Amrop at CIO Day: Insights & Take-aways

2022's CIO Day, which took place on the 21st of April, marked the 17th edition of the annual networking event for the top executives from the demand side of the multi-billion-euro IT market. The event gathered more than 700 CIO, IT VPs and IT directors, while Amrop Netherlands once again took part as Gold Partner with the participation of Job Voorhoeve, Amrop’s Global Digital Practice leader and Partner and Frieda Barendse, Leadership Services at Amrop Netherlands.

We talked to Job and Frieda after the event and asked them to share their central take-aways from their conversations with the C-suite and board-level tech leaders who took part in the event.

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CIO of the Year 2021

Q: What was your overall impression of the CIO Day this year? Was there anything that stood out in particular?

Job Voorhoeve: The event was very intense, well-planned, vibrant, and full of energy – as always. What stood out and pleased me very much was that the CIO of the Year Award went to Mel Jacobs from the CIO Private Banking and Corporate and Institutional Banking at ABN AMRO Bank. This is the second time in the history of the CIO Day that a female leader receives this award, and it was certainly well deserved – we had a nice quick chat about the current leadership challenges with her too! 

The selection process for the award is very thorough – it includes the Digital Acceleration Index (the qualitative and quantitative research by BCG, The Boston Consulting Group), the intensive leadership assessment by CIO of the year award jury, lead by Bernhard van Oranje, and an evaluation of the role in the Dutch CIO community by CIO Magazine.

My role at the event was to host three round tables, which was highly interesting as there were new people at the tables each time and it was a good chance to connect to CTOs and CIOs with different backgrounds. There were also many of the recruits – people I had placed in various positions in companies, and it was valuable to catch up with them too.

The challenges and needs of the digital leaders

Q: What were the central topics discussed at the event? What were your central take-aways from the talks you had with the digital leaders: what challenges they are facing in the current environment?

JV: The focus of the discussions as well as the topics offered by the brilliant keynote speakers was very much on the leadership qualities in the context of digital transformation and people skills. It came up both in all presentations and private talks I had – the implication that the people skills are becoming more and more important for the CIOs, that they are critical when it comes to building a successful team for a digital transformation.

It is clear that leaders are beginning to recognize that, while technical skills are clearly important and one cannot do without business and customer focus, it is the right people for the change we are facing that can make the whole difference in today’s business environment. And it’s not a surprise given the shortage of resources we are facing – there is a serious war for talent going on!

Another relevant theme was related to the issue of having multiple generations on the work-floor and how to best manage them and facilitate their clear communication and help them find more common grounds.

One thing that is clearly being observed is that data is becoming more and more of a key element in business. Leaders are aware that it’s both crucial to have the appropriate processes in place and to have the right data people on their teams. One sees that the companies which really invest in that really have the upper hand. The CIOs and CTOs need to have a better grasp of the data themselves too – so that they would be able to ask the right questions to their data scientists. If you don’t understand the data, you will be asking the wrong questions, and, consequently, getting the wrong answers, which means that you first need to invest in your own ability to grasp the data, and this is becoming very transparent.

Managing people in the post-COVID-19 environment

Q: People are recently starting to return to the offices after having worked remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemics. Did questions relating to the new post-COVID-19 challenges come up at the event?

JV: Absolutely. People have been working remotely for a fairly long period of time, and many people not only find various advantages in this set-up, but the remote working has also come with various new practices and habits, which now must be accommodated within the office setting. Basically, the concept of working in front of your computer non-stop for 8 or 9 hours in a row never proved to be very effective and then the relatively relaxed remote working set-up allowed people to organize their own workday in the way they found most efficient and beneficial – both for their own mental and physical health and the needs of the organization.

Now typically everyone is organizing their own breaks – taking a walk and maybe spending slightly longer time at work in total, but at the same time having more control over their time and wellbeing. A lot of people bought dogs during the pandemics! I talked to one CTO who was even thinking about introducing a “bring your dog to the office” system and organizing some type of dog care while their owners are working! (laughs) It’s clear that in the post-pandemics environment everyone is more appreciative of moments of relaxation, and people are planning their own days more effectively, sometimes still doing work remotely.

All in all, the theme of allowing people more self-organization and self-control relates very much with the need to adopt the “serve and lead” approach in the current corporate climate, rather than a highly hierarchical approach. People are more and more aware of the fact that the focus needs to be on growing the talents within the organization, on providing people with a good career path and opportunities for development, because only this way can leaders combat the war for talent, which I already mentioned before. It is much less about the increase of salaries – it is mainly about creating a good organizational culture, a trusted environment, where people can flourish and be successful.

The Digital Academy

JV: We discussed the concept of the Digital Academy, which we are currently developing at Amrop, with various CIOs and CTOs. Everyone we had a chance to speak to took great interest in the idea, as they also see a real need to assess both the tech leaders and their teams on their digital capabilities, as well as leadership competencies, such as transformation skills, which is the foundation for the workings of the Amrop Digital Academy.

Frieda Barendse: What we have determined, and what the leaders at the event also agreed with, is that it is necessary to start with a scan of the leadership team, because it is the CIOs and CTOs which need to make the digital transition happen. And to be successful in that transition one needs to have more than ICT capabilities, so what I can offer as an executive search and leadership advisory partner is to do a scan of a leadership team and relate the results to the competency model that we have developed, so then we can determine where the gaps are – those which are related to both digital and leadership competencies. And to help create a learning academy to develop leaders and teams, related to these gaps.

One of the problems that was mentioned at the event is that the CIO of an organization knows what to do to make the transition happen, but the leadership team either lacks the sense of urgency for this transformation or they are not sure what they need to do to make it happen. The communication and the stakeholder management are also crucial – there needs to be a clear explanation of what the long-term goal is, what the result needs to be and what can be achieved in relation to the organization’s digital strategy.

Another problem which I heard of was about departments of an organization working in silos, rather than working towards the decision-making and the transformation process together. And this is not really working very well if people work individually and make decisions within those silos, which don’t necessarily add value to the bigger picture. Team needs to be successful together in order to make a transformation, and in the digital and tech environment it is more obvious than ever.

Meet Amrop's global Digital Practice team.