In some companies, every business request is turned into a project without a proper benefits assessment, and projects are not prioritized, which can lead to a catastrophic failure of IT. Strong governance and prioritization mechanisms can alleviate many of the causes of IT failure.
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Reset expectations and strengthen the foundation. Many CIOs hired to transform the technology landscape find themselves pulled into the basic blocking and tackling to maintain efficient and stable operations. Often when the IT environment is unstable, unreliable, and unpredictable, CIOs will need to buttress the foundation, an investment of time that can yield future benefits and enable transformation. Many CIOs move among these subroles as they execute their agendas; continually striking the right balance across the four faces is typically an ongoing challenge.
In CIO Transition Labs, participants are asked to estimate how much time they spend in each of these four areas and how much they aim to spend. Almost all transitioning CIOs find themselves occupied with technologist and operator responsibilities such as understanding the IT environment and stabilizing core IT operations. They expect to allocate more time to the strategist and catalyst roles over time figure 5.
However, because the operational role often drains time from the other critical areas, CIOs can benefit from identifying talent and establishing processes that limit the time spent in that role. Business stakeholders may underestimate this operational overhead, likely requiring CIOs to communicate the rationale and logic for a temporary shift in focus to reset expectations. For example, the business leaders of a global retail organization expected its new CIO to develop a strategic vision and revitalize IT talent and capabilities.
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A few days into the role, he found himself in the midst of an operational meltdown: A failing point-of-sale system experienced massive outages and significantly impacted the business. The CIO postponed strategic planning and team reorganization and worked tactically for the next few months to understand and address the root cause of the outages. Governance, relationships, and transformation—issues that may be important to business stakeholders—are a priority, but often CIOs need to stabilize the basics before moving on to more strategic, long-term objectives.
Talent is by far the highest priority identified by business stakeholders figure 7. New CIOs often have to quickly assess talent, fill key roles, and realign and integrate the current team to eliminate siloed centers of expertise. Key areas of focus can include aligning people, skills, and roles, and creating a culture of success. The competition for talent is intense, and many new CIOs feel constrained by geographic location or corporate culture.
Those who are limited by budget, promotions, and bonuses likely must find creative ways to attract and motivate talent. Remember that someone there is going to succeed you one day. Talent can be the most time-consuming and difficult task for new executives. CIOs may need to replace intractable staff who are resistant to change or new leadership.
To create a more positive environment, one new CIO brought in new talent from outside the company to replace direct reports who had aimed for the same CIO role. Sometimes quick talent changes are unfeasible for operational, cultural, or financial reasons, and in other cases, CIOs decide to thoroughly evaluate staff before making significant talent decisions. I did not make any immediate talent changes, because the organization had a lot of instability.
I waited nearly a year to do the formal reorganization. Build a compelling career narrative. CIOs can help the IT organization attract and retain high performers by not leaning too heavily on HR to manage and lead the recruiting process. Develop a compelling IT narrative that highlights the career benefits of working for the IT team. Recalibrate the leadership team.
Many CIOs reorganize their leadership teams.
When one CIO culled her leadership team, she elevated several gifted junior employees from a level below into stretch leadership roles. Strategies for making leadership changes can range from complete restructuring to minor adjustments, often depending on whether the CIO was an internal or external hire. We have observed that CIOs promoted from within often approach talent changes more conservatively and tend to favor less dramatic leadership changes. Evaluate sourcing options. Many new CIOs are challenged to determine the best mix of internal and external resources to execute on their agenda.
Cloud computing, managed service providers, and the gig economy provide CIOs with many options for outsourcing; for some IT functions, it still makes more sense to rely on in-house talent. One new CIO who discovered that IT outsourced 60 percent of its work spent two years bringing expertise back inside, gradually eliminating its dependency on contract work for core engineering jobs. This improved quality and kept valuable intellectual property inside the company. Diversity pays in many ways.
