Your First 100 Days As CIO: Must-Do Items

New CIOs should start preparing during the interview process, say two McKinsey consultants. How good are your listening skills?

Michael Fitzgerald, Contributor

February 5, 2013

5 Min Read

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So, you've just become a CIO. You've got 100 days, tops, to make your mark, according to McKinsey consultants Michael Bloch and Paul Willmott. Just like the President, and new CEOs, that first three months on the job might well define your legacy.

The main takeaway of McKinsey's article: Start your first 100 days when you're interviewing for your job. This makes sense because when you're interviewing for your first CIO job, you might think you need to convince the company to hire you (and you do). But you also need to know what you're getting into. Use the interview not just to sell yourself, but also to find out what you're buying into. Fully one-third of McKinsey's 100-day action items are ones you should start during the interview, including these first three:

1.Start Your 100 Days Before Your First Day.

Learn about the organization's dynamic. Do your own interviewing: talk with corporate directors, systems integrators and others who know the company and its situation to know as much as you can going in. That will help you start to flesh out your action plan before you've even badged in.

[ Do you have the willpower to clear your inbox? Read All I Want For Christmas Is Less Email. ]

2. Clarify Your Mandate.

Before sitting down at your new desk, you need to know what the company wants from a CIO and how that will be measured. Keep assessing this as you start the job. You want to get control set upfront over who's doing the hiring and firing, who kills projects and who decides on things like outsourcing.

3. Understand Upsides And Downsides.

This must be a focus of your questions during the interview process. You need to know as much as you can about the industry sector, how competitors use technology and fail to, and what risks your company faces. Answers to these questions might not be very clear before you get to the company, but having a sense of them ahead of time helps set expectations, and should put you in better position to negotiate what you need to do the job before you take it.

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Once you've officially started your 100 days, you have a second set of things to do. Most of these will be obvious, but not simple:

4. Build Relationships.

Forge relationships with the CEO, with other executives, with business units. McKinsey gets a bit conflicted here. For instance, it wants you to figure out what priorities the business units have, but also "avoid conversations about executives' IT concerns." Of course you don't want to become a dartboard for the previous regime's missteps, but priorities and concerns sometimes map.

5. Develop A Plan, 6. Build A Team and 7. Rally The IT Organization With Your Vision are something of a set. The most important advice is probably around the team. Your best chance to change the team happens when you arrive. Don't squander it. These lead naturally to rule number 8. Demonstrate Leadership Through Visible Results And Actions, including killing a moribund project or outsourcing.

One thing McKinsey says that most CIOs probably wouldn't put on their list:

9. Continue Your Personal Journey.

New Age squishiness from McKinsey, an organization feared for its remorseless bloodletting? Common sense, more like. You're in a new job, quite possibly in a new company. You will need new skills, new ideas, new mentors and quite possibly a few consultants to mine for ideas. Knowing you have to travel a new path and doing it with intent can make a huge difference in a new job.

In a separate piece, a meaty interview with Ian Buchanan, the long-time CIO at a variety of banks and now the COO at Barclaycard talks about his first CIO job and how he survived some early mistakes, a good reality check because few of us skirt all the minefields in a new job.

He stresses one word for the new CIO: Listen. It's an interesting twist on leadership; don't come in and say, "I think," but listen to what other people are saying. It fits with Buchanan's thesis that the CIO job is about relationships and building trust. Listening is the foundation of both.

Buchanan's thesis plays out in a timely way in a recent The New York Times interview with Terry Leahy, the former CEO of Tesco. What Leahy says dovetails with McKinsey and Buchanan -- he thinks his success came from starting his job before he actually held it, including listening to people. That helped him quickly establish a vision that employees bought and were willing to push.

New CIOs should note that Leahy believes creating trust is essential. McKinsey's nine steps recommend outsourcing or offshoring as a quick way to win success as a CIO. However, outsourcing might damage trust in your IT organization. Same with removing underperformers, or someone who performs well but at the expense of the group. Make them happen in ways that build up, not undermine, morale for those who remain.

InformationWeek is surveying IT executives on global IT strategies. Upon completion of our survey, you will be eligible to enter a drawing to receive an Apple 32-GB iPad mini. Take our 2013 Global CIO Survey now. Survey ends Feb. 8.

About the Author(s)

Michael Fitzgerald


Michael Fitzgerald writes about the power of ideas and the people who bring them to bear on business, technology and culture.

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