Does a Great System Make a CIO Better?

Measured and proactive approaches yield better teams

If we think of the operation of IT being a lot like that of a complete business, it is important to think about the various types of skills and management styles beyond the typical functional areas, like apps and infrastructure. While it may be sufficient to develop a perspective on your team's strengths organically, a more measured and proactive approach should yield a higher-performing team.

For example, some of your team will be better suited to drive the analytical thinking required to measure IT's effectiveness, while others will be better fits for broad communications to customers and business leadership. Configured properly, the set of complementary strengths represented by your leadership team are very powerful--but you have to know who is really good in specific areas.

You can either guess at your team members' strengths or you can use a more scientific method. This theme came up at a recent CIO conference when organizational psychologist and leadership coach Bill Rollwitz discussed "Now, Discover Your Strengths," a book by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton that focuses on enhancing people's strengths rather than eliminating their weaknesses. The book describes 34 positive personality themes and, through a Web-based tool, readers can complete a Gallup Organization questionnaire and instantly discover their own top-five inborn talents.

I am a firm believer in the uncanny accuracy of the well-established behavior tests, such as Kolbe A and Myers-Briggs. With a formal or informal view of your team, there are two questions to ask:

1. Is the team balanced across leadership and behavioral traits?

2. Is each member's role a good fit with his or her inherent behaviors?

A colleague of mine thinks of it in terms of building a "renaissance team" as opposed to seeking out "renaissance people." He says it feels as if there are two parts of the organization where this is most important and where the typical gaps happen. The first is between IT and the business. The second--and less obvious--area lies between the application team and the infrastructure team. In many cases, these individuals aren't only on different teams they are in different cities and may even work for different companies. They often form their identities based on functions rather than the projects they work on.

The System Quarterback CIO

In football circles, it's common to hear the term "system quarterback," which is a way of saying that a solid, if not spectacular, quarterback can flourish if he is part of a well-defined system of coaches, culture, personnel, and offensive philosophy. That same quarterback may go to a different team and never have the same level of success. Many analysts attribute this disconnect to the idea that team management and the coaching staff can established a successful system, as opposed to assembling talented pieces and hoping they mesh.

Could a similar situation exist for senior leaders in top companies? Could some companies have a system that combines coaching, culture, personnel, and a set of core processes ("plays") that could make its leaders better?

General Electric comes to mind. It's generally accepted that GE knows how to build good general managers, particularly CEOs. Diamond's founder and chairman, Mel Bergstein, describes this kind of company as an "academy firm" and talks about Goldman Sachs as having a similar capability. A University of Western Ontario study found that GE has an exceptional management development process and that ex-GE managers bring significant enterprise value to their new companies.

In understanding exactly what kind of system GE has built and the value it adds, they used the VRIO framework to analyze it:

• Value - Can it directly address opportunities and be applied to threats?

• Rarity - Do other firms have this resource?

• Imitability - Can other firms quickly/inexpensively replicate it?

• Organization - Is the firm organized to take advantage of the resource?

Using the VRIO lens, the Western Ontario team concludes that GE's management development program adds sustainable competitive advantage. While not easily replicable, HP, Johnson & Johnson and a few other companies are also known for leadership development. Within these companies, the CIOs and CIOs-to-be take advantage of their general management program along with their peers across the organization.

Few companies can match GE's program and culture. But innovative companies that have information-based products or "wrappers" around products--companies in which the CIO is a core member of the executive team with clear responsibility and accountability--can build systems that are particularly well-suited to help a CIO excel.

Chris Curran is Diamond Management & Technology Consultants' Chief Technology Officer and managing partner of the firm's technology practice. He writes the CIO Dashboard blog at, and can be reached at or @cbcurran on Twitter.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags CIO

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Chris Curran

Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?