Low transparency, high turnover, missed deadlines. The signs of IT dysfunction are clear. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach for rebooting the IT organization, there are proven techniques IT leaders can use to turn things around.

It can be hard to keep pace with the rapid rate of information technology change. Systems that were business-critical yesterday are quickly outmoded, only for the organization to move on to something completely new within a few years. During the pandemic, everyone was focused on collaboration tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Two years later, AI was the hottest technology on the planet, with OpenAI becoming the darling of the tech world and Nvidia’s stock jumping $800 per share in a month.

More than ever, companies need their IT functions to help them navigate this dynamic technological environment. And, if IT is run by strong leaders who create a collaborative culture, the team will be primed and ready to steer the company through the ever-changing maze of new technologies. 

But what happens when IT is dysfunctional? The business is set adrift in a sea of technology options.

Anyone who’s worked in IT will likely recognize some of these signs of dysfunction:

•    Little transparency into what IT is doing (or not doing)
•    High turnover, especially of top performers
•    Consistently missed projects deadlines, blown budgets, and poor outcomes
•    Lack of a strategic plan or technology roadmap
•    The rise of shadow IT within business groups 
•    A focus on processes rather than results

Not everyone knows what to do about dysfunction, however. And when symptoms appear, action must be taken to address these issues or things will only get worse.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution as every IT organization is unique. Thankfully, though, there are some standard approaches that any IT leader can use to turn around a failing technology function.

4 Actions to Take

Over my two decades as an IT leader and manager, I’ve found that there are four key actions that can make a significant difference in IT performance.

1. Reexamine the organizational structure.

In a dysfunctional organization, it is quite common to see not just individuals, but entire teams locked up in structures where they cannot add value. Nothing is more frustrating to high achievers than when they want to get into the game only to be stuck on the bench.

If it’s not clear whether your people are well-positioned and equipped to do the jobs they were hired to do, that’s a problem.  And if you recognize that misalignment, it’s a guarantee that your teams and their customers can see it too.
People are the building blocks of the IT organization. The goal is to align each person with a role in which they can contribute in a meaningful way. When that happens, the talent that exists within your teams can flow in natural and powerful ways. People are rarely disgruntled when they’re able to see the value that they’re creating. 
Organizations work best when they are simple to operate and easily understandable. If the complexity of your structure is getting in the way, fix it!

2. Look for the right leaders.

There is an old saying from automotive legend Lee Iacocca: “The speed of the boss is the speed of the team.” I’ve found that if your leaders are effective and motivated, your people will be as well.

But how do you know if you have “high-speed” leaders?

There is a straightforward way to measure this on a simple x-y graph. On the x-axis, you measure the amount of “can” that the leader possesses: their ability to effectively do the job to which they’re assigned. On the y-axis, you measure how willing your leader is to do their job: their drive and ability to push through obstacles and satisfy the customer. While measuring “can” and “will” in people is quite subjective, it’s also not hard to ascertain.

As you can see, there is an area that we can call the “optimal zone,” reflecting when an individual both can do the job in front of them and also is willing to do the work, no matter the challenges. When you find a leader in the optimal zone, you’ve found a problem solver. Problem solvers are capable and willing to drive positive change into your IT organization. 


Related article:

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3. Get smart about compensation.

It’s an unavoidable fact of life that skilled IT workers are in short supply. Compensation (or lack thereof) won’t typically be the top factor driving retention; but if it’s not fair, it will become a major deterrent to retaining your best personnel.

And it is possible to accurately determine fair compensation. Over several decades of experience, I have found that most well-performing IT workers expect to be paid at or higher than the 50th percentile of the salary ranges for their positions. And the very top performers tend to have higher expectations, around the 75th percentile. 
Since the pandemic, most IT workers now expect some amount of flexibility in their work locations, whether fully remote or some form of hybrid arrangement. Because of this shift, it’s important to benchmark IT salary ranges against national surveys rather than regional ones. If your people are geographically distributed, they will be comparing themselves to other workers across the country.

Tech-savvy people are keenly aware of national compensation trends. If you want your company to be competitive for talent, you need to be, too.

4.    Be “D”-cisive

There is a well-known behavioral assessment called the “DISC profile” that measures people across four different personality types. The “D” or dominance personality style describes those that are driven, accept challenges, and achieve results.

And that’s just the kind of leader it takes to address existing dysfunction: one that can take decisive action. Once the problems are identified, there should be no delay in taking the necessary steps to make corrections. If people or teams need to be restructured, you should do it quickly. If you uncover a skill gap after fine-tuning the organizational structure, there’s no time to waste in recruiting. This will require close partnership with the HR team, especially when creating and filling new roles — particularly if compensation structures must be analyzed and adjusted.

It’s essential to adopt a dominant approach to be direct, driven, and determined.

While rescuing a failing technology function isn’t easy, it doesn’t have to be daunting. Putting in place the right organizational structure, ensuring that your leadership team is able and willing to take on the challenge, establishing a competitive compensation structure, and being decisive will put you on the right path to turning the organization around.

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