Do CIOs ever purposefully hinder innovation in order to prevent risk of failure and protect their own career should things go awry?

1.1k views1 Upvote14 Comments

Digital Transformation Architect in Software, 10,001+ employees
I had a CIO say to me recently, when talking about a modernization project, "How can you guarantee me that I'm not going to end up in some trade journal as the next grand failure?" So they agree with the objectives of the project, but there's personal risk in not wanting to be the next magazine article about a huge failure. And the flip side of that, that I run into all the time: CIO comes in, they're there for two years, make some decisions, get a project started, and then they leave. And there isn't enough continuity of leadership in order to see this stuff through. Because it starts getting a little dicey and it's the squishy middle that nobody wants to hang around for.
1 4 Replies
CTO in Software, 11 - 50 employees

People shouldn't be afraid of making changes because they'll get fired or demoted. the culture that needs to change.

CIO Strategic Advisor in Services (non-Government), 2 - 10 employees

When cloud was starting to come up and really kind of hitting its stride, less so than it is today. Several CIOs pretty much told me, "I am absolutely not going to push Cloud on my organization or aggressively go after it because if it goes sideways, that's the end of my career. I am too close to retirement that I will not be able to easily find another job."

Director of IT, 51 - 200 employees

That's entirely a culture issue. And it's one that needs to be fixed. How to fix that? I personally have no idea.

CIO Strategic Advisor in Services (non-Government), 2 - 10 employees
There are times when leading an IT organization, where there is that fear that's put into you that if you fail, your job could be on the line. An individual that reports to the CIO of a large financial services institution told me, "My CIO told us, they do not want to be on the front page of The Wall Street Journal. And the individual said, "This caused us to think very differently about the choices we made." And some of those choices were not necessarily the best choices.
2 Replies
CTO in Software, 11 - 50 employees

That is not a leader. A leader says, "Look, I'm going to front this, I'm going to support my team and believe they can deliver on this. And if not, I will convey this to upper management and the board of why it has been delayed, not failed." It's about context, this risk aversion is the problem.

Director of IT, 51 - 200 employees

It all comes back to that entire risk reward model. And ultimately, can you get your passenger from destination A, destination B, destination C, without issues, or can you rebook them without issues? And at some point every business will create a complex matrix to make these decisions at a higher level, at a lower level. That's truly a leadership failure if people are not offering up the feedback that needs to be known to make effective decisions.

Senior Information Security Manager in Software, 501 - 1,000 employees
Yes. But it is a short-term solution, as the company will likely discover that they are behind the innovation curve.  Innovation-averse CIO’s can have long-term negative effects on the organization. They will move on to their next gig, but their previous firm will have to suffer with the consequences.
Vice President & Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) in Software, 10,001+ employees
Need for speed
CIO in Energy and Utilities, 11 - 50 employees
It is certainly a risk, but being afraid of failure shouldn't be a stopper. 
The board always want to get something in return for every dollar spent and puts pressure on the point.

In my experience, the best way to approach this dilemma is by convincing the board that innovation is like a cow that maybe we won't be able to milk but at the end we will be more experienced.
Also focus in spend less and fail fast.
CIO in Education, 1,001 - 5,000 employees
I'm sure some might, but I can't ever imagine taking this tact. I'd really innovate and fail then remain status quo and never move the needle.
CIO in Software, 51 - 200 employees
To me growth and innovation go hand in hand. An individual chairing as a CIO ingrains innovatation into their DNA. Risk of failure for innovation depends on the company culture to penalize or take a stand in the global competition. I believe risk of failure for innovation makes us live consciously.
Board Member in Healthcare and Biotech, 1,001 - 5,000 employees
A long time ago in a very large global Pharma company, the CIO created situations that ensured that the major ERP project did not go live. This continued for 5+ years in which period competitors successfully implemented the same solution.

Why did he create such a situation ? His insecurity stemmed from the fact that the legacy system was undocumented in a way that made him a critical resource towards its continuity. If the ERP had gone live, his perceived importance in the company would have diminished. For him the risk was not of failure but to protect his own career and continuity.

He was eventually fired but caused a lot of damage to the IT organization credibility which remained an anchor around the neck of newer CIOs for a long time.

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