Are you a bear market CIO?

In a tough economy, toss out bull market strategies and take a new approach to business development

From 2005 to 2008, my approach to business development was simple. I would walk into my office, put my feet up on my desk, throw open the window and smile as bluebirds flew in with juicy search projects in their beaks. I was a bull market executive recruiter.

In 2009, with executive search revenues down considerably, my approach is a little different. My feet are squarely planted on the floor as I tirelessly work my networks to unearth companies in need of IT leadership. I have adjusted for the bear market. When reflecting on this change, it occurred to me that CIOs must make a similar shift from bull to bear. In bear markets, a company's goals, culture and practices can change dramatically. CIOs who adjust will fare far better than those who do not. If you're a bull market CIO in need of help, I offer this checklist:

Reach beyond IT. From human resources to customer service to call center operations, the majority of today's CIOs (nearly two-thirds of you, according to CIO magazine's 2009 State of the CIO Survey) have taken on at least one major responsibility beyond IT. If you have not, the bear market should provide you with significant opportunity to do so. Not only will this help you find new ways to leverage IT during these tough times, it will also help you to raise your own visibility as an enterprise leader.

But clean up your own shop first. The CIO survey reported that 70 percent of CIOs believe that IT is considered an integral business partner and is beloved by the company. But it's not all a lovefest. In fact, 46 percent of CEOs gave IT marks of "fair" or "poor" when it comes to improving the quality of products or processes, according to the survey.

"In tough economies, 'one must be purer than Caesar's wife,'" says Greg Buoncontri, EVP and CIO of mail services company Pitney Bowes. "You cannot offer assistance in other areas unless you've got your own function in order."

CEOs are deciding which of their executives are keepers. Now is not the time to take your delivery record for granted. Know your numbers. Any bull market CIO knows "IT as a percentage of revenue" or "IT's share of corporate expenses," but in a bear market, aggregate numbers are not enough.

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