How to make the right impact when you start a new CIO role

CIO_role_right_impactKnowing where to focus

For any executive starting a new role, getting a sense of where to focus first can inevitably be rather daunting, not least when navigating the politics of a new environment. But for CIOs this challenge can be especially intense. To help deal with this, CIOs need to focus on five core areas that will guide them on where to place their energies during the crucial first 100 days.

It’s a sinking feeling familiar to CIOs the world over: an executive colleague wants advice. But it’s not your years of experience, business vision or organizational skills he’s after – he’s hoping you can get his smartphone working.

How would you play this if you were new to the company? Do you establish your authority by explaining that your role is a little more strategic, even if it risks you being marked out as arrogant? Or do you risk undermining your credibility, but make a friend and ally, by fixing his smartphone?

There’s no right answer and, like many things, it depends on the nature of the organization you’ve joined. But this dilemma gets to the root of the challenge for many newly installed CIOs. The role has changed: companies still hire CIOs with great technical skills, but they also need individuals who can communicate at a human level. Above all, they want someone who understands the problems that the business faces and how technology might help to solve them.

Furthermore, your new colleagues will make their minds up about your abilities in these areas on the basis of how you negotiate your first 100 days in post. It’s not impossible to change perceptions later on, but it will be much harder than making the right first impression.

To establish yourself quickly as a technical expert, capable of providing coherent strategic advice and service to the business, try focusing on the following five areas when you meet colleagues during your first 100 days:

  • The market environment. This is the nitty-gritty of the world in which your organization operates. Assess the current and likely future conditions in your marketplace – and the business’ strategy for growth in that context.
  • Your colleagues’ expectations. You will have been hired with a brief from your new boss. But find out what colleagues who take services from IT – in practice, everyone in the business – are hoping for, and manage expectations if necessary.
  • The organization’s capabilities. What is your own function currently capable of and how does that compare to what the business needs? Also, consider the organization as a whole and whether technology solutions can deliver more.
  • Compliance. Work quickly to acquire a clear picture of the regulatory framework within which you must operate. Look externally at legislation and industry-specific regulations, and internally at the company’s control systems.
  • Risk. What are the risks to the business of any technology outages or security threats, and are plans in place to mitigate these risks?

5 thoughts on “How to make the right impact when you start a new CIO role

  1. Nice read. The first comment rings so true to me – I cannot tell you how many times as CIO, I have asked to fix someones laptop or smartphone because I am “IT”, but as you point out, Uwe, the CIO needs to decide when it is time to go the extra mile to get an ally onboard, or to simply turn the other cheek as it’s not part of the remit.

  2. Very good post! I can very much relate to your anecdote.
    I know of a company where the CEO asked his CIO to allow him the use of products by a certain smartphone manufacturer (of course with access to many of the firm’s systems) while the rest of the employees used a different product. Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place…

    1. Thanks Kathrin. Indeed, how does the CIO explain that to the rest of his team whilst trying to be seen as a team player!

  3. Uwe, these are good areas to focus on. I would like to add one further point from my experience.
    Taking a closer look at the current portfolio of IT projects helps to understand underlying issues within the IT on the one handside.
    On the other handside, it provides a reliable picture of the to-be IT function in a couple of years.
    This facilitates insights, how leadership and IT employees see their IT function in a couple of years.
    Regards, André

    1. Hi Andre, thanks for your input. In order to be the CIO that stands out, he/she should look to deliver transformation and bring business model innovation. That might not happen straight away of course, but it makes the successful CIO stand out from the crowd! “Keeping the lights on” should be a given.

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