by Peter High, published on Forbes
Eric Sigurdson co-leads the Information Officers practice at Russell Reynolds Associates. In his nearly 20 years as a recruiter, he has diagnosed what sets successful IT leaders apart from those who do not succeed. in this interview, he notes that IT leaders must first understand the culture of the organization before attempting to transform the IT function. He also speaks about the rising trend of CIOs coming from other functional areas, the increased appreciation of IT from the rest of the company and the board, among several other topics.
(This is the 30th article in the CIO’s First 100 Days series. To read past interviews with CIOs from Intel, J. Crew, Johnson & Johnson, Ecolab, and Microsoft, among many others, please visit this link. To read future articles in the series, please click the “Follow” link above.)
Peter High: Eric Sigurdson, let us begin with what separates successful CIOs from unsuccessful ones, especially in the first 100 days. What are some of the characteristics that set apart the stars from the also-rans?
Eric Sigurdson: I think human nature says that they want to invest time in listening, asking questions, evaluating the team, not jumping to any quick conclusions, but be viewed as someone who is open to ideas and trying to learn the culture of the organization. Of the CIOs I know, two years in as they reflect back on the first 100 days, almost unanimously they wish they had moved faster. So there must be a balance between those two reflecting motivations: taking your time, get behind them, do not feel like you have to move too quickly, and, by same token, do not let the grass grow under your feet. You have to move fast enough because you were brought in typically as a change agent. Frankly, if a CIO is placed by an executive search firm, there is a mandate for change almost always.
High: Out of curiosity, maybe these percentages are not readily available, off the top of your head, how often when they have gone to search is it succeeding a successful CIO—say someone who is retiring or has been promoted – versus a scenario where a transformation of one sort or another is necessary?
Sigurdson: I would say of the work that we do, 75 or 80 percent of the time it is the latter. The 20 to 25 percent where it is continuation is that stage where someone is stepping into a broader role trying to bring in an individual to take over responsibility for IT. Even if it is a successful, retiring CIO, without exception, the client will always say, “They were successful in the period we needed them. We now need somebody different.” Rarely have I heard a client say, “We want someone just like them.” Even when they were happy with person vacating the CIO role, they always want someone different.
High: As somebody who thinks a lot about CIOs and CTOs, but also delves a degree beneath to the reports, I am wondering what kinds of roles are you seeing as increasing in frequency of demand at the degree under the CIO? A CIO comes in what tend to be the kinds of positions that are growing or increasing in need as you do some of the searches that are a degree removed from the CIO?