How to survive CIO regime change

The average CIO stays on the job around four years. So chances are you'll live through at least one changeover.

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In the end, EMC wound up with a stronger IT organization and a stronger company, according to LeBlanc. "After a few years of focusing on staff productivity, it was probably the right time to raise the game and begin contributing directly to EMC's product development and sales opportunities," he says. "I think much more globally now. I also have a better appreciation of how an IT organization within a high-tech enterprise can contribute and be accepted as a strategic business partner."

--Minda Zetlin

Experts recommend taking the initiative. "You should really approach your new boss, or your boss's boss," Gingras says.

Like most of the advice in this story, that's a good strategy for IT employees at every level, though the approach might vary depending on what you do. "Even if you're a PC technician, it never hurts to knock on the door and say, 'Welcome to the company! How can I help you succeed?'" Gingras says.

If you don't have the opportunity to directly give the new CIO an overview of your responsibilities, then offer one to your immediate boss for him or her to pass on to the CIO, Watson advises. "It's always a good strategy to make your boss look good, so proactively providing an executive summary of your responsibilities and deliverables status could set you apart."

When you do get a chance to talk to the new CIO, always remind him or her of your name, Watson says. "And when attending a joint meeting with the CIO and your peers, find opportunities to speak out and offer added insight or data," he says.

You should avoid sitting through such a meeting without saying anything, he adds. But at the same time, "be careful not to over-speak, and not to appear political," he warns.

Misstep 5: Failing to Reapply for Your Job

"When a new CIO comes in, you're in essence auditioning for your job," Bonfante says. "You should be confident that you have value and willing to market what you've done for the organization. But don't act like the job is guaranteed. You should always act as if you're being interviewed."

"It may not be obvious, and it may not be stated," Gingras adds. "But the new CIO will come with his or her own ideas, people and processes. There's a tendency for IT employees to think that they're untouchable because they've been with the organization for 10 or 20 or 30 years. No matter what's happened in the past, you effectively have to reapply for your job."

Attitude is everything. "You'd be surprised how often people want to tell [a new boss] about all the bad things in the organization," says Gingras, who often works as an interim CIO. You wouldn't talk like that at a job interview, and you shouldn't in this situation either.

"Focus on areas where you think you can improve IT, and talk about your ideas," Bonfante says. "Nobody cares how bad the old CIO was. The past is the past, and putting someone else down will not make you look good in anybody's eyes."

Misstep 6: Giving In to Fear

"The No. 1 thing I've learned is, don't assume bad things are going to happen, and don't go into it with illusory fears," Maddock says. "People have a tendency to assume the worst when someone new comes in. Instead, go in with a positive attitude, and that will be infectious."

After all, you may not be the only one who's afraid. "Remember that the person walking in the door is a human being and probably has the same fears you do," Bonfante says. "So give the new CIO the benefit of the doubt."

Exit Strategy

Hello, I Must Be Going

You should always approach a new CIO with an open mind, a positive attitude and a willingness to do whatever is needed to support a new strategy. But there are times when a new CIO's arrival means you should start planning your departure. Here are some signs that it may be time to consider a change:

* 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]."

--Minda Zetlin

Zetlin is co-author of The Geek Gap: Why Business and Technology Professionals Don't Understand Each Other, and Why They Need Each Other to Survive (Prometheus Books, 2006).

This story, "How to survive CIO regime change" was originally published by Computerworld.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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