Modern CIOs must hire leaders they can trust to 'fire-and-forget'

Modern CIOs must hire leaders they can trust to 'fire-and-forget'

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CIO Manage Your Work, Manage Your Life

A challenge facing many CIOs right now is the delicate balance of championing innovation, lowering costs and meeting demands for increased agility in deploying new solutions — all while somehow achieving a work-life balance. Talk about a lot of work!

When you look at these three aspects of the CIO job — innovation, lowering costs, and agility — you realize each is part of an endless cycle. If you’re going to be innovative, you’ve got to be fast. There is an expectation to constantly lower operating expenses. For companies in the public sector (such as higher education) there are no big buckets of money or five-year projects to roll something out. You’ve got to do it much more quickly with the resources you have on hand, and then move on to the next project almost immediately.

This endless cycle presents some challenges in work-life balance. It’s tough to balance those three components at the same time. The modern CIO needs maturity, judgment, a very deep understanding of the business and information technology to take the appropriate risks necessary to be successful.

Going back to those three overarching mechanisms: if you look at innovation, you’re not really innovating unless you’re occasionally failing. Then the question becomes, can you engineer a system where you innovate, try to take risks, and where you can detect failure early so you don’t waste a lot of money on that component?

When it comes to costs, there are parts of the business that are on a cost-recovery model or where you’re trying to shrink costs. But perhaps the most daunting of these tasks is the need for ever-increasing agility. We always want to move faster, and when you get into that kind of cycle you’re challenged to pause, do a refresh, look at where you are and where you want to go in the long term. You have to think about how to engineer it, how you bring the right champions on board, how you build a business case and how you move all of it forward.

The right talent can manage any cycle

How in the world do you manage all of this and experience any sort of work-life balance? To do it, you’ve got to have leaders in place who can help.

That’s why I think it’s important to break away from a Napoleonic approach to leadership and instead hire the right people, then empower them to do great things. Hire people that you can trust to cover aspects of the business for you that are, if you don’t mind the description, “fire-and-forget.” They understand your intent, they execute as if they were you driving that intent and they handle aspects of the business. Then you, as the CIO, bring it all together delivering the strategic view of where things are going.

It would be a waste of time for me to get involved with every technology decision that my chief technology officer was making. I wouldn’t have time to do the other things I need to do in terms of game-changing behavior or innovation in business process automation so that we realize higher efficiencies.

One of the most powerful skills a CIO can have is the ability to pause and see the big picture. I don’t think you can make the right judgment calls or take the necessary risks needed to innovate unless you’re doing that, and you won’t have time to do that unless you’re working with leaders who can help.


Curtis A. Carver Jr., Ph.D. is the Vice Chancellor and Chief Information Officer for the Board of Regents of University System of Georgia (USG). In this capacity, he oversees a statewide educational infrastructure and service organization with more than 190 innovators and more than $75 million annual investment in higher education. He also provides technical oversight of the USG Shared Services Center. Dr. Carver has led the transformation of IT services by partnering with USG business owners, institutions, and other state agencies to jointly solve problems.

Curtis A. Carver Jr., Ph.D. is the Vice President and Chief Information Officer for the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In this role servant leader and enabler of others, he leads a team of dedicated professionals focused on providing solution to the UAB through world-class IT with a focus on innovation, agility and cost efficiency.

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