The CIO is important but ignore the Number Two at your peril

Number Two

Type the word CIO into a browser and you will be swamped with analysis about the evolving role that these leaders find themselves transforming into. The emergence of all things Digital have raised the profile of the ‘person who manages IT’ to a level never witnessed before, with the influence that the CIO can have on a business success deep and far reaching.

The title CIO has powerful connotations whether it is because of the financial responsibility for delivering an effective IT service, or having being the ‘innovation engine’ that drives technological change that in turn drives business process improvement. The stretch from traditional Back Office IT ‘direction’ through to Front Office ‘direction’ is considerable and many new hire CIOs are less focused on the commodity Back Office, and spend their time embedded in the business working with peers to effect true business change through better use of information, application modernisation and ‘all things digital’.

Many in fact see the CIO role as being the stepping stone to becoming CEO with digitisation being the ‘right of passage’ to the main job.

Yet as one reflects on the CIO and the thirst in the sales community to ‘make sure you are talking to the CIO’ there is quite often an overlooked person that in many cases is equally or more important that the CIO themselves.

Take a look at the household technology giants for glimpses of the power of the Number Two and their rise to the top.

  •  Without question Apple would not be the force it is today if Jobs had not had the foresight to appoint Tim Cook when he did.
  • Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to add a second-in-command to his burgeoning social media empire showed a mature recognition that he couldn’t be alone at the top and needed someone with different skills. Sheryl Sandberg, brought management savvy and government relations experience, both essential to an expanding high-profile company.
  • Ballmer as 2IC to Gates at Microsoft.

Number Twos are those unheralded heroes that sit just to the right or the left of the leader.

  • They liberate their leader from tasks and concerns thus freeing up tine to concentrate on the ‘big issue’.
  • They enlighten and regularly inform their leader ensuring that only the ley developments and prevailing discussions are bought to their attention.
  • They are authentic avoiding the need to stroke their leader’s ego but instead hold up a mirror and reflect their true self.
  • They quite often in public situations take the lead and drive the solution demonstrating a total alignment to their leader’s vision and direction.
  • They are the person behind the wheel of the ‘Speed Two BiModal’ IT change organisation.
  • They may quite often ‘own’ the decision you are looking for.

A Number Two therefore can be the most important person in an IT organization – not knowing this can be very damaging indeed.

These Number Two types are very hard to find, and many organisations are weakened by having a big gap between their CIO and the IT team making decisions hard to execute on the ground. Many CIOs arrive at new posts with their previous Number Two in tow  – a bit like football coaches.

A strong Number Two is the stakeholder at the coalface. They have a really important role, as they work closely with the CIO to understand the rhythm of the business and technological imperative, and translate vision and strategy into pragmatic activities.

  • They may have an organisational remit to structure people and suppliers to deliver the goals leaving the CIO to strategize business development and strategic intent.
  • They may have the technological remit to drive innovation incubators to deliver speed and agility.
  • They may own the service element of the IT business and manage back office functions and service fulfillment.
  • They may control procurement and spend across business units.
  • They may own the development arm of business applications and so on.
  • They will run the CIO office either formally due to governance expectations or less formally based on personality and physical location. ( I know one CIO who has organised the desk layout in such a way that despite committing to an open door policy to all his staff has ensured that no one can actually get near his desk without walking past his Number Two (s ) – yes he had several ).

Some may flip between all of these. And this is key.

The Number Two is in all respects the CIO, bathed in the same insight, behaviour and challenging style.

For many you don’t get to see the CIO ever without going through the Number Two.  Some say the Number Two is the hardest audience of them all, because they  not only mirror the CIO in many personal traits but also have an edge in conversations driven by their oversight to where priorities need to be set, reset and redirected. ( Note – if you find you are always meeting the CIO on their own I would question the meeting – without the Number Two present question how will actions from your meeting be communicated and executed. Don’t fail to challenge the solo meeting – it will pay dividends and it will at worst challenge what the meeting really is about.)

So why is this all important?

Well if you are looking to get the pulse of an IT organisation, because you are a sales person or seeking to further your career, the age old adage of ‘get to know the CIO’ and ‘do you have a relationship with the C person’ may actually not be doing you any favours. Because even if you strike lucky and get an audience with the CIO, any CIO worth their salt will have their Number Two in the room, and you will find that all the dialogue flows through that person, and it is that person who you will follow up with ( subject to how well you did of course).

Whether you know it or not your ‘proposal’ or ‘pitch’ will be going through the Number Two who will be giving honest critical feedback to the CIO in quite often the most classic thumbs up , thumbs down motion. Brutal but it is what it is. Be wary.

Any tips therefore?

Well apart from the obvious the importance of getting to know the Number Two cannot be overstated.

Put in the extra legwork to fully understand how the Number Two role operates, where it has influence ( or not ), what works in terms of presentation approach, what key messages are important ( or not ),  how are decisions communicated into the CIO and back down to the troops.

So when asked if you have a good relationship with the CIO, pause and consider whether you can actually say “Yes I do, but my relationship with the Number Two is where I get all the real business done”.




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