional. They know the ins and outs across the business, and often act as a right-hand for the CEO, with whom they share ongoing strategic conversations around the various factors that may impact the business as much as Covid has,” explains Dominguez.
Technological expertise and persuasive leadership: finding the right CIO
The modern CIO’s double responsibilities as collaborative leader and team manager underscore the importance of emotional intelligence to this role. Croucher points out, “CIOs must be able to communicate on all levels, from C-level all the way down. Their own technology teams are made up of highly skilled, in-demand talent, so they need to be able to keep them engaged while maintaining a good working culture within the team. A lot of these teams will be working remotely, which is another challenge in itself.”
Particularly in a hybrid workplace, soft skills are crucial for technology leaders to ensure that teams remain motivated and productive. But how can organisations identify candidates with the qualities to succeed as CIO?
Recruiters should look for evidence of leadership, empathy and communication skills in addition to technological expertise. A multi-faceted approach is best to evaluating a candidate’s potential. As Croucher says, “When recruiting for tech leaders, I pay a lot of attention to the behavioural assessment of the candidate. What are their competencies? What kind of manager are they? This involves getting referrals from a lower level to determine their previous leadership performance and capabilities.”
Given the broad skillset required for the role, recruiters should also keep an open mind and consider qualified professionals with more holistic experiences. “Candidates do not necessarily have to come directly from another CIO position. For example, a professional with a strong background in development engineering who has the necessary skills and, more importantly, the passion and motivation to continue developing them can be very promising,” says Dominguez. Recruiters would do well to keep diversity in mind; the CIO role can serve as a powerful bridge towards building gender parity in a field where women remain underrepresented.
Candidates do no necessarily have to come directly from another CIO position. For example, a professional with a strong background in development engineering who has the necessary skills and, more importantly, the passion and motivation to continue developing them can be very promising.
Jaime Dominguez, Partner Mexico
Finally, it should be noted that the technology talent pool is extremely competitive. In today’s market, capable technology candidates are highly sought after, and thanks to remote work, they are often contenders for worldwide opportunities. Meanwhile, the personal brand of technology leaders can be very powerful, opening doors to a network of talented contacts. HR teams should therefore handle their search for technology talent with agility and care, giving priority to CIO candidates with a track record of keeping teams engaged over the long term. Ultimately, leadership capabilities and a passion for people are traits that will set a successful CIO apart.
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