The CIO’s Stimulus Package – A Call to Action

Community Blog
Written by Liz Ramey

MARCH 16, 2021

We are in the midst of a growing crisis that organizations must address immediately before irreversible damage is done. Harvard Business Review author Jennifer Moss calls this “The Burnout Crisis.” When speaking with colleagues, I’ve called it ‘the adrenaline crisis.’ Either way, we know the current workforce is in a constant state of fight or flight – incited by an increased cadence of change, unattainable workload expectations, an inundated communication pipeline and more. Executives must recognize this crisis and act now. One way to address the problem is to create a sort of stimulus package to encourage the right behaviors and suppress the wrong ones before they permeate across our workplace forever. 

What do I mean by stimulus package? I’m not downplaying the current economic crisis in play here. I truly understand the need for fiscal responsibility during this time. Though increased pay and reduced work weeks sound blissful, I’m not naïve enough to think this is feasible. When thinking of the term ‘stimulus,’ I ask you to think beyond monetary supplements. I ask you to think about how to positively impact a hyper-strained, potentially unengaged workforce by injecting a thoughtful and long-term approach to the day-to-day. 

Much like government representatives creating a multi-pronged stimulus package, executives must find the areas of operation that have the highest impact on progress and work to stimulate expectations and objectives in a sustainable, positive way. After all, if we learn one thing from the prevailing social and health crises, let it be that people are not ‘our greatest asset,’ but our greatest responsibility and our future.

Speaking directly to CIOs – your workforce is exhausted. This exhaustion isn’t the “I could really use a vacation” exhaustion – it’s the “I am in a state of constant tiredness” exhaustion. It’s a chronic exhaustion induced by a constant state of change and mismanagement of that change.

In a recent McKinsey & Company publication, researchers wrote about pandemic fatigue in November 2020. Authors De Smet, Tegelberg, Theunissen and Vogel write, “…but many months later, with no clear end in sight, the adrenaline rush of those early high-energy sprints has faded. Employees are now trying to sprint through what has become a marathon—an unsustainable pace. This is why we find ourselves in the early stages of a potentially prolonged period of disillusionment, grief and exhaustion—a period that may get worse before it gets better.”

With this in mind, I implore you, Mr/s. CIO to ask the question, “What can we do to steady our expectations and temper our pace to prevent chronic burnout and create a sustainable working environment?”

Here are two ideas to help you create your own stimulus package:

  1. Stop Pivoting

At this point, companies need to simplify their objectives and reprioritize the most critical initiatives. As an IT leader, you know that processes and iterations are a valuable piece to the success of any large-scale project, but too many changes and complexities can hinder progress. So, manage the pivots. Coach your teams and advise other leaders to only make the necessary changes and iterations that will add meaningful value to the initiative’s outcomes. 

Stimulus plan: Recognize the cadence of change that we have all had to endure and communicate how you will pump the brakes to slow down the pace. Create a governing committee to identify initiatives that may be moving too quickly or those that don’t have the traditional change management support needed for successful implementation. Once these are identified, find ways to effectively slow or decrease changes that are constantly taking place.

  1. Manage Communication Overload

Between Zoom, Teams, Slack and email, we are overloaded with requests, messages, information and questions from across the business. New York Times contributor and podcast host Ezra Klein welcomed author Cal Newport to talk about his theory on how collaborative tools in the workplace have increased fatigue and information overload – the exact opposite of their intended purpose. 

In the episode, Stop. Breathe. We Can't Keep Working Like This., Newport urges executives to think through and simplify all processes that are in place to help move business. He states, “What are the things that we actually do on a repeated basis? And what I recommend is what you really want to do is, process by process, say, OK, how do we actually want to implement how this happens? And the metric that I push, it’s not like how much time is it going to take or how hard is this particular method, but to what degree can we minimize unscheduled back-and-forth communication?” 

Stimulus plan: Like Newport says, create governance around processes to eliminate the unneeded back-and-forth that naturally occurs. Create standard practices around communication tools, asking questions like: Is video always important? Does everything have to be communicated in real-time and answered within minutes on Teams? Encourage a mindset that not everything is urgent, and responses are better when thoughtfully constructed and not reactively delivered.

There are many things CIOs and other executives can do to assuage the adrenaline crisis. Take a step back and thoughtfully approach how we can establish a sustainable working environment that decreases the cadence of change, sets attainable workload expectations, and encourages imperative communications.


Liz Ramey headshot

Liz Ramey

Director, Content at Evanta, a Gartner Company

by CIOs, for CIOs

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