The customer connection also boosts Barnard’s business credibility, which helps him when challenging engineers to change how they work, says Woolsey. “Engineers tend to think in very straightforward, linear ways,” Woolsey explains. “Ray has the ability to get outside their mental model and articulate the alternative well enough so that they listen.”
The CEO Coach
Clearly, there are some CIOs who fit the mold that forward-thinking CEOs are creating for them. The problem is, there aren’t many of them—yet. “There aren’t a lot of CIOs who have that magic combination of strategic vision to see the big picture and the execution skills to deliver it,” says AXA Equitable’s Condron. Our 2010 State of the CIO survey found that only 21 percent of respondents are primarily engaged in activities that would categorize them as business strategists—leaders who are mostly focused on finding ways that technology can enable business opportunities. The remainder were focused primarily on either running the IT function (34 percent) or transforming enterprise business processes (45 percent).
“The skill sets are still evolving to catch up to the need,” notes Chris Patrick, partner in charge of the global CIO practice for executive recruiter Egon Zehnder International. (Related: "Want to Be a CIO? Be Prepared to Answer These Questions") Particularly tough to find among CIOs are external-facing competencies: knowing a company’s market, understanding customers, identifying new revenue opportunities and having a grasp of business, not just IT, strategy. “IT leaders are learning by interacting with business peers in a much more strategic way, as opposed to being suppliers of technology.”
Learning these skills takes time, however. For now, Patrick thinks, the demand for such IT leaders will outstrip the supply. (Egon Zehnder and the Council have developed a model called “ Journey to the Future-State CIO” to help IT leaders earn their business strategy bona fides. For more information, go to council.cio.com/futurestate).
Meanwhile, some CEOs are taking time to work with IT execs as coaches and confidants. Bayer’s Babe mentors senior IT managers with strong potential. He recounts that one individual he mentored had a strong intellect but a very logical worldview, so much so that any idea that wasn’t logical carried no weight with him and he would dismiss it. “I helped him to see that at the executive level, most of what you deal with is political, not logical, and you have to learn to work with that.”
Several CEOs interviewed for this story stress the need to lend visible support to their CIOs in order to build up the IT leaders’ credibility and help them deal with their toughest constituents—business-unit and function heads who are narrowly focused on their own areas and might not see the bigger corporate picture. MillerCoors’ Kiely coaches his CIO Wasielewski on where the land mines are as she decides how to best blend the different business cultures of former rivals Miller and Coors into a single harmonious brew.
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