What Should New CIOs Focus on In Their First 100 Days?

February 26, 2024  |  Mark Hillary

The first quarter of the year always brings a series of articles focused on trends for the year ahead. This is to be expected — everyone wants to look ahead when they are still in the darkness of January and February. However, I saw an interesting Gartner report that focused on this question in a different way.

Imagine that you are a new CIO. You just arrived at your new company and the technology used across the business is all under your responsibility. What would you do first?

This question has a positive and negative answer, and both are important to understand. What are the top actions you must take to define your leadership and the direction that the technology strategy will take, but also what are the top pitfalls that need to be avoided?

On the positive side, Gartner sets out these objectives as an initial approach to leading a new IT team:

  • Build credibility. Set the tone and direction for what you want to accomplish by determining both the priorities of your new company and how this matches your own personal ambition.
  • Ensure that your team and the tech being used are aligned to the present, but can also be scaled for the future.
  • Learn what works right now. Spend time with the team. Learn about the present operating model. Find gaps in motivation, talent, and workload.
  • Identify the most common issues that prevent change and progress. What is there in the company culture politics that may prevent new ideas taking hold?
  • Explore morale and fatigue in the team so you can lead change from a place where you are demonstrating a genuine improvement — you truly know what doesn’t work, so team members will buy in to change.

What is interesting about all these key steps or objectives is that they are largely focused on change and leadership, not technology. A new IT leader needs to build a network, find the problems, find what works and doesn’t work, and find out how the team really feels about the situation at present. You can’t build a credible roadmap to the future by importing it from another organization — it needs to be created by understanding the challenges of the existing team.

Communication and leadership are the real key to success.

But the Gartner report also focused on the five main pitfalls that CIOs fall into. These are the traps that prevent a new CIO from being an effective leader. The report says:

  • Pitfall 1: You build a brand that your enterprise is not interested in.
  • Pitfall 2: You make assumptions about the capabilities and capacities of IT.
  • Pitfall 3: You take action to improve how IT is perceived, based on fragmented and biased feedback.
  • Pitfall 4: You underestimate the importance of enterprise culture and politics.
  • Pitfall 5: You fail to focus on the importance of being a change leader.

I think these pitfalls, combined with the positive steps, are really powerful advice. Many people working in tech still make the assumption that a good CIO is someone with deep technical expertise. Of course, they need to understand what technology can do and what might be coming next year, but they don’t need to install it.

A great CIO understands how the business can use technology to improve their business processes and how they can get the entire workforce to support the technology – because they see it as an improvement.

Culture, office politics, and people that are invested in the old way of doing things are much more powerful than a new technology tool that will ‘revolutionize our business.’ Most people don’t like radical change. They want to see that the new ideas you are suggesting make their life better.

The most successful CIO is a great leader and communicator — not just a tech evangelist.

For more information on technology strategy and how tech connects to real business solutions please click here.

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