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CIO Confidential: Advice for a New or Tenured Technology Leader

Nothing is more exciting than taking a new role in a new company.  I mean for one you get a fresh start and a green field on which to bring your previous experience into a new organization.

But what if you have been in the same CIO/CTO/CISO role for some time and love the company that you work for?  Perhaps is it time for a refresh and a new approach with your current team? Or worse case, you might be struggling to achieve success and you are not quite ready to give up the fight?

In a series of CIO Roundtables, members of the CIO Professional Network weighed in to provide advice for a New or Tenured CIO/CTO/CISO. Comments have been edited for clarity and confidentiality.

What advice would you give to a newly hired CIO/CTO/CISO?  What is the best way to assess the landscape and make an impact in their new company?

  • Define who is your customer – is it your CEO, board, external paying customers, internal business units? Until you have 100% clarity on whose happiness your employment rests no matter what you do you won’t be moving the needle forward. You can still focus on the basics (run/grow/transform) so no one can say you aren’t minding the shop or keeping internal employees or systems going while chasing the customer.
  • It is important to get to know everyone on the IT team and find out what is important to them. Set up meetings with every single one of them and ask about their expectations of me in my role, what they want from a career development perspective, and how we can make the department better.
  • Start with a consistent assessment process and report not only to the executive team but also the Board of Directors (BOD). Build this relationship on the right foot and come back with an update after 90 days.
  • Learn the capabilities of your new organization. This applies to not only your direct reports, but also to your executive peers. Learn about how the organization has handled change in the past. Is it tolerant to change or resistant?
  • It is all about the business – technology is secondary. Spend time upfront with the business functions – if you are in manufacturing, see the plants, if you are in a delivery business, take route rides, etc. See how the business actually works. Technology is just a means to an end and not the end itself.
  • Recognize that you suddenly work for everyone – senior leaders at your organization, your direct reports and others in your organization, and all of your user community. This relates to the need for “servant leadership.”
  • There is also a need for someone that is promoted to this role to pay special attention to those that used to be peers. I have seen that be a challenge and you need to focus on changing that relationship while still making sure that you leverage the (hopefully) strong connections built over the years.
  • Of utmost importance is strong communication, active listening, creating engagement and developing partnerships.
  • Avoid the tendency to make a big splash with immediate changes. Small incremental improvements helps build credibility to afford the big changes.
  • Depending on the state of the organization, try and get a deep understanding of the lay of the land. Everything you see and experience on day one may not be all of the truth.

How as a tenured leader can you start afresh in your current role? How best can one reset and approach their current role with the vigor they had when they started in the organization?

  • Start by meeting with the business unit heads, and explain that you have been reflecting on the company and how much you love the culture and what your team is doing. With that in mind, you want to be a better business partner and see what your team can do to help them be more successful and add more value to the company. Then shut up and listen – allow the 10 seconds of awkward silence and the other person will naturally start talking. You may want to also host office hours for any employee to come by and discuss challenges and new solutions. That will get your attention from the top and bottom, ultimately helping drive new success.
  • It may tough to start fresh, but it is important to let all stakeholders know that you are committed to positive change. Restart all relationships as if they are new and ask for regular one-on-one time with all involved. Develop a mindset that the past is the past, that you are in a new situation so let’s figure out the best course going forward mutually for all involved.
  • It is important to let your Senior Leadership team know that you want to start with a clean slate. Forget about any issues you have had in the past and let’s move forward from this point. Perhaps you had a history of saying no and want to change that. Let your stakeholders know that if they asked for something in the past and we had said no, ask again. Ask for complete honesty from them if there were IT systems or people that weren’t working for them.

What are your thoughts on this advice? What would you add? Feel free to join in the comments below.

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