This starts as a tale of three CIOs. On three continents. They are all different and yet they are all same. Confused already?

Let's start again. This begins as the story of three CIOs facing unique challenges in organisations that couldn't be more varied, but they approach those challenges with a set of good habits that are universal for successful CIOs.

In short, this is about the habits that CIOs need whatever the circumstances they face if they want to be successful. We've called them the 10 habits of highly successful CIOs. The most effective CIOs apply the habits in appropriate measures to relevant situations. The thesis is this: during their careers CIOs will face a number of widely different business challenges. It's of the nature of business challenges that each is unique, presenting a combination of circumstances which a CIO has never encountered before - the fallout from the credit crunch, for example. But the habits needed to tackle each situation - no matter how different from previous ones - are not unique. They are the same. And, with Old Testament precision, we argue there are 10 of them.

But why habits? Why not qualities, experiences or even values? It's because habits, good or bad, tend to be acquired early in a career and last a lifetime. Remember the proverb that old habits die hard? The same is true, happily, of good ones. Whenever a new challenge presents itself, good habits act as a kind of compass that point the CIO in a direction where it's likely he or she will find a solution. (Draw your own conclusions about where the bad habits lead.) True, not all of the good habits are relevant in every situation. But the most successful CIOs know instinctively which are. They know how to mix and match as they seek out solutions to the posers which their companies ask IT to solve. In the process, they advance their careers.

And this isn't just theory. The best CIOs have the habits and use them every day of their working lives, Which brings us back to those three CIOs. Let's start in the US with one of the world's most famous companies.

Four months ago, Sharon Bevis-Hoover (pictured) took the plane from London to Atlanta, Georgia and on April Fools' Day walked into the head offices of Coca-Cola to begin a top IT job. Bevis-Hoover had quit her job as CIO of the Coca-Cola Company's European Union Group, which she'd held since 2007, to take on a new challenge.

Change for the better

Muhtar Kent, who became Coca-Cola's chief executive last year with a brief to sharpen the company's competitive edge, wanted Bevis-Hoover to take on the freshly created post of director of IT transformation. It's not difficult to see why: in her 17 years with Coca-Cola she'd demonstrated just those habits which drive change in a multinational. The problem with change in any organisation is that it disrupts the status quo. It takes people out of their comfort zone, and that's why most people don't like change.

That's why a key habit of the highly successful CIO is the ability to introduce change in a way which makes it seem welcoming rather than threatening. This is a habit which Bevis-Hoover has applied many times at Coca-Cola. Of course, it's very difficult to promote change in a welcoming way if you're fearful of it yourself.

So the first clue to her success in doing it is that she says: "I love change. Some of us seem to enjoy change for change's sake." But Bevis-Hoover seems to know that she's in a minority on this and why it's important to make others feel comfortable when the big shake-up arrives.

"There are others that need to know why it's necessary to change," she says. "What that means is that when you're leading change in an organisation, you need to paint the big picture. You need to spell out the reasons for change and the benefits that will flow from it."

So how does the habit of being sensitive to change show itself? Bevis-Hoover offers one example.
In 2005, Bevis-Hoover became IT director for Coca-Cola Iberia. Her mission was to integrate the region with Coca-Cola's other European business units. The problem was trying to work out which of the firm's global IT systems would be appropriate and which needed the local touch.

The complication was that Spain is a naturally conservative country, but on the other hand, it's a hot country with lots of thirsty tourists - so it's a big market. Get this wrong and Bevis-Hoover's career prospects would be about as effervescent as a flat glass of last night's Coke.

So the first thing she did is to recognise that she's probably got as much to learn from the Spanish as to teach them. "Most corporate centres get a bit disconnected from the way a company achieves its success in the field," she recalls. "Being closer to the actual operation in any organisation is a tremendous learning experience."

Next, she recognised that the changes that must come need to run with the grain of the culture. "It's important to be sensitive when working with a new culture: there is a lot to be learned from different ways of doing things."
We don't need to detain ourselves with the details of the changes Bevis-Hoover introduced, but they were sufficiently successful to position her as the natural choice for European CIO in 2007 where she continued her sensitive approach to change management.

Talent show

Over to Asia, where Australian Joe Locandro is director of group IT at CLP (China Light & Power) Holdings, which is listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange and invests in energy companies in China, India, Australia and south-east Asia.

When Locandro pitched up at CLP Holdings in 2004, he was pleased to find an IT department packed with top-flight skills. Many CIOs would have been satisfied with that but Locandro has those habits of highly successful CIOs in spades. He doesn't seem the type who is easily satisfied, and sensed that the business wasn't as happy as it could be with the value it was getting from IT. Like the best CIOs, Locandro has an abundance of those highly successful habits, but two in particular have proven especially valuable at CLP.

