women on board

Gartner suggests CIOs identify and contact possible 'shadowing partners' in a different business, spend one day a month 'shadowing them' and vice versa. Do this in the next six to nine months, wherein you capture and compare insights and lessons from your respective roles.

Gartner analysts call this "shadow a peer CIO in another industry", listing it as one of the CIO New Year's Resolutions for 2014.

"If you learn lessons from the best people in your industry, you can become as good as the best in your industry. If you seek lessons from the best people outside your industry, you can be better than the best in your industry," Gartner analysts John Mahoney and Mark Raskino write in the CIO New Year's Resolutions 2014 report.

The two note that this type of mentoring is doubly important in the emerging digital economy where threats and opportunities will come from a wider and more outward looking context than previous years.

The CIO's current organisation may already have mentoring programmes with other internal executives, they add. While these are valuable, they tend to provide a conventional and "relatively inside out view" of the business. "You need an alternative perspective on how similar but different challenges arise and are addressed in other situations."

They recommend choosing a peer shadow mentor who has similar challenges but from another industry.

"Although their enterprises have widely differing missions and values, both CIOs support urgent decision making with big and immediate consequences in highly stressful situations. The similarities and differences will prove instructive for both," they write.

Take the concept further - choose a CEO, COO or CFO

Darrin Hackett, CIO of the Waikato District Health Board in Australia, looks at taking the concept further - look for a 'shadow a peer' partner in another industry, and in another C-level role - a chief executive, chief financial officer, chief operating officer or a general manager for HR.

"When you step into a CIO role, your specialty is IT but you are actually a C-level exec," he explains.

When CIOs 'shadow a peer' responsible for a different part of the business, the discussions will be about what the business needs to do, and how to "create business change and cultural change".

Hackett reckons 85% of IT will be the same industry to industry but it is the 15% "that will make or break the IT team", and provide the key differentiator for the organisation. "If you go with someone who is in a completely different area, you then focus on the 15%," says Hackett.

Hackett says he experienced a similar mentoring programme when he was at IBM. The latter chose executives to work with a peer in a completely different area of the business. "The idea was to get people outside of their silo thinking and understand how to address a similar problem from a very different view."

A CEO will provide "a different view of the world" while the COO is a good shadow mentor because the role is "is really in the business", says Hackett. "CFOs are going to be helpful because they understand, especially in a commercial world, where you have got to balance revenue streams with expenditures and shareholder returns".