Turnaround CIO

Being a turnaround CIO has its good and bad points. First there is the excitement of trying to fix things and implement process and procedures that are currently not in place. You come into a company with a fresh set of eyes and the eagerness to get things done and functioning. All eyes are on you to show change.  You are a shiny new penny.

The bad points. You do not know how bad the situation is until you get in and rollup your sleeves.  Issues seem to be superficial until you begin to peel back the layers and discover the core is rotted and you cannot fix one issue until you fix the multitude of issues around it. Your 30 day plan morphes into a one year plan with all the tasks becoming critical for success.

You have to turn around an underperforming department and make it a high performing value driven group.The pressure is on you to show immediate value and change. You have to answer the question, “Was hiring a CIO the right decision?” Or the more pressing question, “Was he/she the right person for the job?”

You have to sell yourself and your ideas. Remember in a turnaround situation, the previous IT managment was not getting the job done. That is why they hired you. However, there are still people loyal to the previous regime and that is yet another hurdle for you to overcome.

Being a Turnaround CIO is not for the weak of heart. There will be plenty of long nights, debates, hand holding and disappointments along the way. Take it one day at a time, one issue at a time….Take a deep breath and remember they hired you to make change.

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One thought on “Turnaround CIO

  1. An excellent summary of the life of a Turnaround CIO.

    Having done 5 or 6 turnarounds over 20 years I’d like to add a few things:

    Be sure you’re coming in with the right mandate and the right ‘sponsor.’ If the CEO/Chairman/Board isn’t sponsoring the turnaround it’s at best much harder and at worst doomed from the start. It’s best to report to the top executive; but if you won’t be then insist on a chat with that person before you take the job.

    Have a frank discussion with your boss and with top management (CEO/Chairman/Board): hiring you isn’t an instant fix no matter what they hope!
    Stuff broken long before you ever arrived will only be discovered months after you start; you WILL stumble now and then and break things that were working fine; and you’ll lose some good people (and some who merely LOOK good) just because you represent change. If you’ve laid the groundwork it’s much easier to tell the boss “Remember that conversation we had when you hired me?…”

    Have another frank discussion about change. Find out how fast the organization can adjust to change (hint: they probably don’t know) and try not to force it to change faster. But consider what might happen if they HAVE to change faster due to acquisitions, regulatory issues, or other time-sensitive issues.

    Immediately bolster your IT change-management processes/tools/team. You WILL be making more changes than your team is used to and you’ve got to have great control PLUS increased agility.

    There are so many more things I could add, but those are the key things.

    No matter how many times I’ve done turnarounds and no matter how well I communicate and how well I manage change, there’s always a day I ask myself “Did I make the right choices and is this really going to work?” That day seems to come at the moment of maximum entropy, when the IT team is in the throes of change, old system flaws are manifesting in ugly ways, new applications under development are stressing the budget that just got approved…and for me that day usually comes just before things settle down and our progress starts to gather momentum.

    Making a turnaround happen isn’t easy to plan and execute, but working with motivated business and IT teams and watching one come together is a beautiful sight!

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