How CIOs Can Avoid Being Fired

In order to hold on to their jobs, CIOs need to know how to not get fired.
In order to hold on to their jobs, CIOs need to know how to not get fired.
Image Credit: Bill Alldredge

During my career, I’ve been fired twice. I can tell you from personal experience, it’s never a good feeling. As CIO, you have a highly visible position within the company and there is a lot riding on you. If you are not able to deliver what the company needs from you, there is a very good chance they are going to end up getting rid of you and replacing you with someone who can do what they need to have done. What you need right now is some advice on how to not get fired!

What Does A Company Expect From Its CIO?

If we are going to hope to get to bottom of why CIOs get fired, then we’re going to have to start our investigation by trying to understand what a company expects from the person in the CIO position. The reason that a company has a CIO in the first place is because they understand the importance of information technology and they need someone to oversee the operation of the company’s computing facilities. This can mean different things at different companies. It can include creating, staffing, and maintaining one or more data centers. It can also include taking care of the company’s telecommunications network.

The CIO runs the IT department. In most IT departments there will be staff members who are assigned to interact with the company’s various business units. Their role is to understand what the needs of the business unit are and to make sure that the IT department is providing them with what they need. This type of “personalization” is a critical part of what it takes for an IT department to be a success.

Ultimately what the company’s management team wants to be able to do is to determine what the overall health of the company is. They view the IT department as being the part of the company that can equip the different parts of the company with what they need in order to provide this information. Where things can start to go wrong is when the different business units reach into the IT department and take over various IT resources. All of a sudden, the CIO can very quickly have situation that is getting out of control on his or her hands.

What Can Cause A CIO To Get Fired?

Losing some control of your IT department is never a good thing right? However, is that ever going to be enough to actually get you fired? It turns out that the answer is “probably not”. However, what is going to get you fired is when you make promises to your upper management that you’ll keep everything under control and yet you let the company’s business units run wild.

Business units always think that they know what is best for them – even when it comes to IT. When they reach into the IT department and take over IT resources, what you’ll find is that very quickly the IT department is forced to start to spend far too much on each business unit’s resources. As time goes on, each business unit ends up building their own IT infrastructure. Ultimately, none of these separate creations talk with each other and you’re effectively left with a company that has a broken IT infrastructure.

This is all going to come to the attention of the company’s upper management when they request a summary of how their business is performing across the various business units. This won’t be able to be produced because everyone is using different systems to track different things. Once upper management starts looking into this problem they will discover just exactly how much the company has been spending on IT and effectively how little they have gotten for their investment. Even as this is all happening, the individual business units will be pushing and pulling to have more autonomy from the IT department when it comes to making decisions about the IT technology that they use. Very quickly all of this is going to end up in your being fired.

What Does All Of This Mean For You?

As your company’s CIO you don’t want to be fired. The conditions that can lead to your company being willing to fire you are not simple nor are they straightforward. If you’re not careful, there is a very good chance that they can sneak up on you. What this means is that you’re going to have to learn to keep your eyes open.

Two things are going to have to be in place in order to ensure that you don’t lose your CIO job. The first is that you’re going to have to be a strong CIO. This means that you are going to have to get comfortable with saying “no”. Additionally, you’re not going to be able to hang on to your job if you don’t have the support of your company’s senior management. You are going to have to be the one setting the rules: what systems will be used throughout the company, what IT architecture will be used, how IT systems will be built, and exactly what are you willing to delegate to the individual business units.

None of these are easy decisions. However, since you are the one with the CIO job, these are the tough calls that you are going to have to be willing to make in order to hold on to your job. Garner the support that you’ll need and then don’t back down when the business units start asking for too much. Hey, you’re the CIO, you’re in charge.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: Should you schedule regular meetings with your management in order to keep them updated on your relationships with the business units?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Wow – it sure was hard to get the CIO job. Just think for a moment about all of the various positions you had to rise through in order to finally obtain the top spot in IT. You do realize that you are not the last CIO that your company is ever going to have – because of the importance of information technology there will be others who follow behind you. Part of your job as the current CIO is to help the company to identify who will take over the CIO position when you finally move on. Do you know how to go about doing this?