Many CIOs share their commitment to diversity but lack a strategy for building a diverse team. A transition can be a catalyst for developing a diversity strategy. Yet, despite this increased level of interest, only 6 percent of companies actually tie compensation to diversity outcomes. Another CIO aimed for a racially diverse leadership team by actively seeking high-performing people of color that he could elevate to leadership roles.
Many CIOs are partnering with nonprofit organizations dedicated to bridging gender and racial hiring gaps in the technology industry. IT culture can be difficult to shape; it requires changing habits and behaviors that often have been established and passed on for decades.
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Create a culture and feeling of belonging and accountability. Loyalty and team dynamics are important. IT staff typically watch intently for clues on whether and how to adjust their beliefs and behaviors. Sometimes waiting is the best course of action. Therefore, I spent first six to nine months figuring out what would make us successful without major upheaval. New CIOs can boost their credibility—and that of their teams—by setting cultural expectations and pushing talent to meet them.
Ask internal and external customers their opinions of the IT team, and determine how to close any gaps in how the team is perceived and how it wants to be perceived. This can include changing key job titles, creating new ways to market and communicate, and developing slogans and vision statements that bring clarity and consistency to the IT mission. Organizational and relationship issues will trip you up way more easily than the technical issues.
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Building relationships with key stakeholders can enable CIOs to integrate with other business leaders and leverage ecosystem partners to drive disruption. As chief digital officers, chief technology officers, chief marketing officers, and other members of the C-suite begin vying for different pieces of the technology pie, CIOs can benefit from establishing strong relationships and leveraging intersections with other business leaders. An important part of building relationships within the business is often establishing credibility as a leader and integrating with the rest of the leadership team.
CIOs we interviewed told us:.
Reporting matters—sometimes. CIOs should report to the part of the organization that enables them to make the maximum impact. Depending on the construct of the executive leadership team it may not be the CEO but the CIO who needs access to the key leadership team. Think beyond formal check-ins. Many CIOs set up initial meetings with all business stakeholders but lose touch after they dive into their role.
Consider setting a cadence for both formal and informal touch points with key stakeholders. Supporters can influence others. Seek the assistance of stakeholders who support IT, and enlist them to influence the rest of the executive team. Establish governance processes to reengage business leaders. In our experience, a majority of CIOs inherit a dysfunctional governance process.
Good governance can improve the speed, focus, and agility of the IT team and serve as a way to share accountability, align priorities, ensure funding, and engage business leaders. Develop governance processes quickly, and involve business leaders early. Build credibility by honoring commitments.
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Some executives develop elaborate strategy decks and lofty vision statements but fail to deliver on basic commitments. A solid track record of delivery can help CIOs be transparent with business stakeholders and reprioritize commitments when necessary. Cloud providers, system integrators, consulting firms, and technology vendors help contribute to the delivery of efficient, reliable, scalable, secure, and agile technology capabilities. New CIOs will likely need to understand and assess this complex web of relationships and quickly address existing vendors and partners.
Only after several months of wrangling was the CIO able to rein in the partner. Ecosystem partners can bring more than technical capabilities to the table—they can also help the CIO bring about change and deliver value. During the first year, CIOs can understand and invest in ecosystems beyond technology service providers: Customers, suppliers, industry disruptors, and incubators can help identify opportunities for delivering business value. Recently, we have observed several new CIOs investing in existing start-ups, or starting their own incubators and innovation hubs to infuse their businesses with fresh ideas.
It is imperative for CIOs to figure out how to leverage these ecosystems to gain a competitive edge. Each presents a different business context that may require a different approach for dealing with opportunities and challenges. From to , Professor Addleson was a director of Econometrix, a firm of consultants with clients across all sectors of the economy. He has consulted with many companies and public and non-profit organizations both in the United States and South Africa.
Professor Addleson publishes regularly in academic journals and has authored books, newspaper articles, and papers presented at local and overseas conferences. He has been awarded numerous research grants and the Wits Business School's award for teaching excellence. See All Customer Reviews. Shop Books.