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Are you a turnaround CIO aka the cleaner?

Companies in need of a quick business turnaround look for specific qualities in a CIO candidate, because very often the state of the business is such that a wrong decision might worsen things, and it might even lead to the demise of the company. The qualities needed in a turnaround CIO are not necessarily the same as those which a good steady-state CIO might bring to the table, but instead include those abilities which can help the company quickly recover from its current condition, and forge ahead to a brighter future.


One of the most important assets for a turnaround CIO to have 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 kind of agility should also take in 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 such successes on his/her resume is one who might be expected to accomplish the same kind of turnaround in the future. In this situation, there is no better predictor of future success then past success.


There is no room for being wishy-washy in an environment which is desperately in need of a comprehensive turnaround, and this means that an incoming CIO must have the kind of decisiveness that can bring about change quickly. Most likely the reason a business environment is in need of a turnaround CIO is that there has 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, and it is to be hoped that none of those wrong turns are critical ones.

Ability to deliver quick wins

The truth is, a new CIO coming into an environment probably has only about six months to show that he's 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 will be the window given to an incoming CIO. 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, an incoming CIO turnaround has to be able to quickly identify the obstacles to success, and overcome them within just a few months.

Ability to prioritize

It happens quite often that an incoming CIO will be 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 to be, it's likely that 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 priority list of things 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.

Fostering teamwork

In order to accomplish any kind of turnaround in a company, it will be necessary for all the players on the team to have a team attitude and pull together to help bring about change. This is especially important for the IT staff course, since IT can be one of the biggest enablers of company success. Those people 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, it will be necessary to do a certain amount of weeding out of employees. After all, the company didn't get in the shape that it's in without a few bad apples gumming up the works, and that means identifying those employees who are not team players, or who lack motivation. It also means hiring the kind of personnel who can help you achieve objectives which have been identified as critical to a turnaround. In effect, any new personnel hired should have the kind of turnaround attitude which aligns with that of the incoming CIO.

Be approachable

It would be a mistake for a turnaround CIO to come into a new environment and just start laying down the law with an iron fist. While decisiveness is definitely a highly desirable quality in the 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 probably 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 which might have value in accomplishing a business turnaround, and for achieving future objectives as well. 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 accomplish positive change for the business environment.




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