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CIO succession plans lacking, study finds

IT pros are accustomed to handling unexpected crises, such as when hardware fails or a cloud service has an outage. But it seems many IT leaders haven't considered what will happen if they're suddenly unable to work.

More than three-quarters (79%) of CIOs polled by Robert Half Technology said they haven't identified a successor in the event they had to stop working unexpectedly. Just 20% of the 1,400 CIOs have a successor in place, and the remaining 1% are unsure.

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"Succession planning is critical for an organization's long-term success, yet it's a task that's often overlooked," said John Reed, senior executive director of Robert Half Technology, in a statement. "By taking proactive steps to identify and develop future leaders, a manager's departure is a workable issue instead of an imminent crisis."

Succession planning is beneficial not only for the CIOs, who can delegate more responsibilities, but also for the named successors, who are given an opportunity to build their skills and, in turn, might become more loyal to their companies, Reed added.

On the issue of choosing a successor, Robert Half Technology points out that it may not be the most obvious choice -- the second in command -- but rather someone else who's more suited to a leadership role. "Look for candidates who best display the skills necessary to excel in the role -- including both strong technical aptitude and leadership abilities -- regardless of title," the firm recommends.

Companies should take their time identifying and grooming a CIO successor, include prospective managers in strategy discussions to help them acquire planning and leadership skills, and provide ongoing feedback to proteges, the firm also recommends.

Lastly, Robert Half Technology suggests taking a trial run. "A vacation is a good time to have a potential successor assume some of your responsibilities. The employee will gain experience while you learn how prepared the person is to take on a greater role." [Also see: "IT headcount expected to rise in Q4, CIOs say"]

Ann Bednarz covers IT careers, outsourcing and Internet culture for Network World. Follow Ann on Twitter at @annbednarz and check out her blog, Occupational Hazards. Her email address is [email protected]

Read more about infrastructure management in Network World's Infrastructure Management section.

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