Sunday, December 9, 2007

Managing Personnel Transitions

As a followup to my Leading Change post, one of the most challenging kinds of change to manage is personnel transitions. There are two major kinds of transitions - those which are done to you and those which are done by you.

Regarding changes done to you, the most important role of the CIO is to foster stability while embracing the change the follows a major transition in leadership. Over the course of tenure as CIO there have been many changes to senior management around me which directly impacted IT. I've experienced the transitions of 3 COOs, 3 CFO's and 3 CEOs. Each time there is a change in senior leadership, the anxiety in the entire organization is palpable. Everyone wants to know what the change will mean to them. Will their project be canceled or their job eliminated? There is generally a frenzy of activity as many folks in the organization jockey for power or try to resurrect projects that were put on hold by the former administration. The largest transition done to me was 10 years ago today when I became the new CIO of CareGroup/Beth Israel Deaconess. Although I was an inexperienced leader at that time, I think my basic beliefs about fostering stability were already in place. One of my staff recently sent me a copy of the broadcast email I sent a few hours after taking the job:

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From: John D. Halamka MD
12/10/97 01:01 PM
To: IS Employees
Subject: All is well

Folks:

You may have heard that a change is taking place in Information Systems leadership.

I realize that many of you may be feeling anxiety and are wondering what the future holds.

Over the next several weeks, I will get to know each of you, understand your projects and identify your challenges. My role will be to create an environment that empowers each of you. I will begin each conversation with "How can I help you?"

Working together, we can make Information Systems an even better place. We have a great deal of talent in the organization and I look forward to serving, learning and growing with each one of you.

John
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Regarding changes done by you, I've personally led several transtions in IT, ensuring that the organization is always optimally structured to support the strategy of the company. Every time I do any reorganization, I've found that communication is key. Communicating often and transparently, engaging all those affected in the reorganization process really helps. Some organizations do reorganizations behind closed doors and even hire security staff to escort separated employees to their cars. I've never done reorganizations that way. I have treated people with dignity and respect, working hard to ensure their transitions are as painless as possible. There are 3 ways to transition people:

1. Work together on a separation over several weeks giving the affected staff the opportunity to move on to a new position outside the organization. This is by far the best approach, since it often leads to new opportunities for the separated employee and can be a win/win for everyone involved.
2. Work with Human Resources and the affected staff via oral/written warnings, counseling, and progressive discipline. Whenver I work through a termination via this approach, I follow all HR recommendations to the letter.
3. Termination for cause done precipitously. I am lucky that I have never had to do such a transition. It's very challenging to transition an IT professional abruptly because of the lack of time for knowledge transfer.

Although managing personnel transitions is not one of the more pleasurable aspects of being a CIO, it is one of the most essential. Ensuring that no one on the IT team impedes the work of others improves morale, accelerates projects, and minimizes human single points of failure in the organization.