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Handling CIO careers during the post-recession job change

Snigdha Karjatkar, Assistant Editor

In a market flooded with opportunities, CIO career transitions are seldom smooth these days. However, it's safe to say that new assignments or projects take off well if you are able

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to perform adequate ground work and match perceptions. When it comes to CIO careers in specific, there is plenty to study in the form of management books—but that's all theory, when seen in light of the recent economic downturn.

Since realities differ from person to person and place to place, we consulted IT leaders who are handling such CIO career transitions to try and discover the challenges they face during their job shift post the recent recession. Vinay Hinge, who recently moved to Avenues Supermarts as Chief Information Officer says: "CIO careers typically involve long, formal orientation and induction programs when it comes to a new job. However, after initial introduction, I was told that I could handle the job at my own pace." Sometimes, expectations from a CIO are not met as is the case with Hinge, but rest assured that the groundwork has to be perfect. Establishing communication with the future organization even before getting on board clears confusion and helps both sides to get a real picture.

C.N. Ram is yet another IT leader who's handling such a transition as the newly appointed CIO with the Essar Group. Ram is a firm believer in frequent communication when it comes to a successful CIO career transition. "A new CIO must ensure sufficient number of interactions before day one on the job. In fact, the more the number of interactions, better is the stage set for you to take over smoothly," says Ram.

People management
While one prepares to get on board for the next step in his CIO career, the foremost and the critical challenge is people management. The CIO career demands that he understand the team and the culture of the organization. Identifying and connecting with the power centers in the organization is extremely crucial for a CIO to efficiently manage his new career. To connect with one's own team, one-on-one meetings are always helpful, and social gatherings can lead to more interaction.

While the smaller initiatives can help win confidence, in case of certain major changes it is wiser to make it clear to the reporting boss if not everyone else that certain issues need to be fixed.
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In order to effectively manage the new CIO career, it's essential that the IT leader gauges individual aspirations as well as understands people's motivation, competence and attitude. This is absolutely crucial when the CIO is going to make them think and do things differently. Alpana Doshi, the new CIO of Reliance Tech Services has been on the job for around five months, and echoes her peer's sentiment, "In India, along with taking charge of IT systems, it's extremely critical to understand your team," she points out. "People management is extremely crucial in Indian markets."
While we establish comfort zones with our management peers, it is equally essential to take more efforts to manage the reporting team. Attention to smaller and non-technical issues within the team is a sign of investing time in the team. Smaller things like forgetting team members' names can send a wrong message (and unexpected disturbances to your CIO career), but frequent interaction can get the members closer and on familiar lines for a common cause.

Managing attrition
Attrition continues to be biggest pain in the career of any Indian CIO. Doshi says, "While attrition might continue to be a problem in the growing Indian market, engaging employees in longer career plans, helping them grow professionally and providing a challenging role could help."
There is a strong possibility of a predecessor's move being imitated by his subordinates, leaving the team count lean. With two years of slowdown in India translating relatively low increments and growth opportunities, the count for jumping ship would be substantially high after the recent market growth. To effectively manage your CIO career, ensure that you take steps to address such after-effects.
    
Reforms
While people management takes its course, one starts assessing a system in the organization. In the process, one is often tempted to alter small details and ultimately attempt change management. If this is attempted too early, it could bring in more dicey situations in your CIO career. Hinge advices patience in such a situation. He says, "It's natural to start fixing the bloopers but you have to be extremely careful as you need to justify your actions. Also this could bring in more tricky situations as one may not be sure of the team capability and strengths and you might land in an odd situation."
There is high probability that there are some 20-odd things that need to be fixed— priorities that are extremely critical to business.  Detailed conversations with the management would help understand the need for change in the systems. It's always safe to go for the low-hanging fruits. For instance, starting a formal help desk or providing training are some of the initiatives which may not be strategic in nature, but will help the CIO as well as the establishment.
As part of his career evolution, the CIO has to eye the exact pain points and provide relief to either side. A simple solution would provide visibility to his efforts and prove the credibility to his CIO career. While the smaller initiatives can help win confidence, in case of certain major changes it is  wiser to make it clear to the reporting boss if not everyone else that certain issues need to be fixed. A candid conversation with the boss could be effective in implementing the suggestions.

Governance and strategy
The CIO's career growth in a new organization demands that he be precisely articulate when he raises concerns about internal governance. After spending about one quarter, questions might still not be welcomed. It is better to plug the loophole than harping on the wrong note. Hinge cautions: "If you start pointing out the lacuna in the systems like there was no governance in place with just three months on board, some of your peers in the organization are going to get offended. One should not sound as if there was no governance in place prior to the appointment."
The CIO has to respect his predecessor's initiatives. Decisions may have been prompted by a requirement, so any new or over-riding change needs to be solution-oriented.
While CIO career issues at a new organization span from people management to system management, these technology leaders believe in starting slow and steady. So while the CIO speeds up to grab the new career opportunities, he needs to explore these new avenues with patience.