Your first “60” days as CIO
There is no shortage of articles and posts on the web about the first 60 days as CIO. All of those pieces of content offer good, pretty obvious, politically correct advice. Hopefully, this post will prove a little different. We attempt to fill in the gaps left in other lists from a few decades of observing CIOs struggle through the first 60 days because of patterns they accept in the first 30.
So the first gap comes in the expectation of time. You don’t have 100 days or 60 days. You have 30 days. People’s opinions form quickly, and they last. I have worked with CIOs who were the working wounded beyond their first 30 days. Work on getting comfortable in the position first–in finding yourself in the role. Then you can do brilliant things. If you spend your first 30 days planning to be brilliant, you will never get comfortable, and you might lose the opportunity to do those brilliant things you envisioned.
- Know what you were hired for. Some CIOs join as change agents. Other as stewards. Others for continuous improvement. Some get hired to row a life raft, others to avoid catastrophe, and some to shepherd a transition. The interview process should have illuminated your purpose. Confirm it once hired through a combination of what executive stakeholders share, and the perception of your staff, partners and internal customers. If you were not hired to manage an IT transformation, then don’t start an IT transformation right away, even if you discover you need one. Figure out how to solve what you were hired for first. That’s what sold the CEO on the need for a new CIO. You can move onto other projects later that may require you to become the salesperson.
- Establish your competencies. Most of your staff did not interview you. They don’t know who you are, or more importantly, what you know. Find leaders to complement your weak areas quickly and start learning from them. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know. It is better to admit your weaknesses than be brought down by arrogance later. Also seek leaders in your areas of competency and start learning from them, but also evaluating them for alignment with your knowledge and ideas in those areas. How well your team teaches you, and how well they align with the direction you lean toward, will be crucial to you integrating as CIO—the longer you are an outsider, the longer it will take to deliver on the perceived needs that led to your hire.
- Own your time. If you open your schedule to all, you will get nothing done. A lot of meetings in the first 30 days that don’t teach you anything or require you to make decisions about things for which you can’t yet have an informed, data-driven position, doesn’t help anyone. Early on a lot of meetings will be requested by people who didn’t like decisions of your predecessor, or your staff. They are looking for an override. Don’t fall for those meetings. Delegate. Get your team to prepare evidence-based decision inputs. Or better yet, let them make the decisions. Don’t take every meeting. Make sure people perceive that you own your time, and therefore you own your agenda.
- Learn who knows how things work. The interview process and your research did not tell you much about how the organization you’re joining really works. Find people who can tell you how things really work—and where the potholes are. Do not constrain your advisors by level or number. If you need to understand an area other advisors don’t understand, add someone who does to your circle of trust.
- Identify stakeholders. Find the leaders and others who will determine if you are successful or not. Some advisories suggest looking for the real boss, but that is a much too narrow political view. Success will be determined by people other than a single leader, with or without their influencers. If you start a job and it quickly deteriorates into political infighting, then you probably can’t win. Your first 30 days should be focused on making the best of what you can do before you leave. New people even in senior roles find it hard to displace established players. You can play that game if you like, but it is usually better to focus on doing the best work you can do under the circumstances. Try not to get drawn into the debates that will leave you emotionally drained. Chances are this isn’t a long-term gig, so start looking for positive stakeholders, and don’t get emotionally attached.
On the other hand, your myriad stakeholders may be ready to support—and they may even be pining for leadership and direction. Find out what people need, not just what they want. When creating your map, document what success looks like for the various elements. You may find stakeholders define success in some areas in very different ways. That’s a later problem to negotiate through, but it is enlightening to capture early. Until you can normalize a common idea of success, communicate in the receiver’s terms.
