IDS Scheer’s Joerg Heistermann shares tips for CIOs who want to climb to the top of the corporate mountain.
Climbing to the top of a mountain can be a satisfying challenge. After reaching the top, the climber may realize he wants to keep climbing higher peaks, but clouds and loose gravel are the only footholds left.
This is the case for the vast majority of CIOs, who have reached “the top” of the technology world. With few new challenges left, learning and mastering emerging technologies has become an intellectual staple, often leading to shiny-object syndrome.
Of course, CIOs love technology. It’s a hobby, a passion and a secret lover. At work, technology is used to improve productivity and revenue. At home, the latest mobile and multimedia gadgets are the center of gravity for leisure activities.
It’s the exclusive focus on this very passion that inhibits CIOs from growing into a CEO role. To get to the next level, CIOs have to expand their area of interest, gain new communications skills and learn the language of business.
CIOs are primarily internal communicators. They work with CFOs on budgets, and their customers are the business managers within the company. CEOs have to report financials to shareholders and communicate with thousands of customers. In addition to the day-to-day operational work, there are long-term topics like new business development as well as mergers and acquisitions. That makes a huge difference in the way someone communicates with people. It’s a real learning experience in tactful communication.
For many CIOs, IT budgeting is the bane of their existence. Budgets prevent them from doing what they might want to do and put them in the hot seat if business demands exceed the budget. To become a CEO, CIOs will need to have an appreciation for working the numbers, otherwise the CEO role is not the right fit.
The good news is that people management is mostly the same, because people aren’t really that different. Yes, people in sales are not the same as people in development. Nevertheless, they all want to be respected for the added-value they provide to the company. Everybody needs targets, room for continuous self-improvement and performance-based incentives.
CIOs also need to learn to communicate in business terms. IT would love business to spell out projects in data input and output, processing and interfaces. IT can’t comprehend why business managers don’t understand even basic IT concepts. Business managers are baffled that IT doesn’t have a remote understanding of what the business does–whether it’s drilling oil, car manufacturing or marketing perfume.
CIOs who talk to business managers about software migrations and database updates will be seen as technicians and not as business leaders. But CIOs who manage how IT adds value to the business, by increasing efficiency or driving revenue, will showcase their savvy sense of business.
Above all else, a CIO really has to want the CEO spot. It is the tallest mountain to climb, but the top of Mount Everest will not be reached without an extraordinary dose of determination. Truth be told, many CIOs simply aren’t interested.
Business managers are used to the idea of hierarchies and wanting to reach the top. Technicians usually have other goals and achievements that are often not as focused on titles or hierarchies.
Over the last 15 years, CIOs were lucky to experience major innovations like the Internet and mobile devices that introduced disruptive and exciting changes for technology and business. But these “really big things” only come once-a-decade. The subsequent set of incremental improvements and in-the-weeds updates are not all that interesting.
By making the transition to CEO, CIOs can experience greater diversity, take on new challenges and continue to grow.
Joerg Heistermann is CEO of the Americas for IDS Scheer, part of Germany’s Software AG Group. Previously, he was CIO of a pan-European mail-order and e-commerce company.