Gubernatorial elections last November have brought the average tenure of state CIOs down to 20 months as of August, according to NASCIO. As a result, many state IT leaders have recently found themselves reporting to an executive new to the organization.
Dealing with change can be challenging, notes Courtney Harrison, the senior director for executive leadership effectiveness at Juniper Networks. Speaking at the National Association of State Technology Directors annual conference in Omaha, Neb., last week, Harrison shared some tips for forging a relationship with a new boss.
Kicking off the session, Harrison asked conference goers to write down all the thoughts that went through their heads the night before inheriting a new boss, or becoming one. Why? The point was to experience empathy for the new leader, who probably is just as nervous about the transition as his or her subordinates are.
It’s no wonder: 40 percent of executives hired at the senior level are pushed out, fail or quit within 18 months, says Harrison. That study was conducted in 2009. By now, she estimates the turnover rate has reached nearly 60 percent.
“We are wired as human beings for survival,” Harrison says. Results come from getting people to change, which is difficult when employees’ survival skills kick in.
The truth is, IT leaders are essentially starting over no matter what their record is with the organization. Common concerns are that a new executive may not agree with the priorities or projects that are in place, and his or her expectations are unclear.
“Whether you’re the new boss or getting a new boss, relationships need to be developed. Trust needs to be earned. Respect needs to be gained. Styles need to be appreciated,” Harrison advises. “Both sides need to know, understand and work with each others’ strengths and development areas.”
Your strategy for adapting to a new boss depends a lot on who you are — your age, needs, wants and career goals. Expect change, don’t limit your thinking, and apply emotional intelligence. That means feel, think and then act.
Say the CIO’s marching orders are to consolidate or reorganize an agency. If the new leader has to conduct layoffs, who do you think he or she will pick? The worker who fights every step of the way, or the one who is helpful? “New leaders make assessments about their team fairly quickly,” Harrison says. “Show your goodwill.”
Try to strike a balance when rejecting ideas by noting what’s already been tried. “Help them balance the challenges of cultural assimilation without sounding like you’re pushing back on every idea or not being supportive,” Harrison recommends.
Think about what you need to learn from the new executive in order to be on your “A” game as soon as possible. Be thoughtful and deliberate, and formulate a realistic and honest game plan.
Given the high turnover rate of senior executives, Harrison notes that some workers may believe they can outlast the new leader. But of course, that’s a risky strategy that can backfire.