Surviving CIO Regime Change

The average CIO stays on the job around four years. So chances are you'll live through at least one changeover. Here's how to make sure it doesn't derail your career.

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Experts recommend taking the initiative. "You should really approach your new boss, or your boss's boss," Gingras says.

Like most of the advice in this story, that's a good strategy for IT employees at every level, though the approach might vary depending on what you do. "Even if you're a PC technician, it never hurts to knock on the door and say, 'Welcome to the company! How can I help you succeed?'" Gingras says.

If you don't have the opportunity to directly give the new CIO an overview of your responsibilities, then offer one to your immediate boss for him or her to pass on to the CIO, Watson advises. "It's always a good strategy to make your boss look good, so proactively providing an executive summary of your responsibilities and deliverables status could set you apart."

When you do get a chance to talk to the new CIO, always remind him or her of your name, Watson says. "And when attending a joint meeting with the CIO and your peers, find opportunities to speak out and offer added insight or data," he says.

You should avoid sitting through such a meeting without saying anything, he adds. But at the same time, "be careful not to over-speak, and not to appear political," he warns.

Misstep 5: Failing to Reapply for Your Job

"When a new CIO comes in, you're in essence auditioning for your job," Bonfante says. "You should be confident that you have value and willing to market what you've done for the organization. But don't act like the job is guaranteed. You should always act as if you're being interviewed."

"It may not be obvious, and it may not be stated," Gingras adds. "But the new CIO will come with his or her own ideas, people and processes. There's a tendency for IT employees to think that they're untouchable because they've been with the organization for 10 or 20 or 30 years. No matter what's happened in the past, you effectively have to reapply for your job."

Attitude is everything. "You'd be surprised how often people want to tell [a new boss] about all the bad things in the organization," says Gingras, who often works as an interim CIO. You wouldn't talk like that at a job interview, and you shouldn't in this situation either.

"Focus on areas where you think you can improve IT, and talk about your ideas," Bonfante says. "Nobody cares how bad the old CIO was. The past is the past, and putting someone else down will not make you look good in anybody's eyes."

Misstep 6: Giving In to Fear

"The No. 1 thing I've learned is, don't assume bad things are going to happen, and don't go into it with illusory fears," Maddock says. "People have a tendency to assume the worst when someone new comes in. Instead, go in with a positive attitude, and that will be infectious."

After all, you may not be the only one who's afraid. "Remember that the person walking in the door is a human being and probably has the same fears you do," Bonfante says. "So give the new CIO the benefit of the doubt."

Zetlin is co-author of The Geek Gap: Why Business and Technology Professionals Don't Understand Each Other, and Why They Need Each Other to Survive (Prometheus Books, 2006).

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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