article

Keys to a
Great Start
as CIO

Revel Gordon

Congratulations! You’ve just won that Chief Information Officer role you always wanted. Now comes the critical part.
Your first weeks and months in the position will set perceptions that can be incredibly tough to shift, and may set the course of your career for years to come. With the stakes this high, it is vital to be prepared.

1. Start building relationships at the top

Given how obvious this is, it’s surprising just how many CIOs enter the role inadequately prepared to develop effective working relationships at C-Suite (and Board) level. Finely honed interpersonal skills are absolutely critical. Ultimately, a CIO’s performance is measured by whether the CEO and other key executives believe he or she is doing a good job. And they will form that judgment based on whether the CIO is helping them achieve their business goals and personal agendas. Seeking to understand these goals and agendas should be the number one item on any new CIO’s ‘to do’ list, and is also the best basis upon which to cultivate effective relationships. (For more on this, see my article ‘How to Sell Your Agenda’).

2. Work out who’s on your bus (and who isn’t)

Get to know your direct reports and other key team members. What are each of their strengths and weaknesses? Are there any critical capability gaps in the team? Borrowing from Jim Collins’ management classic Good to Great, your IT organisation is like a bus: you are the driver, and you need the right people on board, sitting in the right seats. Work out who is with you, who is against you, and who is sitting on the fence. Then focus on winning the fence-sitters over to your side … and if there’s anyone who absolutely cannot be won over, consider whether they belong on the bus at all.

3. Rack up quick wins

Look to deliver simple initiatives with big impact at executive level. These help build early credibility and momentum while you are developing your broader IT strategy. When you meet with senior stakeholders, listen carefully for IT-related pain points and opportunities that can be quickly addressed.
Making sure that the executive team’s personal IT needs are being met is often a useful place to start. It’s also a great – and entirely appropriate – way to get face time with the Board early on. For example, moving the giant stack of printed Board reports onto secure iPads will not only save trees and the Directors’ backs; it will also start to build up your goodwill around the board table.

4. Don’t meet with vendors

The day you are announced as CIO, you will be inundated with meeting requests from every vendor under the sun. Do not rush to see them, particularly if you’ve been appointed from outside the organisation. First, get to know your own business and get a sense of your strategic direction. Only then meet vendors, based on your timeline and agenda, not theirs.

First impressions are critical

I have listed some of the most critical items to focus on, but there are a myriad other factors for the new CIO to consider. The most effective IT chiefs started carefully preparing for the role years before they secured their first CIO position. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. So make sure you are ready to get off to a strong start.

Congratulations! You’ve just won that Chief Information Officer role you always wanted. Now comes the critical part.
Your first weeks and months in the position will set perceptions that can be incredibly tough to shift, and may set the course of your career for years to come. With the stakes this high, it is vital to be prepared.

1. Start building relationships at the top

Given how obvious this is, it’s surprising just how many CIOs enter the role inadequately prepared to develop effective working relationships at C-Suite (and Board) level. Finely honed interpersonal skills are absolutely critical. Ultimately, a CIO’s performance is measured by whether the CEO and other key executives believe he or she is doing a good job. And they will form that judgment based on whether the CIO is helping them achieve their business goals and personal agendas. Seeking to understand these goals and agendas should be the number one item on any new CIO’s ‘to do’ list, and is also the best basis upon which to cultivate effective relationships. (For more on this, see my article ‘How to Sell Your Agenda’).

2. Work out who’s on your bus (and who isn’t)

Get to know your direct reports and other key team members. What are each of their strengths and weaknesses? Are there any critical capability gaps in the team? Borrowing from Jim Collins’ management classic Good to Great, your IT organisation is like a bus: you are the driver, and you need the right people on board, sitting in the right seats. Work out who is with you, who is against you, and who is sitting on the fence. Then focus on winning the fence-sitters over to your side … and if there’s anyone who absolutely cannot be won over, consider whether they belong on the bus at all.

3. Rack up quick wins

Look to deliver simple initiatives with big impact at executive level. These help build early credibility and momentum while you are developing your broader IT strategy. When you meet with senior stakeholders, listen carefully for IT-related pain points and opportunities that can be quickly addressed.
Making sure that the executive team’s personal IT needs are being met is often a useful place to start. It’s also a great – and entirely appropriate – way to get face time with the Board early on. For example, moving the giant stack of printed Board reports onto secure iPads will not only save trees and the Directors’ backs; it will also start to build up your goodwill around the board table.

4. Don’t meet with vendors

The day you are announced as CIO, you will be inundated with meeting requests from every vendor under the sun. Do not rush to see them, particularly if you’ve been appointed from outside the organisation. First, get to know your own business and get a sense of your strategic direction. Only then meet vendors, based on your timeline and agenda, not theirs.

First impressions are critical

I have listed some of the most critical items to focus on, but there are a myriad other factors for the new CIO to consider. The most effective IT chiefs started carefully preparing for the role years before they secured their first CIO position. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. So make sure you are ready to get off to a strong start.