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They had a new CIO and the IT team was wondering how he would be; the earlier CIO was a self-professed workaholic. A bachelor staying few blocks away, he would land up at the office during his morning jog. He would stay on until the morning review meeting with the team running over every activity of the previous day which they had to record in a time sheet. His need to know everything and micromanage every activity obsessively; the team feared his scrutiny. So when the new CIO was announced, everyone was apprehensive, can it get worse?
The new guy came on board with his reputation preceding him as a celebrated CIO with much published success. Many of the team members had heard him in a few events and seminars though did not know his personality or working style. His demeanor was friendly and approachable which portrayed a pleasant personality. IT vendors spoke highly of his professional expertise and no nonsense way of working; he was tough with them and yet appreciated their contribution. This confused the IT team especially his direct reports.
The team of seven who ran the IT organization were coincidentally all of the same experience levels though across domains and technologies. Some old and some new, they had a tolerable coexistence with occasional professional conflicts resulting from overlapping responsibilities and dependencies on their individual success. Respective teams ran an efficient shop which the organization was proud of, with early adoption of many technologies. Their only challenge was an unfriendly image of IT which was growing rapidly.
The CIO met with the team collectively and individually within the first week to note their challenges and opportunities, aspirations and setbacks, and to understand the organization and team culture. He looked at their modus operandi, reports they created for internal review, processes and practices they had imbibed; he was quite happy to see their diligence and dedication towards work. He also found that some negativity was attributable to the earlier leader’s high technology orientation and disconnect with the business which rubbed off onto the team.
Soon they settled down into a comfortable rhythm, back to the grind, except that they noticed a subtle shift in the way business interacted with them. It was as if suddenly the enterprise had discovered some of the good qualities of the team that got beaten up every so often for operational failures, some of which had nothing to do with IT. Enjoying their new found status, the team gave it back in kind with positive collaboration towards solving business problems or finding new opportunities to win in the cutthroat industry.
Few in the IT team who were hired by the earlier CIO missed the daily morning grilling and technology sessions; they craved the micromanagement, instructions on how to do, prioritization of their activities; for them the regimented way had comfort, it took away the pain of thinking. They associated the new hands-off approach and delegation with lack of technical prowess and acumen; they saw the CIO attend business meetings, seminars, events, and take lead as the spokesperson for the industry which was in conflict to their benchmark of what a CIO should be.
They seeded thoughts across the IT team on the frivolous nature of their new leader and his style of operation; grudgingly granting the fact that business had begun to love technology and investments had gone up, these were anyway expected. For them success was despite the CIOs interventions and not because of what he did. The majority disagreed though had stray thoughts on what is indeed the role of the CIO and the complexity of the job which seemed to change dramatically with the new person. He appeared to have so much of free time!
I recently met with one of the seven who had taken on the role of the CIO stepping into the shoes of his highly successful boss. He was one of the persons close to the earlier CIO though not critical of the new one; he acknowledged the complexity of the role and the balancing act that it demanded from internal stakeholders expectations, team dynamics and its management, vendor ecosystem that needed periodic attention and finally the orchestration of all the components to keep everyone together aligned to the vision of the company’s future.
Few months into the role, he was struggling with the balance tilting frequently, the bar raised high; he was enjoying the challenge. He had finally found the answer to the question, what is the role of the CIO!