Great (CEO) expectations

Great (CEO) expectations

A positive relationship with the CEO is achieved mainly by delivering against the immediate needs of the business unit leaders.

At the Gartner Symposium IT/xpo late last year, we hosted a session for CIOs entitled “Identifying CEO Expectations and Executing Against Them”. The ensuing discussion over lunch was lively and at times passionate. CIOs occupy a unique position at the executive table – one of particular complexity based on the volume of strategic relationships that must be nurtured and the sheer number of stakeholders that must be satisfied. To navigate this network of competing demands, the CIO seeks a strong supporter and ally in the CEO. Paradoxically though, Gartner research reveals that a positive relationship of trust and credibility with the CEO is achieved by delivering against the immediate business unit leaders’ needs. The key message from our research into CEO and CIO relationships is that CIOs must earn the support of the business unit leaders, to gain the direct relationship with the CEO that they seek.

So, how do effective CIOs successfully engage with business leaders and thereby build credibility and trust with the CEO? Remember, the White Rabbit said to Alice, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” So the recommended approach is to firstly understand the various types of CxO-CIO relationships (based on the contribution of IT to the enterprise), then assess your current standing and put in place actions to attain your goal.

Types of CIOs

Gartner research identifies four types of CEO-CIO relationships.

At-risk: Where both the CIO and the IT organisation are delivering below CEO expectations. In this situation, trust between the CIO and business leaders is low, and the only focus is on improving IT service delivery to achieve satisfaction. This type of relationship is not sustainable.

Transactional: Where the IT is regarded as a utility and the CIO as a cost centre manager. Indications are purely transactional CIOs are increasingly at risk if they are not progressing towards the partnering type of relationship.

Partnering: Where the CIO and IT organisation, working as internal service providers to the enterprise, are perceived as delivering against operational expectations for efficiency, effectiveness and solutions deployment. The CIO successfully engages with the CEO and BU leaders on business issues.

Trusted-ally: Where the CIO behaves like, and is viewed as, a business leader. This type is in the minority, but the share is growing.

Assess your current standing

Here is a tool to assist you to determine where you currently reside on the value contribution curve and how you might advance up that curve to build your CxO relationship. Firstly, rate yourself one to five on the following 10 questions.

Put in place actions to attain your goal. The following table enables you to assess your relationship type and identify opportunities for moving up the value contribution curve.

Many of the CIOs attending our Gartner lunch at Symposium/ITExpo identified understanding how to forge a stronger relationship with their CEO as a key personal goal. If that is also of interest to you personally, remember that managing relationships with business unit leaders and delivering against their priorities is, in many ways, more important than delivering against the priorities of the CEO.

Linda Price is group vice-president of executive programmes, Gartner. Email comments to

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Tags leadershipstrategyCIO rolecio and ceo

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