By Patricia Kutza
Talk with any CIO about their first month on the job, and it’s likely that few tales will match up, as feedback is tempered by unique backgrounds and experiences. The common denominator is that all CIOs face great scrutiny during those initial weeks as everyone from the CEO to the secretary is watching to see how the new tech leader plans to shape a company’s strategic vision.
Success in the first month, and future achievements, is all tied to processes and approaches a CIO initiates when he or she first comes onboard. Here are five important factors that can help you make that first month on the job the start of a winning tenure.
1. Focus first on staff issues rather than tech issues
Quickly learning the "ropes" of the company, understanding how IT policy is formed, and determining what the ongoing projects involve are critical tasks for any new CIO. Yet former Carnival Cruise Lines CIO Jim Bussey said learning where the company’s “pain points” are, in relation to the IT unit, can reap greater benefits. The key, he said, is learning who’s frustrated and why. “From that comes the list of issues that need to be prioritized, followed by the potential solutions,” he explained.
2. Get everyone on the same page
A key goal during the first month is unifying the tech strategy—an often-difficult task, as staff and various business units often bring different "languages" (i.e., tech specialties and interests) and priorities to the table.
“It’s the CIO’s job to tie them all together. You need to set up communication processes so you understand what your department is doing and know what other executives believe your department should be doing,” said Bill Bergeron, CIO for Daisytek, a global equipment supplier.
Opening these communication doors, however, brings some potential risks for new leaders, as other employees may want to capitalize on your newness.
“Since I was the new guy, I understood that everybody saw this as a chance to make requests that may or may not be best for the company,” explained Bergeron. “At the end of each day, you must have the CEO’s agenda and the best interest of the company first on your list.”
Establishing good communication is an important icebreaker, Bussey believes. “New CIOs, like any new leaders, must establish themselves as just that, and the IT people will be nervous, cynical, maybe even hostile. Defuse that with constant contact,” he suggested. “The sooner your people know the CIO and his or her style, the sooner they will become comfortable and refocus on the job at hand.”
Communication played a pivotal role for Paulette Scheffer, CIO of Candle Corporation, an e-business services provider.
Scheffer built a communications strategy to address the lower level of corporate confidence felt by employees who had just survived a round of force reductions.
“I had to rebuild trust and confidence, infuse energy back into the organization, and get the employees focused on moving forward,” she said, adding that letting employees know what to expect in the near term helps them feel more stable in their current environment.
3. Build alliances that are aligned with your company's vision
An important factor during Mark Endry's first weeks as CIO at collaborative software provider J.D. Edwards was overcoming disparate reporting structures.
Endry realized he needed to be selective about where and how he used his influence, and that helped lay the groundwork for success.
“Focus on your strengths,” he advised. “Find a few quick internal wins, and provide a lot of visibility for the people who achieved the wins. This sets the table for others to succeed.”
4. Tread lightly while listening intently
While it’s tempting to just hit the ground running, it’s a big mistake, advises executive management consultant Diane Downey. The first goal should be to assess the existing systems before making any sweeping change, she advised.
“Many newbie CIOs make the error of moving too fast with their own agenda, rather than taking the time to understand the diverse needs of the businesses they support,” said Downey, adding that crafting an initial plan that demonstrates close listening helps to establish that all-important credibility.
There’s also value in putting a little distance between yourself and the mental baggage you may be bringing from past experiences, Downey said.
“A situation might look like it doesn’t make sense based on your past experience, but it could make sense once you learn more about the environment that you are now in.”
5. Help others view technology as beneficial
“Technology can be a geeky world,” Bergeron said. “If you have made it as a CIO, hopefully you have shed some of that geekiness and can converse with others in the company. Remember that they are simply trying to get their jobs done, and technology can be their biggest asset or their biggest frustration. Your job is to make it an asset.”
Patricia Kutza is a San Francisco-based freelance technology writer. She specializes in company profiles, feature articles, trend reports, and white papers for traditional and new-media channels.