A CIO is only as good as their management team

management team meetingThis year’s CIO Summit proved to the best yet with a day full of presentations from CIOs – a significant number from the CIO 100 – who provided some great insights, tips and case studies on how they are helping to transform and grow their organisations.

A number of key themes emerged during the day and not least the CIO’s role in innovation. From the opening video interview with Paul Coby, IT Director at John Lewis, who commented that “innovation is a key part of being a CIO these days,” and through just about every one of the following presentations and discussions, the CIO’s role as a driver of innovation was evident.

But CIOs can only play a leading role in their organisation’s innovation activity if they have the time. CIOs who spend the majority of their time focused on operational issues, managing the day-to-day aspects of IT will find they have very little time to think about innovation and how IT can be used to create value for their organisation (see CIO: what business are you in?). And this touches on one of the other main themes of this year’s summit and something I have discussed frequently in this blog: the changing role of the CIO.

Graham Benson, IT Director of MandM Direct, summed this theme up with the observation that “CIOs used to be the person that was best at IT. Now you need a different toolkit.” And that toolkit is not necessarily a technical one. The CIO in the digital age needs a broader set of skills than they did in the past when technical ability and knowledge was the main criteria for the role.

Reinforcing this point Anna Barsby, CIO of Halfords, gave a presentation that covered topics such as career paths, staff motivation, communication and empowering her team. Such subjects are not the traditional content of CIO events and large chunks of Barsby’s presentation would not have looked out of place at a gathering of leaders from any business function – a further demonstration that the CIO role is one that requires a wider range of skills and that the CIO should now be a business leader and a technology leader.

And when it came to building the senior management team for the IT function Barsby had this advice: “Don’t compromise on your leadership team. Take time to get it right.” This struck a particular chord with me, as building a new management team is something I have done in a number of permanent and interim CIO roles. And in my current role as an adviser to CIOs I am regularly asked to help evaluate and restructure management teams. Patience is undoubtedly a key to doing this successfully as it can often take many months to find the right person to join IT department’s leadership team. Technical skills, business skills, working style and cultural fit all have to be taken into account before making a decision to appoint a new member of the CIO’s team.

One of the first pieces of advice I give to a CIO who wants to transform the IT function and/or is looking to reposition their own role within the organisation is to assess their management team. In making this assessment we look for four things:

  1. Can they deliver the basics – as much as we like to think about the CIO role as being strategic, innovative and a business leader, if the basic IT services are not reliable then the CIO will not have the credibility they need to get involved in non-IT matters.
  2. Can they support the transformation – transforming any function is a major undertaking and is something that cannot be done by one person. The CIO needs a management team that can share the workload of leading a successful transformation.
  3. Are they capable of working in the new way – a transformation creates a new type of function, a new way of working, a new style of IT. CIOs need to be confident that their management team will be comfortable with this new model and be capable of leading by example.
  4. Can they run the department on a day-to-day basis – CIOs that want to develop their profile and grow their influence across the business need to spend much of their time outside of the IT function. But they can only do this if they have a management team that is capable of running the IT function on a day-to-day basis and without the CIO’s involvement.

You are only as good as your management team allows you to be. If you build a strong team that can run the IT function on a day-to-day basis, delivering quality services and executing projects effectively then not only will this reflect well on you, but it will also give you the credibility, time and space to engage with your peers, drive innovation and be involved in wider business initiatives. And, as we have seen from the CIO Summit, contributing to the wider business is fast becoming a key element of the CIO’s role in the digital age.

If you are a CIO that is looking for help assessing or developing your management team or transforming the IT function then please contact me or visit my website, axin.co.uk.


  1. […] to obtain different perspectives and new ideas. The need for CIOs to focus on relationships and people are two areas I have discussed a lot on this site so it was pleasing to read about a technology […]


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