Do you have what it takes to become an interim CIO?
By S&S 3/7/2018
“I just didn’t want to do five days a week on the same client all the time."
These were the words from Malcolm Lambell, permanent-turned-interim CIO, after making the leap to the gig economy - the digital age that is becoming more en vogue than ever.
After chugging through long-stretched stints at top investment banks and insurers, Malcolm had an overnight lightbulb moment and switched his job hunt from seeking permanent roles to seeking interim roles. He is one of many who is now looking beyond the smoked screen of permanent employment to the more appetising “gig”-style of working, which effectively means getting paid for the “gig” that you do. Employees can benefit from flexible work hours and employers can avoid racking up staff costs. It’s a win-win.
Christian McMahon, former CIO of Ovum, similarly realised an imbalance in his work-life structure and jumped on the interim-bandwagon – he is now ranked the world’s 11th most influential CIO.
“I wanted to take on a role where I was able to actually do what I really enjoyed doing, while still adding value commercially and growing my own experience and skillset,” Christian told S&S The Change Society.
More and more executives are starting to lose the drive for the safety of a permanent role, as mundane politics gets in the way. The realisation of spending years on end in the same company with the same people and working on the same projects is giving execs that final nudge to explore the interim market.
A corporate weapon
And the journey to that interim career, although a daunting one that requires perseverance and revenue, is agreed by CIOs to be enjoyable.
“I can’t get over how fun it’s been and how successful it’s been in terms of personal satisfaction and personal reward,” said Malcolm, whose portfolio boasts a range of exciting interim gigs from Bupa to XL Catlin to Vertex – three entirely different industries.
Being an interim CIO allows you to break away from the stigmatism of “the guy who does technology,” where your c-suite or peers often run the risk of pigeon-holing you. The more roles and companies that a CIO can take on through the “gig” journey, the more knowledge, marketing and sales he or she can absorb, opening up even further windows that may be bolted shut for permanent CIO.
Released from the shackles into the interim market, the CIO can take on different roles and responsibilities, exuding more personal power than a permanent CEO could dream of.
“You pitch yourself as a technologist, but you contribute in ways that you hadn’t thought you would,” said Christian. “You are can go into the board room as a leader, not just a technology leader.”
Social media: not just for the Kardashians
When 20-year old Kylie Jenner used a social media platform to slag off another social media platform, she caused a share price drop of almost 8% instantaneously. In what seemed like a trivial tweet - “sooo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me... ugh this is so sad” – she wiped off $1.3bn off Snap’s stock market value.
The disruption of communication is rife and this applies to everyone - from the Kardashians to interim CIOs.
“Being known as an influencer on a number of categories is a big power,” said Christian. A turning point in his journey as a social CIO was when he was approached to do a project on the back of his social influence – not his name.
Gone are the days of CIOs shying away from social media, at the risk of upsetting a vendor, supplier or recruiter – now it’s all about having confidence in your message to the extent that significant revenues can be gained in social campaigns.
“You don’t have to be Kim Kardashian, you just have to be someone who understands technology and can get the message across that people want to hear,” Malcolm added.
Hit the ground running
In any interim position, it is the norm and expectation that you will get up to speed at a more accelerated pace than if you were in permanent employment. There is no time to waste with fluffy HR two-week long training sessions and hand-holding by your CEO with every step.
But this speed and heightened process is only a further advantage for the interim CIO. While the permanent ones must often endure the soul-crunching 90-day layover period, interims can swing straight into action from day one. The recruitment process itself of hiring a permanent CIO can average nine months, in which the entire market could have already moved on by then - and hence the opportunity is lost.
Interim CIOs can also take comfort in that they have more credibility and respect from the CEOs.
“As a permanent CEO, you always seem to get treated like a kicking ball,” said Malcolm. “You get more exposure and support.”
It’s a refreshing surprise when CEOs turn around to their interim CIOs and ask, “what can I do to help you?” rather than the bulldozer question, “what are you going to do to deliver?”
But a shorter length of employment definitely does not insinuate a lesser commitment and work ethic from the CIO. Whether interim or permanent, the underlying goal is to transform companies for the long-run. The only difference is that as an interim, you are working on what you actually want to work on, having cherry-picked the company yourself.
What are you waiting for?
Get something creative going and not the usual structural approach, were the words of advice from Malcolm, who has made leaps and bounds from being made redundant all those years ago to now best-selling author and chairman of various entrepreneurial organisations.
“Get away ahead of the game – really think about how to attack it and then invest it. Protect your brand value, protect your day rate. Don’t take cheap rate.”
Networking and facetiming should be a regular activity. By treating every meeting and event like a serious job interview, Malcom received two offers within two weeks.
Companies do not want to hire a CIO that is the carbon copy of another CIO from the same industry. They want more of an injection of change and a skillset from outside of their industry. An increased number of execs are edging into the interim space and this migration is only going to rise as the digital world continues to take fold.
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