Monday, October 07, 2013

The Newbie CIO

A newbie CIO was feeling very excited and thrilled to have made the grade and become a CIO, a dream he had cherished and worked towards for some time now. He had sought coaching from many senior CIOs and acted upon most of the advice received from various quarters. He was a good and consistent performer as IT manager having received accolades for emerging stars from various publications who track rising talent. I congratulated him on his new assignment along with others who celebrated his success.

Close to a year since the new assignment, he connected again wanting to meet; a request to which I agreed considering it had been some time since we had connected. I had not heard anything about his success or challenges from him or common industry friends. So we planned catch up over a meal in the near future. He mentioned the need to discuss a few issues which he was struggling with. That raised my curiosity and wondered how he had fared in his new assignment.

He had started well with understanding of business, industry, and company culture. He helped his team to a cohesive state dismantling silos and focusing on deliverables. Fixing IT came easily to him as he was responsible for the same portfolio earlier. He met functional leaders to understand their expectations from IT and how IT could contribute to their success. Based on this he created a plan which was accepted with a caveat that each project will require respective business owners to agree to and fund.

Undeterred, he started working on what he believed should be the first priority, customer service. The marketing head listened to the proposition and declined the project stating no need for disruption in an already growing market. My friend attempted to reason it out without success and in the face of push backs, approached the CEO for help only to be told to find a way to align the marketing team if the project were to succeed. After pushing for many weeks he realized that their low risk appetite would not get him what he wanted.

He targeted supply chain optimization which would reduce inventory levels and improve profitability. This time he created a financial model based on his understanding of the situation and presented to the functional head who dispassionately looked at the presentation and said he will revert back. Weeks became months with no revert despite gentle nudges and follow-up. So he confronted the issue and was asked to back off in no uncertain terms. He was disheartened and sought answers from his peers.

The organization was run by the close group of confidantes of the owner for many years. They had a monopolistic market and continued to grow at a fast track pace which was the envy of others in the same industry and outside. There was no growth or efficiency pressure with healthy margins and cash situation. As an unlisted company there was no market pressure to go beyond what they had achieved. The founder owner chairman benevolently asked the CIO to take it easy and not rush into things.

After his initial success, he was expecting a carte-blanche and what he got was a conditional approval where he had to sweat for each and every project and still remain challenged. He was struggling to break the shackles and do what he believed he was capable of. He had given up trying and was feeling a sense of purposelessness. He could have walked away to find a new opportunity but was worried lest the new one also leave him with no recourse. And the fact that as a first time CIO he had hardly spent any time and needed to show some results.

I did not have the context of the function heads, but I did know a bit about the CIO and his personality. Interrogation revealed that he was pushing his solution without listening or connecting; his enthusiasm blinded him from observing that he never connected with the business teams as he was so immersed in technology and solution design. Full of himself, in his eyes he had made the transition, in reality he was still some steps away. I left him with a mirror and hoped that he would start listening.

My offer for help stayed suspended in the air, I left feeling sad for him.

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