In my six years as a CIO, I've heard countless statistics, jokes and other reminders of my job's typically short shelf life. Fortunately, I'm also a tenured associate professor, so I'll get to opine about IT leadership long after my "best if used by" date has passed.
After about four years in the post, though, I stopped asking why CIOs are such a famously short-lived breed. I chose instead to focus on pressing problems at my organization from a new perspective:
What Would the Next CIO Do?
It's one simple question that produces searing clarity. I came up with three areas of concern to help me answer that question and focus on the long-term health of my IT team and my organization as a whole.
Pain points. What annoying problems would my replacement fix? New leaders typically start by fixing the most easily solved problems--the low-hanging fruit. Of course, IT leaders have many other duties, such as strategic innovation, 24/7 operations and 99.999 percent availability. Along the way, though, stay connected enough to users to know whether there are pain points that need addressing. Your replacement will certainly start there, so why shouldn't you?
Jackhammer issues. What nagging problems do users deal with so often that they've tuned them out, like a jackhammer operating right outside the building? When someone starts using a jackhammer within earshot, it's jarring and unpleasant. If the jackhammer continues every day, though, your discomfort eventually fades as you learn to filter out the noise and work around the inconvenience.
A new person would ask, "How can you work with that jackhammer running all day?" but those who have been there awhile might reply, "What jackhammer?"
What workarounds are your colleagues and users forced to use? What hoops do your customers have to jump through to deal with persistent annoyances in your IT systems and processes? What new options would a replacement CIO offer to get rid of lingering, minor hurdles in the technology experience in your organization?
Don't let someone else come in as the hero. Eliminate unnecessary inconveniences for your users while you still have the chance.
Relationship rescue. What relationships would the next CIO build, repair or transform to reconnect IT to the daily business of the organization? What partnerships would your replacement strengthen or form to make technology more effective across your organization?
If you strive to connect people more than you separate them, if you include people in prioritizing, planning, and preparation, if you reach out to people that others sometimes overlook, you'll build relationships that allow you to accomplish much more than you could eke out alone.
Author and futurist Thornton May says, "Your network will keep you safe." He's not talking about gigabit fiber optics. He means your human network will keep you connected to the organization, connected to users, connected to your customers--and that more than anything will keep you safe. It won't make you untouchable or invincible or guarantee your job. Rather, your relationships will keep you in tune with your organization's needs, which will focus your vision on bringing the most value to your workplace.
So while you've got the opportunity now, tackle some of the things you would do if you were the new guy. Remove some pain points, eliminate some nagging jackhammer issues, and start forming the relationships a new CIO would need to bring the most value to the role. Don't wait for someone else to take all the glory.
Bryson Payne is CIO at North Georgia College and State University. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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