you're reading...
IT Leadership

Do different Business Stages require different CIO Types?

Jack of all trades

How does the business stage (start-up, growth, steady state etc) relate to the type of CIO needed? And more importantly does this have a correlation to business success?

Following on from my previous article on CIO Types (“What type of CIO are you?“) I wanted to explore how the type of CIO was connected to the different stages of business development.

There are no right or wrong answers to this question, plus many CIOs are flexible in their style and approach, so are able to adapt to differing situations and business conditions (refer to Ken Blanchard’s teaching on Situational Leadership).

Background to this Discussion

Whilst doing research for this article I found some useful viewpoints. For example:

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) published an interesting and fairly lengthy (25 page) document on this subject in 2009, titled “The Situational CIO” where they comment that “a CIO must wear many hats“. Within their review they focus on strategic vs tactical actions and conclude that:

“Just how strategic a CIO should be—if at all—varies according to your company’s needs and expectations, and your skills and interests. A successful CIO must be able to assess and navigate those expectations, compare them with personal strengths and interests, and decide how best to match the needs and capabilities.

You might change your skills and focus, you might help change your company’s strengths and focus, or you might fill in the gaps. You might also realize that there is no fit—or that there is not likely to be one—and accept that it’s time to move to another company where there’s a more natural fit.”

Also in 2009, Chris Curran wrote a CIO.com article titled “The Three Types of CIOs: Are You and Your Company a Match?”:

“a CIO of one type can, in fact, be successful in the other phases if he or she recognizes the potential skill (and interest!) mismatch and gets the right lieutenants in the right roles … Unfortunately, there’s often an expectation that the CIO can do it all, and that belief can cause some of the mismatch problems.”

The only piece of empirical research that I found was titled “Matching business strategy and CIO characteristics: The impact on organizational performance” by Yan Li and Chuan-HooTan, which concludes that:

“a match between business strategy and CIOs of certain repertoires of competencies, experiences and personalities could lead to better organizational performance. The business performance in “matched” organizations is significantly better than that in “mismatched” ones.”

Mapping business stage to CIO Type

The chart below provides food for thought on ‘what CIO style’ is needed ‘when’ in a company’s life cycle. I am interested in your thoughts on this and whether you agree with the suggestions.

For definitions of the CIO Types see my earlier article (“What type of CIO are you?“).

CIO Type vs Business Stage

Seed / Start-up

In the early stages a company is likely to need a CIO who can work with a small team and turn their hand to almost anything. Then as momentum grows they need to be able to build their team quickly to support the business. During these stages the business may go through a number of changes and require the CIO to help drive or lead in a very transformational way. So the most likely CIO types are a Jack of all trades or perhaps a Transformational CIO.


During a rapid growth cycle the business will evolve and change quickly, maturing from its early stages into a fully fledged enterprise. This will require a Transformational CIO to help the business gain the necessary capabilities and structure to survive. The CIO will need to have a very clear vision of how IT will add value and assist with the growth and transformation. It could be argued that a Strategist CIO might also be an option during this stage, especially if growth is slower.


Once the business is established, it is essential that the CIO drive new innovations, business improvements and continuously plan for replacing legacy technologies. Thus a Strategist CIO to drive increased business value would be my first choice, although I am sure some companies may have a Tactical, steady Eddie or another type of CIO.


The expansion stage of a business’s life cycle, similar in some ways to the growth stage, will require IT help with evolving the business. However, a key difference will be that the enterprise is far more established and is more likely to require a Strategist CIO to plot a steady course forward whilst adding value and helping drive the expansion. Other options may include a Transformational CIO if more major change is required, or if the expansion is low key then an Evolution/Incremental CIO may be an option.


A mature organisation is very similar to an established one and therefore a Strategist CIO is most suited to drive IT forward, although many companies may have a Tactical / steady Eddie CIO. However, even for a mature business it is crucial to not only replace legacy technologies, but also to take advantage of new innovations and seek opportunities to improve the business.


By this point it does not matter what type of CIO you have, they will be looking for a new job!


What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? If so why?




  1. Pingback: Are you a #Digital #CIO (#CDO), a #ChangeAgent or a Dinosaur? | Martin Davis' Blog - March 22, 2019

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Enter your email address to get email notifications.


Blog Stats

  • 46,438 hits

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,014 other followers

Follow Martin Davis' Blog on WordPress.com
%d bloggers like this: