View from the Bridge

When an interim CIO makes sense

The demand for interim management in IT is high and takes many forms. When there is an unexpected vacancy in a senior IT leadership position and no obvious interim person to step upthe executive team must act quickly. They often start with their trusted network or turn to a firm that specializes in interim management for health IT.  

Seasoned IT leaders who do interim work can jump right in. They can quickly learn a new organization, a new team, a new set of projects and priorities, and a new set of tools. The good news is that there are many common themes and issues between health care organizations.  

A best practice approach for interims is to meet with key leaders in “meet and greet” sessions. They need to get to know them and understand what they need from ITMy standard approach is to ask each of them 4 key questions: 

  • What’s working well? 
  • What’s working not so well? 
  • Considering I’m interim, how can I have the greatest impact? 
  • What are the key requirements for the next permanent leader? 

I also ask all of my direct reports in IT to consider these same questions. These questions typically open up some very honest and candid discussions. They help the interim leader quickly identify key gaps and focus areas. 

In my first week in interim roles, I’ve jumped right into some messy situations and issues. While I may not have all the background needed to truly resolve it, I can help facilitate the team to get to a decision or resolution. The players, the systems, and the projects may be new, but usually the issues aren’t. 

My direct reports quickly get used to my probing questions as I try to understand history, current issues, and why we do things the way we do. And one of my favorite questions – “who owns xyz and who is waking up every morning worried about it?” Not that I want anyone to lose sleep but it’s important that there be a single owner – when it’s a committee or “everyone” then it’s really no one. 

Being an interim leader takes a different mindset and approach than a permanent position. You need to quickly establish trusting relationships with your team. You need to determine where you can have the greatest impact in a short period of time. And you need to learn and listen – as much as you may want to, don’t assume you already know something. 

Serving as an interim executive takes a particular set of skills: 

  • ease in establishing good rapport with people 
  • being a quick study 
  • ability to determine what’s most important to focus on 
  • ability to make an objective assessment of current state and issues 
  • honesty and directness about what’s working and what’s not 

And of course, it also takes flexibility and adaptability in your personal life. You live in a different city for a period of time. Managing things like doctor’s appointments and haircuts in your home city can be a challenge to scheduleIt’s a variation on the consulting road warrior lifeOn the other hand, having an adventure in a new city can be a lot of fun! 

At StarBridge Advisors, we offer interim management services and partner with Rudish Search to find the best permanent IT executives. Rudish Search focuses solely on healthcare talent and has been recognized on the Forbes list of America’s Best Management Consulting Firms. Once the new person is on board, StarBridge Advisors can assist in other ways such as leadership coaching and advisory services. 

Our interim management services cover the range of health IT leadership positions including CIO, CMIO, CNIO, CISO, CTO and more. We offer a unique and comprehensive package of services that the C-suite can rely on. 

No question that healthcare and IT are complicated, and you need the best leaders possible to be successful. We’re ready to help! 

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