Taking Time

Taking Time

Introducing change is one thing, but how long does a CIO have to wait for results?

How long does it take before a CIO can expect to achieve some results? I recently had this discussion with a CIO in Melbourne. He had just taken over a new role and was discussing with me his timeframes. He believed he had two years to get the job done.

I thought that this was too short. In fact, research from the recent State of the CIO survey in the US shows that the average tenure for a CIO there is getting close to five years. Yet there have also been some recent well-publicized departures of high-profile CIOs in Australia who have been with their organizations for little more than two years. Despite this, they have been lauded by their executive for transforming the organization.

In my experience, the best IT shops always seem to have an element of stability at the helm. In my ten years running the InTEP forums it became relatively straightforward for me to identify best practice organizations. As soon as you walked through the door there were always some tell-tale signs. These included enthusiasm in the senior IS manager, an obvious esprit de corps among the team members, a focus on process and project management and, more often than not, an approachability and willingness to talk about what they've done. These traits take time to develop; successful change doesn't happen overnight.

Several years ago, DBM, the global human resources consulting firm, used its quarterly newsletter to highlight the dangers of change. The article argued that all change creates dissatisfaction and that, as a result, change needs to be closely managed if it is to deliver the desired goals. Initially there is a honeymoon period, but before long, morale, productivity and commitment drop below acceptable levels as frustration with new ways of working sets in. If the process is managed effectively, staff morale grows and the organization reaches the Promised Land sought by the amendments in the first place. If it is not well managed, then staff morale, productivity and commitment never return to their past levels.

Sometimes a change is intended to create turbulence. The board may feel that the IT department is too set in its ways and needs someone to come in and stir things up. A new CIO is hired from outside the existing IT operation with the express purpose of transforming the department and stimulating fresh thinking. In such instances, existing staff morale may even be viewed as an impediment to progress, since it is often an indicator that staff are stuck in the comfort zone.

Many organizations do have a need for CIOs to be dramatic change agents, but as the DBM evidence shows, there comes a time when too much change becomes counter-productive.

My CIO friend in Melbourne was itching to change things in his company, but we both recognized that, in the end, his success will be measured by the results he generates. Generating results will in turn improve the support he gets for the transformation he has introduced. And this, he somewhat reluctantly agreed, takes time.

Peter Hind is a freelance consultant and commentator with nearly 25 years experience in the IT industry. He is co-author of The IT Manager's Survival Guide and ran the InTEP IS executive gatherings in Australia for over 10 years.

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