First Days on the Job as a CIO

Becoming chief information officer is a goal for many IT professionals. But what do you do when you finally get there?

Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data

January 31, 2024

6 Min Read
Brian Jackson via Alamy Stock

Your career goal was to become CIO, and now you’ve achieved the position. For your first 60 days on the job, here are the things you should do first to set a course for long-term success.

1. Get to know your boss and peers.

Being a successful CIO is a political, not just a technical job. It begins with getting to know your boss, which in most cases will be the CEO. What kind of person is the CEO? What does he or she think IT must accomplish to be successful, and what types of past IT performance would the CEO just as soon avoid? Does the CEO have an IT background?

In many cases, you have been brought on as a CIO because the former CIO was fired. Identify what happened with the old CIO, and how can you get off on the right foot, so the same thing doesn’t happen to you?

In other cases, you might have been hired by a smaller company that has never had a CIO. This can be an advantageous situation because it gives you broad latitude in defining the CIO position and in setting IT goals.

In both cases, your initial meeting with the CEO will further your understanding of what your new company needs and expects from you as CIO. Yet, that’s not all when it comes to getting to know people.

Beyond the CEO, there is the senior management team. They are very influential on how IT and the CIO are perceived. In most cases, you will find some of these team members to be highly supportive while others might be less than enthusiastic, even adversarial.

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You will hit the “right chord” with them all if you are the one to take the initiative by introducing yourself, meeting with them in their offices, or going out to lunch. This is the first step in the relationship building you will need to do with this team. It also gives you insight into who is most likely to support you, where you can expect opposition, and what you must do to navigate these relationships.

2. IT staff: Learn the room.

My first job out of college was as a high school teacher in a very rough central city school. Quickly, my survival instincts kicked in, and I realized that I had to “learn the room.”

Learning the room isn’t a new concept. Teachers do it all the time, as do entertainers. What it means is that you sense the atmosphere and the mood of a group of people so you can determine the best path to reach them and build a relationship.

This same principle is vital when you’re a new CIO, and you want to know what kind of IT department you have. In my career, I came in as a new CIO in three different organizations, and each “room” was different.

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In one case, IT was in total disarray, and staff were demoralized, and even hostile toward each other. In another case, the staff was capable technically, but projects had been mismanaged and customers were angry. In still another case, the company really didn’t have a formal IT department. It had hired me to build one.

I learned quickly that all rooms (i.e., IT departments) are unique. As a new CIO, you have to take the time to assess personalities and the work teams, and then plan your approach.

Calling a department meeting to introduce yourself is a good first step. After that, you should make it a point to meet and get to know your IT leaders and managers, and then to circulate so you can get to know IT staff on a first-name basis.

Taking these steps will ease the minds of your staff because they will get to know you. Meeting them will also signal to them that you are open and accessible. This creates fertile ground for growing productive and trusting relationships.

At the same time, you can note staff strengths and weaknesses. You can begin to see who your shining stars and natural leaders are, and where there are difficult personalities or skills shortages.

The bottom line is that if you’re commanding the IT ship, you must understand the crew that you’re sailing with, what they’re capable of at their best, and where you need help.

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3. Visit the users.

Part of your initial work will be meeting with IT staff and discussing IT projects, but it’s also important to visit user line managers and staff to talk about projects and how IT is doing.

This enables you to open up conversations with end users at every level of the organization. It will help you in the critical ongoing CIO role you will play long after you’ve become a fixture in IT. That role is to meet often informally (and if necessary, formally) with end users at all levels to ensure that projects are going well. If they’re not, you will need to clear the roadblocks so projects can succeed.

4. Review project priorities, successes, and failures.

The easiest part of the CIO’s job in the first 60 days is to review projects, initiatives, priorities, and timelines. This you can do in your office, and also by walking around, speaking and listening to people.

During this time, you’ll want to take a look at the corporate strategic plan and the IT strategic plan so you can see how well IT is aligning and delivering on key business objectives. You also will be able to see the IT project successes, and to understand why those projects succeeded. At the end of the day, you will have your own impressions of where IT needs to change, and where it can keep doing things well, but don’t jump to conclusions yet!

Instead, meet with your key IT staff, end users and management to get their impressions of where projects and goals stand. Don’t make sweeping changes in IT priorities and project directions until you’ve confirmed that you, the business and your IT staff are all in strategic and operational alignment.

A Last Word

As you’ve been reading this article, you might be wondering if being a CIO is more political than technical. The short answer is, yes, it is. In fact, on any given day, the CIO probably spends three quarters of his or her time on things political so the technical IT work done by staff can be facilitated.

This can be a hard reality for many newly minted CIOs if they cut their teeth and advanced their careers through their technical acumen. However, for those who can make the transition to a role that requires as much people communication as technical knowledge, the CIO career path is a fabulous choice.

About the Author(s)

Mary E. Shacklett

President of Transworld Data

Mary E. Shacklett is an internationally recognized technology commentator and President of Transworld Data, a marketing and technology services firm. Prior to founding her own company, she was Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturer in the semiconductor industry.

Mary has business experience in Europe, Japan, and the Pacific Rim. She has a BS degree from the University of Wisconsin and an MA from the University of Southern California, where she taught for several years. She is listed in Who's Who Worldwide and in Who's Who in the Computer Industry.

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