- Communicate. Do not just sit back and take input. You do have some thoughts that no matter what you learn you will likely hold on to during your tenure. Think of these as your principles. And really think about them. Note in item 9 below on “bias” that biases toward technology or some management practices may require more evaluation for fit before you share your passion. Look to topics that fit anywhere, topics, like transparency, trust and authenticity, that if violated, will make you reconsider to relationships. Don’t be overly formal in all communications, or too-manifesto oriented. Let people get to know you. Figure out the channels people engage with and meet them there. Don’t post a blog or send an e-mail if no one reads e-mails or blogs. If people spend all their time in Slack channels, then communicate in Slack.
- Engage your talent. Some advisories suggest “managing your talent.” Managing is very different than engaging. A new CIO needs to get to know the staff, and they need to get to know you. Talk to them. Hang out in meetings to learn. Ask them to teach you about the organization. Given them mutually beneficial projects you think will help them get to know you better, and perhaps give them a new perspective on their organization. People don’t want to be managed. They know when they are being managed. They also know when they are genuinely being engaged. This may take some creativity, because, most likely, you have spent your entire career being managed and engaging won’t come naturally. Do it anyway.
- Build a map. A plan is a path toward a new place. A map is a representation of what exists. Without out a map, you can’t create a plan. Many new CIO advisories suggest developing a plan quickly. Don’t. Create a map first. Document what works and what doesn’t. Make it an actual map, with color codes and a legend. Include all the destinations your stakeholders aspire to. Then work the map. Encourage the areas that are working to keep doing the right things. Prioritize the destinations and then plot a path to achieving them through the current state of the organization. This will identify which areas need to be fixed, and for those that need repair, which are on the critical path to an aspiration. Items like your target operating model will emerge from the choices that arise from navigating the map.
- Let go of bias about what or how to do things. This is a tough one. You were brought in for experience, and experience often equates to “knows what to do.” Until you are on the ground you don’t know what you should do. You have a bias toward a list of things you think you should do (some likely derived from the aforementioned first 60- or 100-day lists). If some of your ideas don’t work out quickly when you test them, let them go for now. The same goes for a bias toward a technology or a practice. Flogging an unacceptable idea will not make it acceptable. Do what needs doing in an efficient and inclusive way. Save your grand thoughts for a book or a moment of crisis when invention might be called for.
- Self-evaluate. Most probationary periods assume the organization will decide to part ways if a new hire doesn’t work out. You are also continuing your evaluation of the organization. Within 30 days you should know if you can love or tolerate the new organization, or eventually dislike it. You need to make a decision about what works best for you as soon as you can. If there isn’t a fit, don’t prolong the engagement. LinkedIn won’t trace a 30-day employment gap. If, however, you decide you are all in, then be all in and start actively thinking about how to map your next 30 days.
At the end of the first 30 days
Can you really achieve all of this in 30 days? Probably not, but you should try to. For some, these activities will be informed by experience. In addition, the flow of activity will call upon you to configure your skills in new ways—owning your time will create moments for synthesis and reflection.
If you get overwhelmed, you may fall back on habits you promised not to bring to this job. So step away, take a breath and do what you intend, not just what comes without thinking.
Take the time to find yourself within the organization. Strategy requires knowledge and reflection. Don’t jump into planning a future without a good foundation. Once you build your map, plot courses aligned with the priorities, get to know the capabilities of your people and the expectations of your stakeholders, you can then start making good decisions. In the first 30 days, the best decision is to decide not to make big decisions in the first 30 days.
If you plan to be a data-driven leader, and you should, don’t start your career leading with intuition and inspiration as your primary inputs. You aren’t modeling the behavior you would like to see in others if you do.
You will figure out what to do over the next 30 days, or 60, or 70—our 1,000—but you first need to figure out who you want to be in this new role—find a way to bring the role to you. Once that happens, you can nurture, challenge, and change—you can choose paths and select colleagues for your core leadership team. All those other things a CIO is supposed to do.
You are new to this role. For the first 30 days, the biggest priority is you. Get that wrong, and nothing else will matter.
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What do you think?
Disagree? Did I miss something? Please write a comment, and let’s engage in making this list more valuable to current CIOs and all of the new CIOs in the future.