Why CIOs should change their minds (and their organizations) once a year

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Flexibility is paramount. That is our mantra and our discipline throughout the Red Hat IT organization. It has to be, because it allows us to change rapidly when needed. And with the pace of technology change, we run into that need quite often.

At Red Hat, we've committed to changing our IT organization annually to ensure that our focus remains on the biggest business opportunities at the time. Each year, we review our priorities, centralize some functions, disperse some functions, add new organizations, remove organizations, and adjust elsewhere. And by setting that expectation with everyone on the team, they know that their responsibilities and the services they are accountable for may change over time.  

We've found that doing this annually works well, not only in aligning with our business year, but with our team members' workflows as well. If we did it more frequently, the constant change in the manager-associate relationship could be potentially disruptive. But if we did it less frequently, we could start to lose focus on our biggest priorities and opportunities – the ones that will truly move our business forward.  

This organization change strategy gives our teams a sense of ownership, and allows everyone to feel they are working toward a common goal. It has helped us avoid conflict on organizational boundaries. It has also given us new ways to create leadership opportunities and build the leadership skill set within our team — to move folks into new roles, to stretch them, to give them a new set of capabilities and experiences.

In particular, changing the organization annually has helped us to bridge the divide between developers and operations in various ways. As a result of our annual focus and priorities adjustments, we've made developers accountable for production success, and we've asked the operations team to be accountable for the ability to rapidly put things into production. Certainly our wide use of open source tools is helping a lot as well. But even with the state-of-the-art tools that we use, the ability to spin up capacity quickly in a public cloud environment, or in an internal, private cloud environment, is substantially less work and faster than provisioning servers. Bringing developers and operations together as a united team to deliver an open, hybrid cloud capability has been very successful for us.

Ultimately, CIOs must embrace change. When you commit to adjusting your focus on a regular basis, not only can you better align with the right opportunities for business growth, you can also better develop skills and capabilities within your IT organization.

Lee Congdon is Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Ellucian, the leading independent provider of higher education software, services and analytics.