Innovation game

First, when it comes to attracting top IT talent, Locandro knows what scores. By their nature, the best IT pros like to be at the cutting edge. They think of themselves as innovators and go where innovation is valued. Locandro has made sure that CLP stands out as a great innovator.

"Our company culture nurtures thought leaders and supports early adopters for advanced technologies. That's why we attract exceptional talent. People want to work for us. We are seen as one of the top IT companies in the region," he says.

But attracting the best is not enough. A highly successful CIO has to weld all that raw tech talent into a great business-focused team. And this is where another of Locandro's habits gets results. He's a great team-builder.
The foundation of that team building is a regular 360-degree review to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each and every member of the IT team. Every year, three things get reviewed.

Number one is what Locandro calls "bench strength". "All key positions must have an apparent successor," he explains. And not just for the top jobs: Locandro wants to know that succession planning is effective at other senior grades in his department.

Number two is about fitting round pegs into round holes. Job rotation helps find where team members can best play to their strengths. Rotating regularly also helps the succession planning.

Number three, Locandro wants to pick out the IT department's future star performers. "We put them through a competency development programme and benchmark their competencies using an external company. This allows us to see how they are developing in areas such as strategic thinking, financial analysis and a whole lot of other management competencies.

"Once they have become mature enough and we have been able to observe them for a few years, we might even put them on our high-potential programme, which marks them out for succession planning."

The most successful CIOs demonstrate with hard statistics how IT delivers value. (The least successful waffle vaguely about "unquantifiable benefits".) Locandro says that CLP now has a 98 per cent correlation between benefits sought and delivered in projects. The number says it all.

Heather Allan likes numbers, too, as you'd expect from a Cambridge University maths graduate with first-class honours. Allan is just nine months into a new job as corporate services director (note the title) for the Global Fund, which spends £2bn a year fighting Aids, tuberculosis and malaria around the world.

So here's an-other feature of highly successful CIOs - they move up in the world and take on bigger jobs. But Allan won her management spurs as a CIO at Alcan Aluminium, at HR consultancy William M. Mercer, and, finally, at Imperial College, London. So her highly successful habits are as relevant as those of the other high IT achievers.
And the first thing that stands out in Allan's case is her ability to get under the skin of an organisation's strategy. She's demonstrated this in all three of her CIO-level appointments. At Alcan, she was responsible for the UK IT strategy and was a founder member of the firm's global IS committee. "I was given a blank sheet of paper to improve Alcan's use of IT and business alignment both in Britain and globally," she recalls.

Strategic lessons

At William M. Mercer, Allan served as CIO for Europe, Asia and Australia, and as a worldwide partner in the firm. "They wanted to develop a truly global strategy and part of my role was to advise on this, especially the global implications," she says. She had a great experience in learning about the application of strategy when she worked on the worldwide IT integration of Mercer's 1998 acquisition of financial advisor Sedgwick Noble Lowndes. And when she joined Imperial College, London in 2002 as director of information, communications and technology, it was to play a key role in realising rector Sir Richard Sykes' strategy to develop a more streamlined and business-like college administration.

In making her contribution to this, Allan demonstrated another of her highly successful habits - the ability to build effective relationships with internal and external stakeholders. During her six years at Imperial College, she reorganised IT so that it focused on three distinct groups of stakeholders: students, academics and college administrators. As she notes, understanding the customer helped improve service. "This wasn't about delivering in silos, but about starting with what the customer's requirements really were and how we could deliver the benefits."

Global responsibility

Allan's habits of thinking strategically as well as reaching out to stakeholders will be stretched at the Global Fund where she has a raft of responsibilities - including HR, purchasing, admin and legal services. But then, highly successful habits apply not just to technology decisions, and can serve a CIO well when they move up to general management and tackle board-level jobs - something that CIOs the world over are frustrated they don't get enough opportunity to do.

As the experiences of Bevis-Hoover, Locandro and Allan show, highly successful CIOs possess most of the 10 habits. But they know which ones to deploy when they're faced with a tough job. They also know that the next challenge round the corner might mean they must call on one or more of the other habits. So they can't afford to ignore - and they don't - any of them.

We'll let Confucius have the last word here: "Men's natures are alike; it is their habits that carry them far apart." The old Chinese sage wasn't making allowance for the women, but his thought is as true for IT today as whatever he was thinking of at the time.

The list of 10 succesful habits a CIO must have are here.