5 Strategies for Successful CIO Leadership Transition

The essential to-do list for CIOs to ensure their successors move forward with key planned strategic initiatives.

Carrie, the CIO of a large manufacturing company, has been in her role for nearly a decade. As she begins to explore other potential jobs, she recognizes the need to ensure the strategic initiatives she has in place will continue after her departure. But she isn’t sure how to convey the importance of these initiatives to her successor.

For a new CIO, the easiest projects to halt are ones that haven’t yet been started

“In this new information and technology (I&T) environment, CIO leadership becomes a critical success factor for pursuing strategic business initiatives and for providing a stable environment to ensure outcomes,” says Suzanne Adnams, research vice president at Gartner. “Changes to strategic leadership roles like the CIO can have a significant impact on the progress of any initiative or operational activity. The gap in leadership can result in projects stalling and operational activities freezing, potentially jeopardizing overall IT performance.”

CIOs must integrate five tactics into all strategic planning.

Authority

As CIO, you might know that the board approved initiative “A” because you received a now-buried email or were given approval in a meeting that is logged somewhere in your notes. However, a new CIO won’t have easy access to that information.

The fix: Document all mandates and authorizations, and store them where they are easily accessible. This formal documentation should be reviewed frequently during your tenure to ensure that executive support still exists. This will assure IT staff and stakeholders that they can confidently continue to work during the transition.

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Resources

Continuity can be interrupted when it is not clear to a new executive that a particular initiative has an assigned staff or budget. The effort to come up with money or people to support an initiative might be enough to halt routine operational activities.

The fix: Establish a clearly outlined budget and support staff for projects to ensure continuity during transition. This means CIOs need to make sure high-priority strategic initiatives are specifically identified in the budget and that they have assigned resources. Work with the CFO or project management office to make this happen.

Value

When a new CIO enters the company, the strategic value of certain projects might not be initially apparent. This can lead to pauses or even complete halts for key initiatives due to a lack of clarity over business priority.  

The fix: Connect with non-IT executive stakeholders to make sure there is an advocate for each initiative outside of IT who can clearly explain the business value. A new CIO will be much less likely to stop a project if there is a vocal and visible champion.

Commitment

For a new CIO, the easiest projects to halt are ones that haven’t yet been started. Projects hanging in the balance, which have perhaps been discussed and planned in meetings with no formal documentation, are at risk of being ignored.

The fix: Make sure important projects or initiatives have documentation containing specific activities with assigned due dates. This will signal that the initiative is a work in progress with identified schedules and anticipated deliverables. This will enable the team to move forward with the project during the period of transition, as they will have an established plan.

Incentive

CIOs are more likely to pursue or allow an initiative to continue if they know there is a direct benefit to themselves or the team that would be seen as a “quick win.”

The fix: Clearly outline the rewards for completing or continuing an initiative, such as recognition for the new CIO or a host of other benefits. This will encourage the new CIO and the IT team to not only continue working on an initiative but also to have a vested interest in it succeeding.

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Gartner clients can read more in the full research report Five Tactics for CIOs to Ease the Pain of Leadership Transition with Suzanne Adnams.

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