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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.

Case Study

United States Tennis Association: Right People, Wrong Jobs

When Larry Bonfante took over as CIO at the United States Tennis Association more than eight years ago, "the situation I inherited was a train wreck," he says flatly. Upper management thought IT personnel were the problem and expected Bonfante to clean house. But he soon concluded that the majority of unsuccessful IT employees were simply in the wrong jobs. "If you work to people's strengths, they'll be successful. If you work to their weaknesses, they'll fail," he says.

After discussing the issues with IT employees and getting their input on what was and wasn't working, he set out to reassign some of them to different roles. "We had one person who was a good technologist and a good team leader but a poor administrator, and he was in a VP role," he says. "We had people in technical roles who were best suited to project management."

In each case, he sat down with the person to be reassigned. "I shared the game plan with them and said, 'Here's what we'd like to accomplish. If this is something you can get behind, come on in, the water's fine. If not, that doesn't make you a bad person and I'll help you find a job elsewhere.'" When some took him up on the offer for help finding a new job, he sent them to an executive search firm where he had contacts, and helped them polish their résumés. But they were the minority. "We were able to keep about 80% of the staff," he says.

A few people reacted angrily to the drastic changes. "It's easy to be pissed off and to feel you got screwed, which are normal human reactions," he says. "Get past them as quickly as possible. Even if you decide to go somewhere else, you will be here for some period of time and it's important to stay positive."

As for those employees who let their ire taint the workplace, he adds, "They got separated. Maybe they would have been anyway, but I would have worked with them to see if they could fit into the larger organization and I would have given them more time to get their legs under them. If you're going to be a cancer in an organization, you'll have a very short shelf life."

--Minda Zetlin

It's likely that the CIO is facing pressure to cut IT costs, Watson points out, so you're better off looking for creative ways to reduce your expenses. "That's a mindset that rising stars ought to have," he says.


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