CIO: The Worst Job Title

David Wagner, Managing Editor | 11/12/2013 | 49 comments

David Wagner
If words have power to shape our reality (and I think they do), it might be time to re-think the title of CIO. In fact, it might be time to re-think the names of all the major c-suite jobs.

To begin with, I should say I came to this conclusion after reading Ludo Van der Heyden’s convincing article in the Harvard Business Review about why the CEO title is bad for CEOs. Van der Heyden makes the convincing case that if the CEO starts acting on the “executive” part of his name, he is probably about to lose his job because he’s already lost control of his priorities.

Van der Heyden says there are six major aspects to leadership: visioning, planning, deciding, explaining, executing, and evaluating. What CEOs were “worst at,” according to surveys of upper management, was deciding and explaining. What upper management craved most from CEOs was that they make key decisions, explain the reasoning behind the decision, and then back off to let them execute.

The problem, as Van der Heyden sees it, is that the language of the title grounds the way CEOs behave in ways that miss the point. He prefers Chief Decision Officer.

How does this apply to the CIO? Van der Heyden doesn’t go into it, but I think we can look at the six major aspects of leadership and see where the CIO fits in.

Let’s take a look at each of Van der Hayden’s six functions of a leader:

Visioning -- In the early days of IT, you’d have never put visioning high on the list of needs for a CIO. Even though technology has reshaped the business from the beginning, the 80-20 concept of IT kept it firmly out of the visionary realm.

But now that the 80-20 paradigm has been broken, the CIO's job is squarely around seeing how technology can bring new value to the business. More than anyone, the CIO is in a position to create a vision for the technological future of the company that can lead to new business opportunities.

Planning -- Certainly, every executive needs to plan, but I think we can all agree that the COO and CFO are more of the “planners” for the enterprise as a whole.

Deciding -- We’ve already established that the CEO is the chief decider. Certainly, the CIO is making plenty of decisions, but for the enterprise as a whole, the CEO needs to be the one.

Explaining -- Again, CIOs need to explain to their directors just like CEOs need to explain to the management team. But the ultimate onus to describe the company’s vision and course falls on the CEO.

Executing -- This used to be squarely the role of the CIO. The old CIO’s mantra was “keep the lights on.” We know that keeping the lights on now is just the table stakes to get into the game. And CIOs need to rely on directors for an increasing share of the execution work.

Evaluating -- Here’s the other area where the CIO can make the largest impact. Through the introduction of data and metrics, the CIO is an integral part of the evaluation process. But the CIO is more of an enabler of evaluation than the chief evaluator.

So if the CEO should be Chief Deciding Officer, what should the CIO be? In my opinion, the Chief Vision Officer has the right ring to it, and it also best describes the job in the decades to come.

The 21st century CIO or CVO needs to show how technology can create possibilities for the CEO they could never dream of alone. The successful CIO sees how technology fits into a larger vision of the company. Whether it is how big data can lead to new business or how mobility will lead to new ways to engage the customer, the CIO is better placed than anyone to see beyond the horizon line for a company and how technology will change it.

There are predictions the CIO will soon be extinct because of their inability to cope with shadow IT, digital natives, and a business that sees them as a drag. CIOs that are thriving aren’t actually acting like CIOs used to act. Maybe it really is time to give them a new name to reflect the role the good ones are playing. CVO seems like a good place to start.

What do you think? Do words matter? Does CVO better reflect the job of the CIO? What would you call the CIO if you could rename it? Comment below.

View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
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The_Phil   CIO: The Worst Job Title   12/14/2013 2:56:07 PM
Re: My issue with the title CIO
Nope, not the solution. The best answer is that 'it's not about you, it's about the customer'.

Always keeping that in mind is what gets you out of these ruts, as I call them.
David Wagner   CIO: The Worst Job Title   12/4/2013 2:50:20 PM
Re: My issue with the title CIO
@the_Phil- Good recovery. I can say I've worked with people who would have just stopped going on vacation instead.
tekedge   CIO: The Worst Job Title   11/30/2013 11:15:38 PM
CIO the worst job title
A CIO with any other name is a CIO ultimately as we are creatures of habit. yes their job roles have changed and I think the awareness of their importance has to be emphasized !Once it is realised that they are acting as visionaries where business opportunities lies for the organisation it will not matter what designation we give them
The_Phil   CIO: The Worst Job Title   11/30/2013 11:19:04 AM
Re: My issue with the title CIO
I know that VERY well. As a business owner, I ran into that same issue. Went on vaca & customer's were breaking down our virtual doors because no one else in house knew how to do what I did on a day-to-day basis. I was an eye-opener.

So I changed it up & trained & diagramed everything I did so others could follow in my absense. It helped a TON, believe me.
Susan Nunziata   CIO: The Worst Job Title   11/27/2013 2:45:04 PM
Re: My issue with the title CIO
@David: It would have to be a truly evolved organization in order to make something like that work, I agree. And it seems the bigger the organization, the tougher it gets. 
David Wagner   CIO: The Worst Job Title   11/27/2013 1:13:30 AM
Re: My issue with the title CIO
@Sara- Yeah, that seems like a bad situation. Seems like only a really small company can afford to have stuff like that happen. And maybe in some ways they're the least able to let it happen.
David Wagner   CIO: The Worst Job Title   11/27/2013 1:11:44 AM
Re: Words always matter
@kstaron- Thanks. Too bad my mother called me a loser my whole life. :)

Seriously, one question. Let's say we changed the names tomorrow. How long do you think the mental change would take? I think that's the hardest part to figure out.
Sara Peters   CIO: The Worst Job Title   11/26/2013 3:46:49 PM
Re: My issue with the title CIO
@The_Phil   "THat's what all C-levels are supposed to do. EMpower their direct reports to do what's needed in an efficient manner. Otherwise, they'll be DOING the work & not leading, as they're appointed to do."  I was just having a conversation about this yesterday. A VP of IT went on vacation and one very specific manual activity couldn't be done, because he'd said it was too complicated to do and had therefore not trained anyone to do it in his absence. To me that says that the person is underestimating his staff, being unwilling to delegate, to the detriment of the company. And possibly upsetting his team too, for not trusting them.
kstaron   CIO: The Worst Job Title   11/26/2013 2:34:33 PM
Words always matter
Words do matter, because they infiltrate how we think of what we've labeled it with. It's why your momther didn't want you to call people names. Just like bad name calling can affect how people act and react, a job title can do the same thing. A fundamental shift in how we view the C suite, and the proper renaiming ocould help everyone understand how to better do their jobs and how others view those in the position.
Technocrat   CIO: The Worst Job Title   11/17/2013 10:44:35 PM
Re: My issue with the title CIO
@David    Yeah, that's probably it !  : )
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