Finding opportunity in crisis

Finding opportunity in crisis

Savvy CIOs can see a crisis coming and will use it to gain business leadership responsibility.

lthough it is generally accepted that our region dodged a bullet in 2008 and 2009, enterprises here nevertheless battened down the hatches and braced themselves for difficult economic outcomes. Now, once again, global markets are reeling and there is uncertainty about the extent to which this disruption, and China’s potential economic slowdown, will impact the performance of local firms. According to recent Gartner Executive Programmes research led by Patrick Meehan, a potential crisis is too valuable an opportunity to waste. Effective CIOs help their organisations respond by focusing on leadership and business engagement. Highly collaborative and effective CIOs can help turn a crisis into an opportunity and position the enterprise itself better for the next crisis.

A crisis can be defined as the severely negative impact of an external inflection point on the enterprise strategy, its operations or its mission. The inflection points that trigger a crisis typically fall into three categories:

Political: These disruptions stem from changes to regulations (or sometimes from public pressure). Examples may be the pending carbon tax legislation, or changes to employment law.

Business: Disruptions in markets or supplies, which may stem from a labour strike or a host of other circumstances, such as the Qantas and customs personnel strikes in Australia.

Societal: Disruptions stemming from social factors – for example the drop in airline travel after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Regardless of the type of crisis, wholesale transformation of an enterprise – particularly its cultural aspects – becomes very difficult without a significant and compelling event. A significant threat may be the trigger necessary to transform both IT and business behaviours


You are only as good as those you lead

So what are the key behaviours of the CIO who is able to successfully navigate a crisis and help the enterprise to win? It will not surprise you that leadership is imperative – and not only the inherent leadership skills of the CIO, but also the leadership demonstrated by the CIO’s leadership team.

Transformation caused by a crisis is never painless. It frequently calls for a reinvention of a new leadership and management housecleaning. With this in mind, the CIO needs to re-evaluate his or her leadership team and reject status quo management. Being good at the business of IT alone will not suffice in difficult times. The IT management disciplines developed over the last decade, with their focus on internal cost optimisation, do not offer the differentiation a business needs to fend off threats and exploit opportunities. Assuming the role of business partner will be an ongoing challenge for an IT organisation devoid of business-savvy leadership talent. And if this talent is missing, as was proven to be the case in several organisations which participated in this research, IT leaders were soon replaced by IT-savvy business leaders.

Wise CIOs muscle up with the right leadership talent to navigate the crisis before the business seeks to intervene. Surveyed CIOs replaced or reassigned between 70 percent and 75 percent of their direct reports as they sought leadership rather than management ability. Selected leaders typically have a strong coupling of business understanding and experience with either enterprise architecture or governance.

Building trust through education and results

Trust is forged in difficult times through tending to the needs of critical constituencies effectively and efficiently. Also, cultivating trust within IT is no less important; it will mobilise the organisation and stop dissent from derailing the transformation. The table below captures some key actions for the IT leadership team.

Key actions
    Deploy your best leaders in key IT service delivery areas; change the topic of conversation from managing assets to delivering business services.

    Communicate leadership’s expectation of IT to align the expectations of IT workers with the transformation; reward excellent performers with career opportunities.

      Use money and resources to prove the commitment of leadership – and by extension, the enterprise – to all of IT.
        Celebrate every instance of actual value creation.
        Focus on delivery consistency and quality; excel at both.

        Employ active listening to build credibility as a thought leader; become an educator, instigator, evangelist and demystifier.

        Focus on tactics that move the business; aggressively pursue even small high-value opportunities for IT to make a difference.

          Facilitate integration of the IT strategy and business strategy planning process.

        A crisis often gives a company an opportunity to reinvent itself. Savvy CIOs can see a crisis coming and will use it to gain business leadership responsibility and substantially change IT to provide inspired leadership. Make sure you have the right leaders in your IT organisation – and make sure they are engaged in the right key actions to ensure the crisis is not wasted and your enterprise emerges the stronger for it.

        Linda Price is group vice-president, executive programmes, Gartner. Email comments to

        To comment on this article, please email the editor.

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        Tags CIO roleGartnercrisis management

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