I recently read the book “The First 90 Days” by Michael Watkins. It is quite good and is a book worth reading. The book is an excellent resource for “anyone being promoted, onboarding onto
a company or taking on a new professional role”. Reading this book got me thinking. What don’t I put on paper what I think is the best use of the first 90 days of a new CIO? I could see many articles of this nature on the internet. Some of them are listed at the end of this article. There are many more such. All these articles give unique perspectives on your priorities in the first 90 days of a CIO’s job.
In this series of posts, I would like to give my perspectives. These observations are based on my experience, both positive and negative. In this first post, I look at what a new CIO should do in the first 15 days and the first 30 days (the first month). The first thing (first 15 days) to remember is that the people who hired you went through a harrowing time trying to decide who the right person is for the job. And they chose you. Let us be very clear that all the other candidates who made the final cut were at least as good as you. They decided on you because they felt that you had the slight edge over the others in areas they consider as priority for the organisation. The one key point here that the your manager (through the interview board) has put her neck on the line by putting her confidence in you. You need to prove to the organisation that she was right in choosing you. It is important that you meet with her in the first few days and chalk out your plan for the first 90 days, the first six months and for the first year. These plans can be very broad initially but you can make it more specific as you go along.
The other key point here is organisational priority. As I mentioned before, you were chosen so that you could start working on implementing the organisation’s priorities. Understand from your manager what these priorities are and make sure that your plans address these. Also ensure you understand what her expectations from you are. In these meetings you should also understand the anatomy of the organisation, who’s who, the organisational strategy, yearly plans and how the IT plans and budgets fit into the organisational plans. Many a time you will be presented with an IT strategy that you need to execute. This is not a bad thing. Go over this with your manager ensure that all objectives are still valid and they are in line with the organisational strategy. After the first 90 days you will have enough information to make any changes required to this strategy. Of course, if there is no current IT strategy or the strategy is obsolete, you will need to look at making a new one. But, here is a caveat. Do this only after understanding the organisation and its needs well. That is, after your first 90 days. The second thing to do (in the first 30 days) is to get to know your stakeholders. Your first lot of key stakeholders are your manager, your peers, your manager’s peers, your manager’s manager and of course, your team. Schedule meetings with all these people, understand their concerns, priorities and pain points with respect to IT. The other lot of key stakeholders will be the business users. Your manager and your peers will help you figure out who are the key people here. You need to ensure that the influential people in this group are on your side. Make sure that you discuss your broad plans with these people and as with the other group understand their concerns, priorities and pain points.
Creating a stakeholder map and figuring out who is likely to support you, who is likely to be neutral and who is likely to oppose you when you go ahead with your plan implementation is very critical. You may want to work with your manager to figure out how to convert some of the “sceptics” to either “friends” or “neutrals.” One way to convert some of the sceptics is to show some quick wins in their pain areas. These are especially effective in areas of systems for personal productivity that has been plaguing them for a long time. Remember that at this point you are in the meeting to ask questions and understand their needs, not to offer solutions. So ask away. Don’t forget to meet and understand the expectations of the support departments like Admin, HR etc. If your role is that of global CIO of an organisation with an integrating role, you will need to ensure that you talk to some of the most powerful of the Executive Directors of the countries and understand their needs properly. Discuss your overall plans with them and ensure that you set the right expectations with them. You will need to be keenly aware of any cultural nuances and differences so that you do not misinterpret any discussion points. It will be a good idea to write back to the people you have met outlining what was discussed and their key concerns and pain points. You can seek any additional inputs from them also at this stage. It goes without saying that you should meet your team a few times both in a group and one-on-one with each team member. You will need to figure out who are good at their jobs and who are only average. Don’t be in a hurry to fire people. Giving the impression that you are a cowboy may not bode well for future interactions and work. Of course, after your first 90 days, you may find that a couple of people are quite poor performers and that they are a drag on the others. You will need to work with your manager and HR to figure out a way to sort this issue out. You may need to retrain them, assign them to other jobs or, if everything else fails, ultimately fire these people. One of the things that your manager may tell you is that you need to “restructure” your department. This may be a process that is going on in other departments. My suggestion to you here is that you should not be in a hurry. You can make plans for this and implement this after you have properly understood the organisation and the people and the role each person plays. You may be asked, for example, to cut your staff by “half.” In these cases it is best to ensure that you know who your best people are.
In the next post we will look at the second month of a CIO’s new job.