Top Management Decoded
To begin such an argument we need to clarify what exactly ‘top management’ really means and to what it is limited. Being that no definition was given I will create one of my own based on my knowledge of business structure as well as my experience at that ‘level’. Once defined it will be the basis for my arguments below.
When I hear the term top management I instantly think of the ‘Big Cs’ or the chiefs of a company. It is the duty of these chiefs to direct and steer a company based on its goals and ambitions within its realm of business. Lets define them now as well as their roles:
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) – Is responsible for maintaining and modifying the overall goals, vision, and direction of the business. Acts as a mediator and coordinator between all the other Cs.
Chief Operations Officer (COO) – Is responsible for managing and maintaining the day-to-day operations of the business.
Chief Financial Officer (CFO) – Is responsible for keeping the business financially viable, responsible, as well as honest.
Chief Information Officer (CIO) – Is responsible for the information within a business. This includes its use, security, and its availability. This individual is usually responsible for all the information systems which manipulate and control said information.
Chief Technology Officer (CTO) – Is responsible for the underlying infrastructure and office applications on which the business runs. This includes networks, servers, computers, and telecom.
The Vacancy Conundrum
The Statement: Because IT managers must understand all phases of a business, companies should have a policy of filling top management vacancies by promoting IT senior managers.
From my perspective a policy as describe above would be detrimental to the organization in which it was implemented. Filling a job vacancy is a complicated task by itself, finding the right person to fill that vacancy is extremely difficult even when where you search for that individual is not limited. Adding such limitations to the search would make the chore downright impossible.
Even if the search is only to begin from within the IT department and gradually expands if a suitable candidate is not located there is still another factor to discuss.
Understanding vs. Expertise
Although IT managers must understand all phases of a business they do not necessarily posses expertise in all or any of those phases.
Having an understanding of something does not qualify someone to become a leader in it. I believe I have a fairly decent understanding of business finance being that I have owned my own business as well as have acted as an interim CIO for another. I can explain to you why we separate expenses into Capital Expenditures and Operational Expenditures. I can even tell you how to track them.
Would I say I am qualified based on my knowledge to become the next CFO? No way! Why? I am not an expert in the field of finance. Could I learn it over time? I am pretty sure I have the aptitude to learn just about anything. Can the company wait for me to become an expert? Not at all.
Understanding simply cannot replace expertise and expertise is exactly what has to be possessed by those in ‘top management’. Expertise gives an individual the ability to make complex, risky, or even dangerous decision quickly, effectively, and with confidence. Businesses only survive when they have a team of Cs with expertise in their individual fields all of which together make up a business.
Restricted Policy Coverage
Based on my logic from above I do not think the policy is a complete disaster. When taken in a more restricted approach it actually makes sense. The initial statement is that any ‘top management’ vacancy should be filled from IT senior management. But when you restrict this statement to any ‘technical top management’ vacancy the policy makes complete sense.
By ‘technical top management’ I am referring to positions such as the CIO and CTO or any other contrived C that a business may create to fit a technical management need. For these positions moving an existing senior IT manager into that vacancy will only be a win win situation due to the fact that the individual has intimate IT knowledge specific to that company as well as a deep understanding of the company’s motivations and goals.