4 Steps: How to get off to a great start as a CIO

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Will Astbury
by Will Astbury 27 September 2016

Moving into a new CIO role can be one of the most challenging, intimidating, and satisfying times in your career.

Starting at a new company with its own unique challenges and culture can be a daunting prospect so it’s best to go in on your first day with an open mind, a lot of research about your new employers, and a core strategy.

If you are a Chief Information Officer (CIO) that is about to or is planning to move roles, you can use this article to help you prepare for your new job and make an immediate impact.

Step One: Learn

As soon as you accept your job offer, your research into your new employer and their clients must begin in earnest. Whether you’re still working for your former employer or you’re preparing to start this new role after a career break, you need to make time to learn about the organisation you will be work with and you need to learn fast

In his excellent article for CIO Magazine, Arif Harbott, Chief Digital and Information Officer at UK Ministry of Justice, said that new CIOs need to immerse themselves in everything to do with the organisation.

Harbott wrote that CIOs wanting to learn about a new employer should:

  • “Study analyst reports on strategy, structure, performance, and people.
  • Analyse annual reports.
  • Read articles by employees, customers, suppliers and industry experts.
  • Talk with your predecessor (if possible).
  • Meet your new boss for an informal chat.”

Similarly, Jim Ditmore, experienced IT manager for the financial and telecoms industries, on his blog Recipes for IT said before starting a role a CIO “should be thinking about what is the right vision for the role to be successful. And this vision must match up with the corporate mindset and reflect your approach to IT”.

Step Two: Hit The Ground Running

Both Ditmore and Harbott agree that CIOs must immediately roll-up their sleeves and begin laying the foundations for successful IT management.

During the first week, Harbott said a CIO should:

  • “Get an office tour to get your bearings.
  • Familiarise yourself with your work device, calendar, email etc.
  • Meet with at least five key stakeholders.
  • Arrange 1-2 hours with your new boss.
  • Review detailed strategy plans, performance and personnel data.
  • Meet one-on-one with your direct reports.
  • Introduce yourself to the team.
  • Speak to frontline staff and listen to their issues and ideas.
  • Look through the project, programme and portfolio backlogs
  • Spend some time out on the shop floor in your branches.
  • Download your company's mobile app and browse the website.
  • Spend a few hours at your call centre and listen to operator calls.
  • Visit some customers to elicit their opinions of your service.
  • Check out your competitors.
  • Visit internal operations to understand the journey your product takes from raw materials, to the customer.
  • Spend time with your technology teams to understand problems, build trust, and help unblock issues.”

By the end of the first month Harbott expects that a CIO would have met with all key stakeholders, have a deep understanding of the organisation technical landscape, learnt about the company’s governance and operational procedures, found out how customers and suppliers view the company and got a good understanding of the budget.

Ditmore said: “You should begin communicating your vision almost immediately upon starting the role. It must be simple and direct. And it must be worthy of achieving. You can, and should start with broad strokes, focusing first on the cultural aspects (i.e., quality and service availability will be job 1, or we will become the best xxx platform in the industry… etc). Then, as you gain the knowledge on the corporate initiatives and the areas and changes to be addressed, you can fill the vision with clear goals and an effective outline on how to get where you want to go.”

In his blog for EY Global, Uwe Michael Mueller suggested that within the first 100 days of starting a new role CIOs should focus on five core areas:

  1. “The market environment. Assess the current and likely future conditions in your marketplace – and the business’ strategy for growth in that context.
  2. 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.
  3. The organisation’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.
  4. 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.
  5. Risk. What are the risks to the business of any technology outages or security threats, and are plans in place to mitigate these risks?”

Step Three: Build A Strong Team

Your team is everything. They have the technological prowess and you have the vision and the management skills. They bring your ideas to life but would be directionless without you. Therefore, it is important to build a team that reflects your ideals.

When beginning a new role, a CIO should start by identifying and promoting the best internal talent. Give the organisation’s top performers the opportunity to step deliver at a higher level. This shows that you reward good contributions and will instil trust within your team.

For the people that have underperformed you should immediately meet with them to understand the issue and offer training and mentoring. If their performance remains poor, then they should be found new roles or asked to leave.

This should be followed by hiring new people that possess the skills that you require. Skilled IT staff resources can be hard to come by. Build a relationship with an established IT recruitment agency as they have the network, the time and the experience to find the people you need.

Step Four: Define Success When You Start

It is important to define what success looks like with your boss at the start of your tenure as CIO. Harbott recommends having three key conversations with your boss which will establish your objectives and help you to prioritise your resources.

The first conversation will define expectations. Ask your boss what areas to focus on in the short-term, what success looks likes, and how your performance will be measured.

In the second conversation address the topic of ‘resource management’. Define what resources you have and what you will need to implement your strategy, discuss staff capabilities gaps and vacancies, and outline the operational, maintenance, and change budgets.

Finally, discuss how you should interact for maximum effectiveness. Determine the frequency and format of one-to-one meetings, discuss preferred methods of communication, outline how decisions will be signed off, and try to understand your boss’s appetite for risk, disruption and change.

If you would like advice about building a team or developing your own career, contact Crimson via 01675 466 477 and ask for one of our IT recruitment specialists.

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Crimson is an IT consultancy, an IT solutions provider, an IT recruitment agency, and a Microsoft Gold Partner with offices in Birmingham and the City of London.

Topics: IT Recruitment, CIO