From CIO to AVP: 6 Months Into a Non-Lateral Move

In September of 2019, I started as the Associate Vice President for Academic Technology at Cal State Northridge (CSUN). In this role, I’m responsible for a bit of a mix of areas, but they include instructional technology, accessibility, data & analytics, and user support services (help desk and classroom support). My previous 2 jobs had been as a Chief Information Officer, in charge of all of IT. Even the job before that, I was essentially the CIO of a law school. So I’ve had the full portfolio under my purview in the past. This was a significant non-lateral move for me. I’m 6 months in now.

I was very purposeful in this transition away from the CIO role. Yes, I had worked hard to get to be a CIO. But I wanted to get back to the west coast, and a lot of major opportunities are at large state institutions. Certainly, the majority of small liberal arts colleges are on the east coast. But I didn’t have a background at other kinds of institutions, much less large public ones specifically. And obviously becoming a CIO at a 35,000 student institution from a 2,200 student one wasn’t going to happen. So I made an intentional move from CIO to AVP.

It’s been…interesting, in a lot of ways.

First, over the years, my management style had evolved into a very hands off one. This felt a necessity as a CIO. I’m still an AVP (there are two AVPs in IT here at CSUN) so it’s not as if I’m in the weeds everyday, but I am more involved in daily operations on a personal level than I was before. I delegated a lot as a CIO. Maybe that was just my style, or was the culture of the institution. Maybe others in the same jobs would have been more involved. Maybe my style was even “wrong.” Whatever the reason, my style has become what it is, and I find myself questioning whether it is 100% appropriate here at CSUN. I will say that there is a bit more of a culture of involvement and hands-on management here at CSUN, from what I’ve been able to discern. In all honesty, I’m not 100% sure how to modify my style just yet.

Second, I’ve been reminded that my place in the department is different than before, in completely respectful and proper ways. I’m not in charge. I’m also not acting as if I am, but I have sent off a few messages bringing up matters that might be of higher-level concern, and been told, again in a respectful way, that that’s the purview of someone else and that that’s the end of the conversation. There was a security issue, for instance, where I suggested to the interim CIO that we might want to act more aggressively than was indicated by others. I was told that’s someone else’s call.

That’s perfectly fine, of course. But it didn’t end my unease about the decision, to be honest. But…it’s not my call. So I just swallowed the pill and moved on.

Third, and this is the positive one, I can really focus in on key things that I care a lot about. I have at least some experience with each of the areas I lead/manage, and extensive knowledge in some of them. I can really dig in and sink my teeth into the issues they are facing, and have in-depth conversations about solutions. This was not always the case as a CIO, where the breadth of responsibilities was much broader. I was weak in some areas. I was very open about it, and asked lots of questions so that I could make sound decisions, but I was never going to become a networking expert or be able to do ETLs from a SQL database.

So I’m 6 months in, and the obvious question is “what next?” What will I do next to be a more effective manager and leader? How do I keep moving forward?

I think the first thing is to take a hard look at my management style. One of my directors is still new and getting up to speed so I’m working a lot with her, but overall I need to decide if I want to be more hands-on with decisions and strategy. There is definitely a craving for certain things from various people in the group, and because it is a more focused team I need to recognize that I need to respond to those needs in a different (and faster) way than I might have in the past. I need to be less contemplative (though no less intentional and careful, of course). I also need to adjust my communication styles. CSUN is very email averse, it seems. If I were CIO, I could change that culture, at least in the division (not that I want to, just saying I could). But that’s not the situation now. I need to meet more often with people (I’m doing a lot more walking now). Please know that I wasn’t “Mr. Email” before, but the sentiment against sending a lot of messages is quite strong here.

Those are just my initial thoughts. Still cogitating.

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