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Start 2012 Like You Have A New Job

CIOs and IT leaders should take a first 90 days mindset to start the year on the right track. Define a clear vision, get connected, and inspect.

This is my first column for InformationWeek. Having served in IT management for 25 years, 14 of them as a CIO or CTO, I'm looking forward to sharing my insights into how to tackle the tough but solvable business technology problems we all face. In addition to drawing from personal experiences, I'll provide some sensible perspectives on the latest technologies and trends.

Let's start with a subject that's relevant to not just those embarking on a new IT leadership position, but to every business technology leader who wants to start the year on the right track. What should you do in the first 90 days?

Move quickly and decisively. The first 90 days isn't about settling in and meeting people and deciding the decor for your office. Nor is it about starting up a bunch of cool pet projects for the CEO. Your focus should be on three main things:

-- Set the vision and goals for your team. Begin communicating your vision almost immediately. Start with broad strokes, focusing first on the cultural aspects--for example, our No. 1 job will be quality and service availability, or we will become the best X platform in the industry, or we will be efficient and easy for customers to use. If you're starting a new role, you should be sorting out your vision even before you start. Then, as you gain more knowledge about corporate initiatives and priorities, fill around your vision with clear goals.

Make sure your vision pays heed to the meat and potatoes of the company's primary value chain. I find it useful to sort aspirations from the main thrust of the company. Usually, the corporate vision can be easily cascaded to your vision, but ensure that aspirational elements (such as product innovation in a company that's been successful based on great customer service or operational efficiency) aren't front and center.

When I first started as CIO at an online brokerage company, the business aspirational talk was about how could we deliver the latest cool stock research tool. But given pressing availability issues, we focused instead on reliability and making our Web interface fast and simple. This work catalyzed with our corporate brand of being easy to use and trustworthy. The end result was hundreds of thousands of new customers, and fast and simple became the main thrust of our corporate marketing campaign.

Keep your vision simple and direct. Then, as you learn more, work with your team to develop clear goals and progress metrics that drive to your vision.

-- Connect with all the stakeholders of IT--your customers, peers, boss, and team. Obviously, you'll meet early and often with your direct reports and their managers. Listen first, but also communicate your vision and key operating principles. If you make commitments in these early meetings, you must absolutely meet them. Your reputation is on the line.

Spend plenty of time connecting with your boss and key peers. Make sure you understand fully what's needed and expected. Use these sessions to sound out the company vision, goals, plans, and initiatives. And if these executives mention that you ought to look into something, it's not a hint--put it at the top of your priority list.

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Meet with your team, all of your staff. Visit them onsite. Don't just talk to them; set up forums that encourage questions and discussion. But don't forget to succinctly communicate your vision and key expectations.

Meet with your customers--and listen to them. What are the underlying issues troubling them? Follow up these sessions with time to discuss and set joint expectations and goals.

I've often found that the biggest issue colleagues and users have with IT is a lack of responsiveness. And if you don't take the time to listen and then follow up on your commitments to them, you won't establish strong relationships with them. When I started at a large company several years ago, I was warned about the acrimonious relationship IT had with a very powerful business leader. After meeting with him and listening, we were able to sort out the small but persistent issues that had poisoned the waters for years. Subsequently, he became one of IT's staunchest advocates.

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