Navigating the 'new CIO' startup period

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Navigating the 'new CIO' startup period

Comment: Brand new CIO? Here's what to expect.

New CIOs – and IT leaders positioning themselves for the CIO role – are often unsure what to expect during the first year or so in the job.

CIOs who are brand-new to the CIO role typically move through several stages during their startup period. The startup period for new CIOs will normally last 12 to 21 months.

The 2011 Gartner CIO survey revealed that CIO jobs typically last for 4.8 years, so making an impact quickly becomes crucial.

Brand-new CIOs need to use their startup period to get a grip on what they've inherited, what they plan to do about it and how they plan to build the future.

Within months, they must understand past decisions, fix the worst problems, create action plans, define future direction, initiate substantive change, and rally people around them.

Through conversations and engagements with new CIOs, we have detected a startup period roughly composed of three stages:

Stage 1: Assess and Engage (3-6 Months)

Here, CIOs conduct rapid reconnaissance and repair. They assess the environment and the situation, fix burning problems that have been left undone, identify key areas of problem and opportunity, and create a rough timeline of what they need to do and when.

Their connection with others — peers, direct reports, business leaders, executives and individual contributors — will set the tone for the remaining stages.

In these early days:

  • Quickly orchestrate an input plan from senior executives, business unit leaders, direct reports and individual contributors.
  • Build an inventory of services, applications and technologies; projects and programs under way; and established metrics and performance measures.
  • Develop a "power map" both inside and especially outside the IT organisation.
  • Encourage storytelling to uncover the culture and its beliefs. Above all, be active and visible during this period.

 

Stage 2: Prepare and Act (+3-6 Months)

Here, CIOs go public. They identify what changes are required, what it means to business and IT stakeholders, which initiatives they will focus on, and what operating model and roles will be required to get there.

You might consider:

  • Delivering a state-of-the-union address to reinforce goals, operating principles and pivotal initiatives. Introduce the most important priorities, and solicit input.
  • Seeking face time with business influencers. Use that time wisely to present how your plans will integrate business, information and technology to enhance performance.

Stage 3: Change and Build (+6-9 Months)

During Stage 3, CIOs concentrate on change.

The workforce is usually brittle after 18 months of plugging away at service delivery, costs, metrics and deadlines, so CIOs must build trust and relationships to re-engage people, address morale, capitalise on strengths, shore up weaknesses and set the tone for the future.

Organisational success and mission depend almost entirely on the people who surround new CIOs, so people decisions must be made carefully.

Create a change plan and timelines and designate a qualified program manager to make it happen. Aggressive, substantial changes require attention to communication and occasional resets of the timing. Prepare and deliver an executive update to your peers, major stakeholders and the strategic planning council.

Throughout the startup period, people will be judging you. They'll form opinions based on your knowledge, understanding and cultural sensitivity.

Systematically working through the three startup phases will build credibility, knowledge, priorities and trust quickly and move you towards long-term CIO effectiveness and success.

Once the startup period closes, you will have repaired the biggest holes, created a plan of action for new services and competencies, and defined an organisation that will take you towards your "new normal".

Diane Morello is a managing vice president and Gartner Fellow Emeritus in the Executive Leadership and Innovation research group.

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