The Inevitable Change

Changes in leadership are an inevitable part of the working world. But the transition process doesn’t need to be cumbersome. Learn how information services leaders kept a team running smoothly while transitioning to new leadership.

It’s inevitable. Members of senior management leave or retire. To maintain consistent leadership and high performance, it’s necessary to develop and implement succession and knowledge-transfer plans for senior management positions.

As disconcerting as changes in leadership can be, perhaps it’s a bit more concerning when that change involves a critical part of the company’s information technology operation — information security.

Promoted in 2022 by the planned retirement of Al Palimenio, Mutual of Omaha’s longtime chief information security officer, Jason Hamilton will tell you that his preparations for the role were structured to make the transition as smooth as possible.

In a way, you could say those preparations started even before Hamilton joined the company as an information services manager five years ago. “I was actively engaged with the Offutt Air Force Base Transition Assistance Program. Jason and I met through that program,” said Palimenio.

Offutt’s program exists to help prepare individuals leaving the military for jobs with civilian companies.

“I mentored him through the eight-month process,” Palimenio said. “Jason was a great candidate for any company. We were lucky enough to have an open position for him.”

Hamilton came to Mutual of Omaha with high aspirations and he made those known. “I gave myself a five-year window,” he said. “I figured it would take at least a year or two to get familiar with the corporate environment. My first year was focused on getting to know the team and how a company works.”

Hamilton asked his team for assistance. He wanted candid, straightforward feedback. He received and accepted that feedback and worked to modify his communication style.

The next few years Hamilton worked to “become the master of my craft,” as he puts it. He learned all aspects of the security program at Mutual of Omaha, familiarized himself with stakeholders, and got to know his peers. He stepped in where influence was needed and where he felt he could promote the program. He became more of a decision-maker and acted as a stand-in for Palimenio when he was busy.

“We’ve created an open leadership culture at Mutual of Omaha where there’s accountability and a level of comfort that let him know he could grow and expand his wings,” Palimenio said.

Mutual of Omaha makes a wide variety of leadership training available.

“The Learn to Lead program offered by corporate learning provides self-directed leadership resources for anyone looking to fine-tune their leadership skills, not just people with direct reports,” said Brittni Redding, a human resources consultant at Mutual of Omaha. “We also offer ways to learn from others, like mentoring and 360-degree evaluations. We sponsor manager meet-ups every other month, which include 30 minutes of content followed by 30 minutes of conversation.”

And the learning options don’t stop there. “For mid-level managers, we’ve added business impact leadership courses. The content is a bit higher level with topics like formulating strategy, translating strategy to action, influence and decision-making,” said Andrea Hargus, director of human resources. “There’s programming for every stage in a career, including several university partnerships that offer accessible coursework to our associates.”

For aspiring IT leaders, there is also the Information Services Leadership Academy (ISLA). “The program explores leadership formally and informally with a focus on exposure and networking,” said Stefanie Shanahan, senior business program consultant in information services. “Participants form teams, investigate an issue in IT and pitch a solution.”

Hamilton took advantage of available opportunities, completed his master’s degree in cybersecurity and participated in a nomination-only accelerated leadership development program to prepare for the transition. The program helped him establish relationships with his soon-to-be peers and gain an understanding of what they do for the company. “Strategic business plans, budgeting, finance — these are things that, as a manager, you may have input on, but you don’t think about them or touch them every day,” he said.

Because he was already working in the information security division, Hamilton was fully up to speed on the security program. “My challenge has been to understand where my new peers are coming from and how they tackle problems,” said Hamilton. “At the leadership level, everyone brings a very different perspective to the table. I had to figure out where I fit into that, and quickly learn what I needed to know. Who could I rely on to help me gain that knowledge and how could I help them?” Hamilton has set up regular touchpoints with peers in the business areas to build working relationships and talk about how the Information Security program could better support them.

Hamilton found the transition away from his manager position easy. The person who backfilled his job was a good fit, and his old team didn’t miss a beat.

The transition has been seamless from Palimenio’s standpoint too. “It was important for me to extract myself out of the day-to-day and make it crystal clear it’s not my ship anymore. Jason had been standing in for me for some time before we started the formal transition. At the last board meeting, I sat in the back by the secretary. Optics are important.”

Hamilton is grateful for the support he’s received not only from Palimenio, but from his own leadership team. “It’s difficult when you start leading the people who just a short while ago were your peers,” said Hamilton. “I have felt nothing but support from my team.”

Hamilton credits that support and careful transition planning for his smooth transition from information services manager to chief information security officer.

“I didn’t doubt that he would succeed — I worked with him every day,” Palimenio said. “Investing in an internal candidate has extraordinary benefits for the organization.”

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