How to get ready for your first 100 days as CIO

EY - Magnus Graf LambsdorffBefore the start line

Any CIO who has just signed the contract for a major new role is inevitably—and unsurprisingly—focused largely on sorting out a holiday for some much-needed downtime between jobs. This is understandable, but taking time to recharge can also be balanced with some highly effective new job preparation too. Few CIOs do so, but the rewards can be significant.

You’ve just signed the contract for a major new CIO role. The immediate temptation is to book a two-week holiday somewhere warm for a bit of much-needed downtime between jobs. This is understandable, but taking time to recharge can also be balanced with some preparation. Research shows that your first 100 days on the job will be vital – and you can give yourself a huge jump-start if you’re more aware of what you’re getting into.

Few of the CIOs I’ve worked with tend to give this opportunity much thought. It’s a shame, because the effort-to-reward ratio of any initial engagement prior to your first day on the job is exceedingly high – not least, it signals your willingness and commitment. In our own integration efforts with new hires we experience how important it is to offer third-party advice to executives and provide qualified feedback prior to day one, as well as in their first hundred days. On the part of the executive this calls for genuine openness and the constructive ability to deal with positive and negative feedback. Where that is given, the outcome is an immense increase in initial acceleration and effectiveness in the new role.

So what shape could your involvement take before day 1? It may just be a series of networking lunch meetings or after-work drinks, or the chance to meet more formally, even spending a day or two on-site.

But however you tackle this, your overall aim should be to:

  • Get a grip on the organization’s direction. Understanding the company’s overall position and where it’s headed is a fundamental issue. Is it racing to keep ahead of its rivals? Or is it struggling for survival? What are the plans for its IT infrastructure and all those online issues that involve both external marketing and internal processes? As CIO, you are a key business partner not only to the CEO, but to all key players in the firm. Whatever the status, this will be an important insight that will serve to shape your future IT strategy.
  • Understand the culture. One of the most common causes of failure in a new role is misjudging the firm’s cultural dynamic. Switching from a pushy, individualistic culture to one that values a consensus approach, for example, can result in some painful missteps. Gaining a prior sense of the mood will be invaluable. It can alert you to the cultural issues and pitfalls in the new environment that can trip you up all too easily. Then, once you start work, building a network of individuals who have real insight into your position and duties but are not intimately involved with your role is vital – people in a position to advise you about the informal rules of the new culture that surrounds you.
  • Work out the key stakeholders. Get a sense of which executives you’ll need to influence. Are they mostly front-office or back-office? Which regions are they in? Working this out will help you shape your agenda and decide who you meet with first, and most often, once you start.
  • Assess the team you’ll lead. Clearly, you’ll get to grips with this once you’re actually in the role. But gaining an early sense of the competencies, profile, experience and motivation of the team you’ll be leading will give you a big head-start when planning your first 100 days.
  • Decide on the impression you want to make. Following these steps will strengthen your ability to plan the initial impact and impression you can make in your first 100 days. Crucially, you’ll know whether making quick, radical changes would be well received, or if a more softly-softly, consultative approach is required.

Now, where’s that beach towel…

Magnus Graf Lambsdorff of Egon Zehnder focuses on the identification and integration of CIOs in the areas of telecom services, digital business models, and private equity.

4 thoughts on “How to get ready for your first 100 days as CIO

  1. Good summary, but I would add the need of assessing the value IT (application landscape) is currently contributing to the business. Potential major IT transformations will require a budget which may be easier to get in an early stage being a new CIO.

    1. Thanks for the addition Ulrich. Of course the sooner you can pitch your requirements to the right stakeholders the better. IT transformations would surely take a large chunk of the budget!

  2. Magnus, you are absolutely right. I know that from my own experience. Time passes quickly. Having survived the first 100 days with the “new” daily business you stop, reflect and find out that you might have selected the wrong focus. You’d better find out in advance to have more time for the beach towel later on. Regards, Alex

    1. Hi Alex, many thanks for your comment. It is great to hear the personal experiences from others who have faced many challenges during the first 100 days in post. We can all look back in hindsight, and wish we had done things differently. Much better to have a clear goal from the start.

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