The new CIO playbook (psst…this works well for other IT leadership jobs, too)

So you’ve survived the multiple interview trips, haggled over your new compensation package and persuaded a reluctant spouse to relocate (yet again!).  Today is your first day on the job as a new CIO.  What are you going to do?

You’ll initially be surrounded by dozens of managers and staff members who are dying to tell you what they do and why it’s important.  You’ll be hailed as a messiah by self-proclaimed change agents who would like to convert you into a champion for their personal crusades.  You may be inclined to conduct detailed assessments of the applications and infrastructure assets that you’ve inherited.  The vendors who supplied these applications and assets will be lined up at your door as well, desperately seeking an opportunity to educate you about the next generation of their products.

All of the activities referenced above have merit and could readily fill your calendar during the next 3-6 months.  But individually and collectively they’re unlikely to make you successful during your first year on the job.  In my humble opinion, the initial playbook that any new IT leader should follow consists of the following activities.

Follow the money

IT organizations spend a lot of money.  It’s important to develop a first-order understanding of the correlation between IT’s cost structure and specific features of your company’s business model.  Are customer-facing sales and marketing operations responsible for a significant portion of IT spending or are manufacturing and distribution bigger cost drivers?  It’s equally important to understand where the money is going.  What’s the mix of full time employees, contractors and managed service providers that are supporting day-to-day IT operations?  Who are your strategic vendors and are you achieving economies of scale in your dealings with them versus spreading your spending across a wide variety of best-of-breed suppliers?  Understanding your cost structure, your cost drivers and potential savings opportunities will go a long way towards establishing your financial credibility with other members of the executive team.

Get the other executives to like you

Spending time with your fellow executives during the first few months on the job will pay enormous dividends in the future.  You need to see the business through their eyes and understand the challenges and opportunities they are facing.  An hour in an airport lounge between flights or a dinner on the road with a fellow executive will allow you to build up a bank of emotional capital that you’ll inevitably need when you’re seeking their support for a future IT initiative or asking their forgiveness for a major IT screw up.  Spending time with your peers is educational as well.  You’ll soon discover that many of the problems impeding the success of the business have nothing to do with technology but are directly attributable to misaligned compensation plans, sales force churn, union work rules or petty personal battles within the ranks of the business management team.

Test your management team

To understand the true capabilities of your team and assess their collective ability to support your agenda, you need to force each team member out of their personal comfort zone and test their abilities through some type of special project or assignment.  If the leader of the Enterprise Architecture team traditionally prepares the annual budget pitch, assign that task to the leader of the Infrastructure team instead.  Have the leader of the Applications team analyze the operational efficiency of the Service Desk and suggest ways of improving effectiveness while reducing cost.  Ask the leader of the Information Security team to assess the efficiency of sprint planning within the Applications group and make improvement suggestions.  You’ll discover that your team will work much more effectively when they have deeper insight into one another’s problems and they’ll become more deeply dedicated to the success of the overall IT organization instead of being preoccupied with the success of their individual departments. 

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