Get a contract and get a mandate . . .
With all this talk about IT governance CIOs may want to stop and reflect on one thing: the Prime Minister has greater job security than you do. Research shows that the average tenure of a CIO is around three and a half years. The last Australian Prime Minister who served less time than that was Gough Whitlam, and it's been almost 30 years since he held the keys to the Lodge. Despite the periodic challenge of having to secure the renewal of their contract, many politicians prove it can be done.
My own view is that it would benefit many CIOs if their tenure were governed by a contract. The first advantage of having a contract is that it makes a statement to the rest of the company. Despite the fact that ICT has transformed business in the last 50 years, many executives believe that ICT has failed to deliver. How then can that ignorance be challenged? I believe CIOs have to do something radical to make the rest of the business sit up and take notice. Moving your employment status from permanent to contractor is one such drastic step. You are announcing that you have the courage to stand or fall based on your ability to deliver.
The next thing a contract offers the CIO is a mandate. Take the example of the Prime Minister; if he is challenged in an area such as industrial relations he immediately turns round and says something along the lines of "the Australian people have given me a mandate to do this". When the executive or board engage the CIO on a fixed-term contract are they not empowering that CIO with similar authority? What better riposte when dealing with interfering executives than to say "but I have a mandate to do this".
Furthermore, I think contractual status offers the CIO an agenda. Since there is a timeframe to the contract the CIO has to establish a schedule of what they are going to do within this period. This then gives the business and the CIO an opportunity to establish milestones and associated KPIs by which they can track the CIOs progress. Without this there is a natural impatience. One of the biggest problems that CIOs tell me about is the frustration of dealing with an executive who thinks IT can be a "silver bullet". A contract for the CIO establishes a framework and forces discipline and some patience on those executives seeking the miraculous from ICT
There's also another analogy between the CIO and the Prime Minister: to be effective both have to introduce change. As research shows, change always brings with it some dissatisfaction. However, a contract offers the CIO some security of tenure while they work through that transformation. I believe this is important as it enables the CIO to make difficult, and perhaps unpopular, decisions that they regard as necessary. Again the timeframe factor works to the advantage of the CIO as it gives them time to bed down these amendments before they will be judged.
As the contract comes to an end the CIO will be held accountable. However, is that such a bad thing? If we have been given a mandate, been allowed to do what we think is required and have delivered what we set out to do, then what are we frightened of? Too much time in ICT is spent envisaging future glories rather than celebrating ongoing success. A contract renewal process affords an opportunity for that reflection. John Howard, George Bush and Tony Blair have all recently had their terms of office renewed. Why can't CIOs achieve the same? In my opinion all being an employee does is leave many CIOs with the threat of the sword of Damocles permanently hanging over their heads. At least with a contract you know where you stand.
Peter Hind is a freelance consultant and commentator with nearly 25 years experience in the IT industry. He is co-author of The IT Manager's Survival Guide and ran the InTEP IS executive gatherings in Australia for over 10 years.
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