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CIO Insight: The Proverbial Seat at the Table

CIO Professional Network members weigh in on their participation with the executive team and board of directors in their organizations.
H. Michael Burgett
Contributing Writer

Its Thanksgiving 1980, and I am twelve years old. Not quite a teen, but in my young mind every bit of a man. Regulated for years to one of the many folding tables with my cousins, I knew this was my time. Yes there was an empty seat at the adult table.

But alas, my dreams were put on hiatus as my uncle was able to show up at the last minute and assume his rightful seat. My time would have to wait.

As technology leaders we know that to fully deliver on the expectations of our role, we need to be in a position to influence at the right levels within our organization. For years the “Director of MIS” was regulated to a back office role, running cables, writing code, and at times rebooting (ctrl-alt-del) the CEOs computer.

In July 2020, The National CIO Review polled our 2000+ member CIO Professional Network on their participation as the top technology leader in their organization with the executive team and board of directors.

With over 82% reporting their inclusion as a member of the executive leadership team in their respective organization, CIOs and the like have come a long way in the past 10, 20, and even in the last 5 years to assume their rightful place of influence among the C-suite.

There is barely a functional or business process that doesn’t at some point involve IT. As CIOs we are positioned with a unique view of the organization that not everyone, including other execs may have.

Chris Hackett, Chief Information Officer for Employees Retirement Systems of Georgia

Yet with 18% of technology leaders still fighting for that proverbial seat at the table, there there is more work to be done.

Based on my experience at several large and small organizations, I’ve found that technologists tend to have a reputation for being a bit more command/control oriented, so I wouldn’t suggest that anyone “demand” a seat at the table. Schedule time with each member of the existing leadership team to learn about the topics that are discussed, build rapport, ask questions, and learn what is important to them. Once grounded and when you have something to share, ask to present a strategic topic that would add value to the overall discussion.”

Darren Person, Global Chief Information Officer for The NPD Group

Many technology leaders have in fact claimed the coveted perch of influence but that inclusion hasn’t quite translated to the board room. Respondents reported that less than 7% of CIOs serve on their company’s board, only 57% regularly attend, and 43% of technology leaders seldom participate in those oh so important meetings.

In my experience the seat at the table is not an opportunity to be physically present but the ability to influence. The best way to build influence is develop peer to peer relationships and highlight contributions in terms of revenue, sales, customer experience etc. Your peers will bring you to the table.

Harsha Bellur, Chief Information Officer for James Avery

Looking to work your way into a seat at the table? CIO Network Member, Roque Martinez, Chief Technology Officer for SmartStream RDU, recommends “A Seat at the Table” by Mark Schwartz as an addition to the bookshelves of all technology leaders. Schwartz reveals “that the only way to become an Agile IT leader is to be courageous―to throw off the attitude and assumptions that have kept CIOs from taking their rightful seat at the table. CIOs, step on up, your seat at the table is waiting for you.”

If recent history has taught us anything, one is that CIOs are being called upon to lead, transform, and accelerate technology investments to enable new and evolving business models and the teams that support those endeavors. We are evolving from proven operators to change initiators, and in many cases revenue enablers.

We are pleased to report that as technology leaders we have come a long way, we have achieved a seat at the table but there is still work to be done.

The CIO Professional Network is an active, 2000+ member network where technology leaders share best practices and insight on common issues. The network provides a forum for ongoing and mutually beneficial interactions. Vendor-free membership is restricted to the top IT, security or digital professional for their respective organization. To request membership navigate to the CIO Professional Network.

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