Oh I See! Getting CIOs to view their jobs from a different angle

Oct 18 2011   6:57AM GMT

Resetting expectations

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

I met a CIO who was wondering what’s going wrong after having spent many successful years in his current position, working with the management team, implementing various award winning solutions, helping the IT team come out of the technology mindset to thinking business, and last but not the least making IT a business partner. He sought to unravel the mystery and find clues on what could be done to overcome the situation.

As the drinks continued to flow, I quizzed him if he had made any behavioral changes? Negative, he replied; everything was going smooth until recently and he had not made any changes to his modus operandi. So I dug deeper; were there any changes in the business scenario, industry, and market position, or anything that could have triggered the change? He stayed silent for a while and then mentioned yes, the company had appointed a new CEO and thereby he had a new boss.

Every organization is dynamic and so is the team that makes the enterprise. Attrition is accepted as normal as it brings in fresh talent and leadership. In most cases, new ideas and styles of management bring forward the strategic agenda of the company. When the new inductee is the CEO, there are always a lot of expectations by the stakeholders. The internal team(s), specifically the management team downwards, has to make adjustments to new style, expectations and the way forward. Few in discord decide to move on to greener pastures elsewhere.

Change of direction

However, there have been some exceptions where the company under new leadership has suddenly found the management team not agreeing to the new direction. Most give the new agenda a try and work towards alignment. It is also possible that the CXOs may decide to move on, citing working or cultural differences with the new leader. Rare instances also exist where the company has floundered until the Board of Directors made corrections (we recently saw that for a large IT company).

As these thoughts ran through my mind, I realized that my friends’ company had seen good results in the last few quarters, which would imply that the new CEO was continuing the growth agenda. So I prodded the issue further; had his relationship with his peers changed since the new CEO took over the reins? Not really he quipped, they continued to work with him like before; his new boss seemed to have some strong relationships with some of his peers and transactional with others.

Restating the objectives

Opening up, he stated that he was being challenged on some of his decisions more rigorously than before; had to present a lot more justifications on any project, and was asked to review the IT strategy and its applicability going forward. The strategy was discussed and approved only a year back, so why the review again? The CIO wanted to start polishing his resume again.

So I had to hit him hard with reality. If the new manager wanted additional details on initiatives, it would indicate that he wanted to update himself and validate assumptions. If he has to justify every project, why is he worried if due diligence has been done fairly and equitably with business participation. Every strategy including business strategy requires periodic review, so where was the problem?

I believe that a dialogue is the means to build the relationship rather than see it as threatening credibility. No two people think alike; so to assume that the past way of working will continue to yield dividends is foolhardy. It does not matter where you are in the corporate hierarchy, change is inevitable, and we have to learn to live in the rain.

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  • Rickmaurer
    Arun – I like the advice you gave your friend. And I agree with you for the most part. But I would like to add to the advice you gave. Sometimes, when an executive (or anyone else for that matter) asks for more information, it masks what they are really interested in. The focus of my work is on resistance to change in organizations. I found that there are three reasons why people resist our “brilliant” ideas. 1. They don’t get it. 2. They don’t like it. 3. They don’t like you. (These are the ideas I cover in some free articles and a e-book on my website.) If we apply those three items (or levels) to your friend. It might be a Level 1 issue. The executive might simply need to understand the situation better. And that’s why your advice is so good. Give information without defensiveness (if I read your comment correctly.) But sometimes Level 2. and/or 3. might be at play. Level 2 could be based on fear. It just feels like a bad idea. Or their gut tells them to move in a different direction. If that’s the case, then piling on more facts, figures, and Gantt charts won’t be enough. He will determine and then speak to those fears. Or it could be Level 3. The executive probably doesn’t really know your friend so it would be understandable that he/she was cautious. In some organizations, no one ever trusts people from the IT department. So Level 3 doesn't have to be something your friend needs to take personally I would encourage your friend to figure what the Level 3 issues are in his relationship with the executive. This is often a hard one, but it is essential when we want to influence someone else. Your friend should be aiming to strengthen the positive side of Level 1, 2, and 3. (The CEO needs to get it, like or support it, and have trust and confidence in your friend.) Rick Maurer
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