I’ve seen the role of Chief Information Officer greatly vary between companies. It’s dependent on variables such as whether your company is small or large, domestic or foreign, national or international, product- or services-based, and so on.  A great CIO’s most important talents? (Hint: it’s not technology). Leadership and communication. Leadership in terms of building relationships, setting goals and objectives, and improving morale. Communications in terms of setting expectations, communicating IT capabilities and delivering on pre-determined outcomes. A proven CIO will earn their salary multiple times over by protecting your data and operations, improving the customer experience, avoiding money pits, managing waste and bad investments, right-sizing the technology footprint, and maintaining and hiring ‘A’ players.

But does your company need all that? Defining the scope of the position in advance will save you the mess of both having to rid your company of a bad fit and the expense of having to undo the damage created by the wrong hire. Defining what success looks like is important.

Your CIO is out there. To find the best, check references but first ask yourself these questions:


  • Do you need industry acumen?  If so, how much and what for?
  • What problems do you need the CIO to solve? Is it related to innovation, data security, culture, budget, stability, growth, downsizing and/or quality?
  • Should they be unexceptional or best-in-class?
  • How fast do you need them to act, do they have a rolodex of their own trusted, get-it-done staff?


  • Do you want them to maintain or improve corporate systems?
  • Should they have experience in data centers consolidation and disaster recovery?
  • Do they need to improve and/or establish policy and compliance? Develop new programs? Understand/enforce national and/or international data regulations?
  • Do you want them to consolidate, grow and/or outsource IT?
  • Do we need to simplify IT? Do we even know what that means?
  • Possess international culture/operation familiarity?


  • What is the reporting structure; direct to CEO or other?
  • Position to be independent; rely on their knowledge to set realistic expectations?
  • Will your CIO manage expenses or a P&L?
  • Strategically cut costs while maximizing technology?
  • Set priorities by collaborating and partnering with lines of business leads?

People Management

  • What management style fits with your organization?
  • What level are their direct reports?  How many or TBD?
  • What is the total number of staff to be managed and how distributed are they?
  • Is staff expected to grow, be maintained, or be cut?  Do you want to keep current employees, clean house, or a combo?
  • Do internal cultures need to be changed, developed or merged?  Nationally or internationally?  Does a calm need to be brought to a hostile employee environment?

If your operation leans more towards maintenance and general support, you can go with a generalist. But if you expect to innovate, give your CIO pre-search the time it deserves. Answering the above questions, in either case, before the interviews begin will help you define your needs and ensure the right CIO for your company. Writing down your priorities and must-haves, and discussing them with your direct reports in advance, will lead to a successful hire.

Let me know your thoughts on this matter… happy hunting.