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Secrets to CIO longevity

Howard Baldwin | July 30, 2014
Most CIOs stay in their positions only about five years, but others manage to stick around longer. Here's a look at what it takes to remain effective when you hunker down in one place.

In addition, it's important to maintain ties with other CIOs, says Stephen Pickett, who has served as CIO at Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based Penske since June 1997. "You need a peer group to learn about new technology, methods, new leadership skills," he says. "You need people you can talk to if you run into a problem you've never seen before."

Pickett remembers trying to get a disaster recovery project approved and conferring with colleagues in Germany, who helped him define the parameters of both the problem and the solution. "It's tougher to get big projects approved in Germany than anywhere else because of bureaucracy," he says. "After I talked to them, I was able to [talk about disaster recovery] without scaring people to death."

3. Communication Skills
Staying in the same position for a long time requires trust, and trust is built through communication.

"Your co-workers have to know that what you're saying is truthful," says Temares. "If a project is late, don't hide it. If you make a commitment to deliver, you have to live up to it. If you can't, you have to keep people informed. You have to have what I call 'no surprises' management. Once you build the trust, a lot of things happen for you. Even if things go wrong, they know you gave it your best effort."

Earning the trust of your colleagues can pay off in a variety of ways, perhaps most notably by helping you accrue influence -- and power. For example, Pickett says that, after spending 12 years as CIO, "there aren't a lot of constraints to what I do and how I do it. If I see a problem, I go attack it. The key is to communicate so that management knows what I'm doing." (Of course, that kind of communication goes both ways, he acknowledges: "If I enter into an area they're uncomfortable with, they let me know.")

Effective communication involves dealing with everyone the same way, says Pickett. "Managing down and up is important," he says. "You should treat employees no differently than you treat your manager. You should have the same open-door policy and opportunities for dialogue."

Temares agrees that communication should fan out in multiple directions. "I used to host a quarterly breakfast for my IT staff, where I would ask them if there were any rumors they needed confirmed or denied," he says. "I'd also eat in the cafeteria and ask people if they had any problems, because you want to head those off when they're still minor irritations. You can always handle a molehill if you get to it before it's a mountain."

The overarching theme should be recognizable by now: The CIO most likely to thrive over time is one who communicates across departments. That kind of collaboration pays off for both the business and IT.

 

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