Ed Toner

I was Living the Dream…


NASCIO award


I took on some additional responsibility last month. For the first time in Nebraska history, I, the State CIO, became the functioning Interim Director of the Department of Administrative Services. You would think, after all the presentations I gave and the solicited articles I wrote about leadership, that this was just another day in the life of a seasoned leader-- It was not. I was outside of my comfort zone on day one.

Now, if you need to develop or restructure an in-house IT organization … I am your guy. Executing eight business mergers and restructuring resources and processes across Europe and Latin America took care of my having the first-day jitters ever again… or so I thought. That was until I was called to lead a team that consisted of State Accounting, State Personnel, Human Resources, Purchasing, and State Building division, Employee Relations, Legal Services, Risk Management and Transportation Services. The time had come to put my own theories on leadership to the test.

Hours before the Governor called me to take on the new challenge, I was celebrating with the OCIO our successful IT Consolidation. I was looking forward to a time of restful reflection. I may have already started writing a blog on how well the OCIO team delivered. I was living the dream for literally one day. Now we continue our efforts to honor what has been accomplished so far in our successful consolidation project.

A Familiar Design

Process Improvement Chart

When we take on a new job or, like I did, add new responsibilities to an old job, it is an anxious time. No matter the success or experience we carryover from the past, nerves are part of any growth opportunity, especially when instant challenges are tied to the new opportunity. However that plays out for us individually, it is healthy to have an understanding of our emotional and mental stress when walking in the door. To understand how we have reacted successfully in the past is a huge help to dismantling stress. So with that, I put my nerves on hold and pushed forward.

My blog followers will already have guessed that with my Industrial Engineering and Six Sigma Black Belt background my first instinct was to focus on process improvement. I told the Administrative Services team that I needed more focus on Speed (time to deliver services), then on Quality (doing it correctly the first time). Lastly I told them to focus on Cost. I believe if the first two are done well, the third will take care of itself just as we did at the OCIO. We first focused on reducing mean time to resolve incident and service request tickets. Then we applied strict adherence to change management. Finally, we established project management and governance which essentially followed ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) guidelines.

The Strategy and the Outlet

Strategy Priorities

Getty Images

When starting something new there is always a period of time when we have too little information and way too much information. I related this back to my college days when I started a new semester and realized physics, calculus and the associated labs were overwhelming at first. My anxiety increased when I started the semester, but I learned a technique to put my anxiety on hold and move forward. My technique was to attack the class that seemed to be the most challenging first. I took out any remaining anxiousness in the gym.

During my time as Interim Director, I needed to focus on the biggest source of stress at the moment with the teammates at the Department of Administrative Services. They were certainly feeling as uneasy as I was, wondering where we were going next. I needed to devise a plan with the assistance of my new team, one that minimized disruption to the DAS and the Agencies who depend on a successful and uninterrupted move forward.

Good Communication

It helped to explain to my OCIO team and my family that the next few months were likely to be challenging. I asked my current team for their support of my added assignment, and my family for their understanding as I may not have been my normal cheerful self. (They argued my definition of cheerful.)

I had to be cognizant of the risk of alienating my new team. So instead of instantly insisting that there was a better way, before I truly learned why the existing processes were in place, I needed to respect the routines and processes. They came to exist for a reason, and I needed to learn what they were before I declared they needed improvement. (When we are new we don’t know how a change at one level caused domino's to fall at another, or if the result of a change will be a positive or negative one.)

So what has been my outlet? As for conquering my anxiety, just writing this blog went a long way to remedy that. Putting this challenge in writing and a logical structure added to my tool-set of anti-anxiety remedies. However, I am still heading to the gym.

The Continued Relationship

It was announced this week that a well-respected colleague will be taking over the Department of Administrative Services. I was elated, but at the same time I now look back on my time as Interim Director fondly. The dedication and professionalism shown by the DAS staff during my time there was appreciated. I learned so much more about how the team operates and the obstacles they have to overcome to provide the services they provide each and every day. I know I benefited in countless ways from this time as Interim Director and I hope they will feel likewise.

One major benefit is a strong collaborative relationship I believe we have begun to foster between DAS and the Office of the CIO, which I feel will last for years to come thanks to the experience we’ve all gained learning from each other.

Congratulations to a good friend and a proven leader Jason Jackson who will now take over the leadership role. I believe Jason will take the Department of Administrative Services to new levels of success and will help to nurture the relationship between our two teams for the betterment of the State of Nebraska.

For everyone in DAS and OCIO, I appreciate what you do for the State of Nebraska every day.