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CEO Sweet Talk

CEO Sweet Talk

It doesn't always take a year full of global upheaval for a company to acquire a new CEO. When money is tight and staff members are stressed, it's more essential than ever for CIOs to have a game plan for what to do when there's a new personality with new priorities in the top office.

"Hang on to your hat," says Maurizio Laudisa, CIO of medical services company Lifelabs. "It's all about who you get." Gaining a firm grasp on that subjective aspect of the transition can be the key to doing more than just surviving, according to a CIO Executive Council survey. To flourish, CIOs should get themselves in front of the new CEO and get good and familiar with the person behind the title. How do they like to communicate? How do they operate? And what are their experiences with IT?

That last question is particularly important to tease out early, says Don Zimmerman, CIO of Wendy's/Arby's Group. No matter what a CEO knows about IT and how technology can advance the business, dealing with a new CEO whose experiences with IT are good versus one who has been burned is a much different situation.

Even for CIOs with a business background, laying this extensive personal groundwork can seem like a lot of slogging for little gain. But skipping it can have repercussions, warns Jim Burdiss, VP and CIO of Affinia Group.

"It went very poorly the first time I went through this," he admits. "You need to gauge in that first meeting where all of their interest and experience comes from, and I couldn't have missed it more if I threw a dart from 100 yards. I was overanxious, trying to justify what IT was doing and IT expenditures, and I didn't listen enough. I talked too much and I absolutely was not myself."

Unless you're at a relatively small company, the CEO isn't going to have a personal bond with every member of the IT staff. But the CIO doesn't have to be the only one in the relationship. Lack of communication leaves the door open for rumors. Some CIOs have even taken the step of asking the new CEO to meet with senior IT staff, ensuring that at least some level of personal relationship goes deeper into the organization. Getting direct reports involved with establishing IT's message to the top also creates a higher level of comfort with long-term benefits for both sides.

No matter what steps CIOs take for themselves or their staff, one of the biggest opportunities for the IT organization as a whole can be the chance to establish IT's role as a partner in value for the company and the CEO.

"You have to market yourself and your staff as an innovative group that knows how to leverage technology for more effective business purposes," says Chris Barber, SVP and CIO of the Western Corporate Federal Credit Union.

And sometimes CIOs need to stop talking and listen to a new perspective.

"Be open and honest," suggests Allan Davies, CIO, Asia Pacific, for global logistics company Dematic. "But realize that like with all departments, fresh eyes on the IT organization can often see beneficial changes."

Diane Frank is content development specialist for the CIO Executive Council, a peer advisory service and professional association founded by CIO 's publisher. She can be reached at dfrank@cio.com.

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