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How to survive CIO regime change

Minda Zetlin | March 7, 2011
How long does the average CIO stay on the job? Not very long. According to a Gartner Inc. survey of 1,527 CIOs, their average tenure in 2009 was four years and four months, a figure that has changed relatively little over the past several years, according to Mark McDonald, group vice president of Gartner Executive Programs. "It's been between four years and three months and four years and nine months," he says.

In some cases, a new CIO may make dramatic changes to your role, or cancel a project you've been working on, making accepting change particularly difficult. "People do get emotionally invested in projects, sometimes to the detriment of the overall organization," says Dan Gingras, a partner in the IT practice at executive search firm Tatum LLC. "That's one of the biggest problems we see in IT today."

He recommends doing some research rather than digging in your heels. "Try and understand the motivation for killing your project," Gingras says. "Find out if it was because of the budget or a change in direction. Or it may be something that you can't be privy to, and then you have to take a leap of faith."

He also recommends some soul-searching. "You have to be introspective about the reasons your project was killed," Gingras suggests. "Was it something you should have foreseen? If so, you may need to be more aware of the bigger circumstances around your job."

Misstep 2: Not Learning the New CIO's Priorities

If your IT department is like many others, the news that a new CIO is about to arrive will prompt staffers to frantically search the Internet, watch presentations on YouTube, query colleagues and read IT industry publications in an effort to learn whatever they can about the newcomer. "It's hard for a CIO to be anonymous," McDonald says. "They will have some presence in the Internet sphere, which should give you a sense of how the new person talks and what's important to him or her."

Make a special effort to find out what's important to the newcomer, he advises. In fact, when you meet the new CIO, the first thing you should do is ask about his priorities. "Say something like, 'I'd like to understand why you came here and what upper management expects from you,'" he says. "You may get an answer like, 'They hired me to consolidate IT operations.'"

Whatever that mission is, make it your mission. "Ask the new boss what you can do to help him or her be successful," Gingras says.

Similarly, it's wise to give careful thought to the new CIO's priorities before requesting extra funding or other resources. "Too many people come into a new CIO's office and say, 'I'm sure glad you're on board, because we couldn't get anything done with the previous CIO. Here's what we're doing, and if we just had additional resources, we could deliver much more,'" notes Steve Watson, managing director for the Dallas office of search firm Stanton Chase International.

 

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