Last week I asked a CIO roundtable which elements of the CIO Paradox they found most challenging. One item that showed up on every CIO\u2019s top-three list was \u201cYou were hired to be strategic, but you are forced to spend most of your time on operational issues.\u201d I spoke to five of the Council\u2019s most strategy-minded CIOs about how they managed to get out of the operational morass.\n\n \n \n Resist the lure of the weeds. \u201cI\u2019ve seen CIOs become overwhelmed with tactical challenges and never get to the strategic,\u201d says Kevin Summers, CIO of Whirlpool. To combat that, you need to be strategic from day one, regardless of the operational situation, Summers advises. \u201cDuring my first six months, while I was visiting our operations and meeting with the board, there were outages and delivery problems,\u201d he says. \u201cThe hardest part was to let those fires burn while assessing the data to build our IT road map. Once you have your road map, you can stabilize operations. But if you don\u2019t resist the operational challenges at the beginning, you\u2019ll never get out.\u201d\n \n Carve out the time to be strategic. \u201cMany years ago, I was serving as executive officer on a submarine,\u201d says Tom Flanagan, CIO of biotechnology company Amgen. \u201cMy responsibility was the day-to-day operations of the ship, but I knew my next assignment would be commanding officer. So I forced myself to carve out two hours every day to study for the new role.\u201d Flanagan applies the same method to IT leadership. \u201cWhen I\u2019m in the middle of an ERP rollout, I have to step back from checking test scripts and think about how to apply the new system strategically. Carving out strategic thinking time is important; I learned that a long time ago and have tried to stay with it.\u201d\n \n Don\u2019t try to do it alone. Twila Day, CIO of Sysco, started out as a programmer and tended to take a tactical view of situations. \u201cAs I grew in the organization, I knew that I had to break my tactical habit and actually use my strategic skills. In order to do that, I had to hire the right staff to handle the operations and let go.\u201d Once her staff had operations under control, Day applied the same approach to her strategic responsibilities and focused some of her staff on strategy. \u201cWe started an architecture review board that looked at new technologies and processes. Whether you hire new staff or tap your vendors and business partners for strategic input, you need to look beyond yourself to balance both roles.\u201d\n \n Outsource your commodity work. \u201cI was certainly in the weeds when I was first hired,\u201d says Ron Kifer, group VP and CIO of Applied Materials. \u201cSo very early on, we did a core-versus-context analysis to determine how to direct our internal resources. We held onto competencies that drove business performance, but outsourced commodity work.\u201d With the success of the IT outsourcing initiative, Kifer\u2019s group extended the managed services model to HR and procurement, a strategic move in itself. \u201cThe best way to get out of the weeds is to refocus your internal resources on core competencies,\u201d Kifer says.\n \n Elevate the tactical to a strategic level. Phil Fasano was new to health care when he joined Kaiser Permanente as CIO, so he had to learn the industry\u2019s complexities as he was taking the IT reigns of a $40 billion company. \u201cBut at the same time, our operational challenges were immense,\u201d he says. Rather than solving the operational issues before moving on to the strategic, Fasano combined the two. \u201cWhen I spoke to the board, I framed our operational challenges as business risks where the health of the company would be impacted by our infrastructure upgrade. I placed operations squarely in the strategic vision of the board,\u201d he says.\n Martha Heller is president of Heller Search Associates, an IT executive search firm, and a cofounder of the CIO Executive Council. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.