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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.

* The new CIO is intent on bringing in a new team. "If a CIO who comes in with an intact management team starts shooting people on day one and bringing in his or her own people, that indicates that the CIO has preconceived notions of how to manage the IT operation," says Larry Bonfante, CIO at the United States Tennis Association. "It's an indication that you should get out of Dodge."

* The new CIO doesn't seek your input. "When I came in, I sat down with each of the members of the team so I could get their perspectives," Bonfante says. "If someone doesn't do that, it's a bad sign."

* The new CIO only pretends to listen. "You have to start off by being open, and see how the new person responds," says Ken Maddock, vice president of clinical engineering and telecommunications services at Baylor Health Care System. "Is the new CIO actively listening, really paying attention to what you're saying? Or just going through the exercise of theoretically listening? And if the person is really listening, what is the response? Does the new CIO let you come up with your own solutions?" If an incoming CIO doesn't really listen to incumbent IT executives, it's probably time to move on.

* The new CIO is a former rival. If the company promoted one of your rivals from within the IT organization, and the rivalry was collegial, you can and should find a new way to work this person. Make it clear you understand that this is a new day, that your former competitor is now the boss, and that you will do everything to support him or her. "However, if the rivalry was somewhat unhealthy, you should probably get out your résumé," says Dan Gingras, a partner at Tatum. "It depends on the politics of your organization."

* The old CIO offers new opportunities. If your skills are polished and marketable and you have a good relationship with the former CIO, then his or her departure could represent an opportunity for you. "If the CIO you worked for has gone on to better things, you may be pulled along," Gingras says. "I have a very short list of people I would take with me to any new CIO job -- and I have [done so]."


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