IT Musical Chair Game – Are You Up for It?

IT Musical Chair Game –
Are You Up for it?

WEME – Ts. Saiful Bakhtiar Osman

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IT Management

We have this IT WhatsApp Group which consists of most of the CIOs and IT Heads. It was created for casual chats between peers in the industry and for knowledge sharing. We used to joke about the headcount movement for the top IT positions in the companies, which resembles playing the Musical Chair Game. You may find that Person A vacated his position to join another company, which the position was vacated by Person B. It may end up that Person B is joining the company of Person C, who has now left the organisation to join Person A’s company as the new CIO or Head of IT.

Confused? Don’t be. The fact is that, if you reach the top IT position in a company, it will be harder for you to move to a different company. There is not much opportunity to move around as the position is very limited. The only way that a vacancy for the top IT position to be available is either the position is vacated due to retirement, or the incumbent left the organisation. On top of that, there is also the possibility of a position being made available because a company is expanding operations which need a group-level CIO, or the company is undertaking a transformation which requires a top-level IT position to steer the initiatives.

External Hiring vs Internal Promotion

Another crucial decision for a company when there is a vacancy for the top IT position is either to promote the next in-line staff (internal) or to source for external talent to come in. Of course, there is no right or wrong answer but let’s discuss the pros and cons:

  • External Hiring


  • New ideas – Hiring an external talent would bring fresh ideas and new ways of working. Sometimes, this is what the company needs to accelerate or push forward new initiatives. A new joiner like him or her would have a fresh perspective of an issue or a problem that may have been holding back the company all this while.
  • Experience and expertise – External talents with a good background will bring along vast experience and expertise from the industry for the betterment of the company. Tap on his or her experience to improve the way of working in IT and the service delivery to all users. 
  • New technology – Different companies have different technology, systems, or infrastructure. Sometimes, you need to bring in the right talent who has the experience of implementing such technology that you desire. This is because he or she has already walked down that path and is aware of the challenges and obstacles to get it done.


  • No continuity – The new joiner may have his own way of doing things and there will be no continuity for the existing work culture or practices. Whatever good practices that took years to be familiarised by the IT Staff may be forfeited as the new IT Head has new ways of doing things.
  • Worse than before – If the wrong selection was made, then the company may end up with a Head of IT who is worse than before. This is quite subjective because some people were good on paper but not in real life. Some may perform outstandingly during an interview but were non-performer at their previous organisation. 
  • Demotivates internal staff – The Management has their own reason for hiring external talents. Sometimes, the Management feels that the next in line Staff is not yet ready to take over this important position. As for the Staff’s point of view, they would see it as being side-lined or prevented from getting a promotion. 
  • Internal Promotion


  • Continuity – If a company already has mature policies and best practices, hiring the next in line to take over this top IT position will ensure continuity. It also saves time and money on training as the internal Staff will have more knowledge of the organisation and culture.
  • Loyalty – The company would be able to promote loyalty as the promotion serves as a reward for existing Staff. It also contributes to reducing Staff turnover. Matching internal candidates with the roles that fit the personality and skills means that they stay longer at the company and increases employee retention.
  • Creates a healthy working environment – Having internal promotion would boost up all the Staff morale and foster a good succession plan structure. The Staff would be committed and seriously adopt the company policies and practices because of a clear hierarchy or succession plan. This dedication will go on until such time for them to carry the torch.


  • Stagnant culture – Having an internal promotion may limit the chances of new innovations and ideas, as existing staff are more comfortable with the processes and not looking to change. The belief that “if it’s not broken, why change” would become taboo for the organisation because the successor would hesitate to propose any new changes.
  • Talent gaps – If the incumbent who left the company was very good, it may cause major difficulties for the next in-line staff to fill in the gaps. It would be even more difficult for a company which has never been tested with incidents, as experience plays a very important role when it comes to Incident Management. I have discussed this at length in my article Keeping Your Cool During IT Incident.
  • Comprehensive knowledge – To run an IT Department, it would require a person with overall knowledge of different fields in IT. It would be harder to choose a successor if an IT Department is segregated to different pillars i.e., infrastructure, security, applications, etc., which these people are specialised in their own field only.

Company’s Considerations

The Management and the company would have their own reason for hiring a talent, be it external talents or internal promotion. The following table would adequately summarise the factors:

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to deciding whether to hire externally vs. internally, but experts point to general scenarios when it may make sense to consider one approach over the other

Look Outside

  • Tough corporate turnarounds or strategy shifts are underway.
  • Succession planning and performance information is inconsistent, absent, or hard to access.
  • Specific skills are needed that are not readily available within the organisation.
  • The organisational culture welcomes multiple perspectives.
  • Processes are in place that support job training and full integration into a position.

Look Within

  • An organisation is thriving.
  • Succession planning and performance reviews are consistent and transparent.
  • An abundance of firm- or industry-specific skills are required for the job.
  • A unique and strong organisational culture may be hard to understand or fit in with.
  • No or few processes are in place to support job training and integration into a position.


Game on!

Usually, this is the time of the year where the movement of top IT positions are happening. Therefore, if you are an internal Staff eyeing for the position that is left vacant or an external talent seeking new challenges, this is the time to make your move in this IT Musical Chair Game. Whoever you are and in what position you are aiming to be, I wish you all the best in your future undertakings. Game on! 

Catch When Expert Meets Expert by Ts. Saiful Bakhtiar Osman articles every bi-weekly Tuesday. Don’t forget to subscribe to stay connected. You are also encouraged to ask questions and seek advice from him.

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