Punch Above Your Weight! Drop Some Business Steroids – Get Your CIO Career Plan

Estimated reading time: 4 mins

CIOs don’t become c-level through luck – so why put your career to chance?

Silicon.com have just run this story to highlight the important of having a career plan. CIOs don’t let their career become a game of wait-and-see, but they actively plan for it. But many people don’t do this, but instead meander their way through their workplaces looking for the next big thing. Why?

The silicon.com article introduces David Weymouth, an IT leader in insurance. David has 30 years experience and believes it is much more difficult to stumble into senior roles nowadays, as IT becomes a true industry, rather than a craft.

I think you need to plan. The important thing is not to plan it as ‘I want to be promoted’ but ‘I need to have this set of experiences and I need to have demonstrated I can do this.

A career plan isn’t optional, I believe. You must have one, or be happy to roll the dice and live with the outcome.

Having a career plan means you have a strategy. How you achieve each step of your plan may change as your career develops, but the overall strategy should remain the same. However, I will caveat this by saying that if during your career you realize that you don’t have the passion for it, then re-think your goals. Pursuing a career that you don’t love will end up in misery. Pure misery.

Assuming you stay on course, then a career plan should allow you to broaden your horizons and take some risks. At each stage of your plan, it is important that you punch above your weight. To learn, you must stretch, and to stretch you must put yourself into situations outside of your comfort zone. The main consideration is if achieving what you didn’t think possible has impact. If it doesn’t have impact, then don’t do it. I remember a pivotal moment in my career when I was hungry for promotion, so I told my COO that a relationship with a technology supplier wasn’t commercial enough (oh and here’s what to do). I took a risk – it paid off – I was put in charge of IT within a month.

Taking risks is important, but so is hard graft. You don’t get anywhere unless you’re prepared to commit to your career.

The Silicon.com article poses the question ‘To MBA or Not MBA?’ – something that I have challenged before (see To MBA, or not MBA… that is the question?) This is the big question put to IT leaders. Are they serious business partners, or stewards of infrastructure? An MBA isn’t the route to instant business kudos it once was, but it can still form an essential and transformational step towards it. Back in 2006, I completed my MBA with the University of Liverpool. This was a deliberate step in my career plan. Until then, I was a techie in the eyes of my colleagues. I wouldn’t be invited into ‘proper business conversations’ and was marginalized. My MBA changed this; not because of the big three letters, but it added a major string to my bow – I could engage in proper business conversations and add value. I became conversant and credible in almost every aspect of business management, because I understood the context in which it was discussed. The MBA took serious commitment. It cost me approximately $25,000 and consumed 15 hours of my personal time, every week, for 3 years. Now that I am a Dad, I doubt I could commit to that. Therefore, I think if you believe that an MBA will provide you with that stepping stone, do it while you are still young.

One last thing: today, it is crucial to build an external profile. People are not measured just on their internal achievements. They must be recognized externally. This is a modern phenomenon which is still in its infancy. The Silicon.com article quotes Bryan MacDonald, a partner at a CIO headhunter

This is the most critical part and this is about getting a better lens on the outside world. A lot of these [IT] guys are internal-focusing. […] By this stage they should be beginning to go out and build their own brand out of the organisation – conference speaking, paper writing, thought-leading stuff.

To conclude, to get to the top effectively you need a career plan. Zig-zagging your way through organizations may produce the results you want but it is very risky and will probably take too long. Cut to the chase and build you plan, let it be your strategy, and make deliberate moves and commit to it.

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