Companies in need of a quick business turnaround look for specific qualities in a CIO candidate, because often, the state of the business is such that a wrong decision might worsen things, or might even lead to the demise of the company. The qualities needed in a turnaround CIO are not necessarily the same as those that a good steady-state CIO might bring to the table, but rather the abilities that can help an organization quickly recover from its current condition, and forge ahead to a brighter future.
One of the most important assets for a turnaround CIO is agility, in the sense that he/she should be able to work effectively in companies of many different sizes, and across a wide range of industries. Ideally, this should include the ability to work at almost any location in the world, because there is a need for this kind of talent in virtually every corner of the globe. A CIO candidate who has several of these successes on his/her resume might be expected to accomplish the same type of turnaround in the future. In this situation, there is no better predictor of future success than past success.
There is no room for being wishy-washy in an environment that’s desperately in need of a comprehensive turnaround. This means an incoming CIO must have the kind of decisiveness that can bring about change quickly. The most likely the reason a business environment needs a turnaround CIO is that there’s been too much indecision and softness in the past, and this is the very element which requires change. Decisiveness is a necessary quality, even if it means that some decisions and some new policies are going to turn out to be wrong. No one is going to make every decision correctly, so it should be accepted from the outset that there will be an occasional wrong turn. The hope is that none of those wrong turns are critical ones.
Ability to deliver quick wins
The truth is, CIOs coming into a new environment probably have only about six months to show that their making a real impact on the business and starting to turn things around. The more desperate a company is for improvement in morale, earnings, or public relations perception, the shorter the window an incoming CIO is given. Sometimes this calls for cutting through a lot of structure and process to get to the real meat of deliverables, and sometimes it means identifying bottlenecks which have to be eliminated before real business flow can be achieved. Whatever the issue is, a turnaround CIO must be able to quickly identify the obstacles to success, and overcome them within just a few months.
Ability to prioritize
Quite often, an incoming CIO is confronted with a bewildering number of problems and tasks that have to be accomplished in order to get the company back on track. Obviously, everything on the agenda simply can’t be addressed at the same time; and if it were, it’s likely none of those tasks would receive the attention and focus necessary to effectively accomplish them. That makes it critical for an incoming CIO to assess all those requirements and establish a list of priorities which need to be addressed first. The old saying about not washing the windows while the building is on fire is a good way to think about how tasks need to be prioritized, especially when a quick turnaround is critical to survival.
In order to accomplish any type of turnaround, it will be necessary for all the players to have a team attitude and to pull together to help bring about change. This is especially important for the IT staff, as IT can be one of the biggest enablers of an organization’s success. Those who are not on board with the team concept should probably not be on board as employees either.
Find the right personnel
In almost every turnaround environment, a certain amount of weeding out of employees will be necessary. After all, the company didn’t get into the shape it’s in without a few bad apples gumming up the works, which means it’s important to identify those employees who are not team players, or who lack motivation. It also means hiring the kind of personnel who can help you achieve critical objectives. In effect, any new personnel should have the type of turnaround attitude that aligns with that of the incoming CIO.
It would be a mistake for a turnaround CIO to come into a new environment and start laying down the law with an iron fist. While decisiveness is a highly desirable quality in this situation, it does not mean that the CIO should turn a deaf ear to worthwhile recommendations and suggestions from knowledgeable staff members. Many of these people were hired in the first place for their skills and abilities, and their background knowledge of the business could be very useful in helping to turn things around. The turnaround CIO has to be willing to listen, and to acknowledge when such input should be adopted and enacted.
Knowledge of technology
Last but not least, an incoming turnaround CIO must have an exhaustive knowledge of current technologies. To some extent, lower-level managers and staffers can be relied upon to have an understanding of technology that can hold value in accomplishing a business turnaround, as well as achieving future objectives. However, the CIO himself/herself must also know about these technologies, and must be able to decide which of them can be most effective in helping to drive positive change for the business environment.
Turning around an organization isn’t easy, but it can be done with the right leadership in place.