Sue Schade shares insights on transitioning to a new CIO

The biggest challenge for an outgoing leader is to provide all the needed information without bias.
Sue Schade CIO

Transitions of leadership are going on all the time in our organizations: a new CEO, a new VP, or new management at another level; it is change.

As I’ve written about, I just completed such a transition. I have served as an interim CIO for eigh plus months. The agreement for the engagement was that I’d stay through the successful transition to the new CIO. We envisioned a 30 day overlap.

As the start date for the new CIO approached, 30 days seemed very long. Wouldn’t the new CIO want to get in and get started without me around? But as she and I started planning that time, 30 days seemed reasonable for all that we needed to do. When it came time to start the transition, there was so much else going on each day we found it hard to find the time to focus on the transition work. In the end, we both agreed 30 days was the right amount of time and extremely helpful to her. 

[Also: Best Hospital IT 2016: CIOs share secrets of managing a happy IT team]

But a 30-day overlap and transition period can be a luxury. Organizations often go through leadership transitions with far less time or even no time for the old and new leaders to work together. When I took the interim engagement, I had an hour conversation with the previous CIO on his second to last day; that was it.

I’ve observed another successful leadership transition this year at AAMI. The Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation is a nonprofit organization founded nearly 50 years ago. It is a diverse community of nearly 7,000 professionals focused on advancing safety in healthcare technology.

I serve on the AAMI board and executive committee and was on the search committee this year for our new president. Our current president, Mary Logan, announced in November of 2015 that she would retire at the end of 2016. Over the past year, she diligently prepared for a leadership transition to her successor while the search committee found a new leader, Rob Jensen. He started this week.

At our most recent board meeting, Mary shared what she called the “bus book”. It’s all the information and background a new president could possibly need to effectively step in if something happened to her. Mary had been developing it with her senior leadership team over the past few years. Knowing she would be turning things over to a new president, she went much deeper in putting it together.

Having just completed the CIO transition at University Hospitals, what I saw Mary do was beyond anything I could have imagined doing. But it’s something I’d now consider a best practice. Of course, in a retirement situation with plenty of lead time, this is doable and maybe even expected compared to a resignation with just several weeks’ notice.

A challenge for the outgoing person is to provide all the needed information without biasing the new person. You need to let them know the “gotchas” and the potential problem areas. You need to let them know who’s who and the most important relationships to nurture internally and externally.

I’ve been advising an internal interim CIO the past few months, helping him be successful in his role while the organization conducted the search process. The new CIO starts next month and the interim is now trying to figure out his transition plan for her. Bottom line I told him his task is to support her through onboarding and help her be successful. And that certainly includes letting her know the “gotchas” and problem areas she’ll need to deal with.

Leadership transition assessment and planning is one of the services that my new firm, StarBridge Advisors, will be providing. When there is a leadership change at the CIO level, we can work with executives to assess the current state and the existing IT leadership team for development opportunities, and make recommendations for the next CIO position specification. We can provide interim leadership and assist with the search. And we can serve as a trusted and seasoned senior advisor to the new CIO if needed in their early months.

The core values and mission of an organization don’t usually change when a new leader takes over. Finding the right person to build on the best of what is already there, to change what needs to be changed, and to successfully take the organization into the future is the key. Smooth leadership transitions are an important part of this process – for the success of the organization and everyone involved.

This post was first published on Sue Schade's Health IT Connect blog.

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