How to Identify Bad CIOs in Their Natural Habitat

How to Identify Bad CIOs in Their Natural Habitat

Bad CIOs are a blight on the IT profession and on the organizations that employ them. The following list of behaviours common among bad CIOs will prevent you from hiring them into your organizations. If they're already there, it will give you good reason to eliminate them

Dropping names.
You know a CIO is just a name-dropper when he mentions a half dozen or more people in an hour, and when, after you tell him you're going to contact those people for references, he says something like, "I don't know where Bill is these days, and I'm not sure Sally would remember me," says Banerji. What good are the names if you can't contact them?

Bad references.
Sam Gordon, director of Harvey Nash Executive Search's CIO practice, says he wonders about a CIO's performance when supplied references make excuses for the CIO's behaviour. That can indicate that a CIO isn't all he says he's cracked up to be.

"If the reference doesn't enthusiastically endorse the candidate when you ask if they'd feel comfortable hiring the person again, chances are, they're very unlikely to want to hire them," he says.

Gordon recommends talking to at least four references. If only one equivocates, that's not too much cause for concern.

Behaviours observers should note when the CIO has settled in his new habitat

They eat their young.
Lots of CIOs hire IT professionals who've worked for them in the past when they start a new job. Most CIOs, hiring managers and headhunters don't view this as a sign of a bad CIO, especially if the team the CIO brings in has been successful in the past. It becomes a problem when 1) the CIO makes room for his old teammates by firing existing staff for no good reason, 2) it's a manifestation of nepotism and cronyism and 3) they're just bringing in their yes-men and yes-women.

John Miano, an IT consultant, says another problem with a new CIO hiring old coworkers is that it creates two "castes" inside the IT organization — those who are the CIO's chosen ones and those who are not — and thus a lot of friction. "It also creates a core group of people whose loyalty is to the CIO and not to the organization," he noted via e-mail.

Young and old flee the CIO's flock.
Unusually high levels of staff turnover in the IT department after the new CIO has joined can indicate that the staff hasn't bought into him, says Harvey Nash's Gordon, and by extension that the new CIO is no good.

"When a bad CIO comes in, the good people start leaving," says Miano, adding that those people begin spreading the word about the bad CIO. "There are companies who cannot hire top quality IT people because of their [CIO's] reputation. Few companies seem to appreciate how their CIO affects their hiring ability."

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