Four Conversations To Have In Your First 30 Days As CIO

Post written by

Jeffrey Ton

SVP of Product Development and Strategic Alliances at InterVision, and author of "Amplify Your Value: Leading IT with Strategic Vision."

There’s a lot to handle in your job as chief information officer, and getting off on the right foot impacts your ability to perform in your role long-term. In your first 30 days – as in the first 30 days in any role at any company – you will want to provide value as quickly as possible. Use the onboarding time to build your foundation as an employee and as a leader of the business.

Learning is the most important element, and the best way to learn in your first 30 days is to have important conversations with the right folks. In these conversations, try to assess your department’s needs, goals and challenges. You can’t create a vision without knowing where you are first. Expect to spend a lot of time listening. Here are four conversations to have in your first 30 days as CIO.

1. Have a conversation with yourself.

I don’t mean literally have a conversation with yourself, since that wouldn’t impress your co-workers. What I mean is that you want to really, truly assess where your own strengths and weaknesses lie. If you’ve come to the position of CIO through the ranks of an application developer, for example, you’ll have great knowledge of that area, but not necessarily of any other IT area. This assessment should come before all others, since it will be the foundation for your conversations with your team, your peers and your vendors.

Once you have a good understanding of where your own weaknesses lie, you’ll be able to identify how and where to shore up these gaps. Maybe there’s someone on your IT team who can supplement the knowledge you don’t have. If not, maybe one of your vendors can. Or perhaps there is a gap you will need to recruit to fill.

You will also identify areas that are weak, but that you cannot leave to others. Those are the areas you will need to develop in yourself. For example, if you are not great at presentations, you can’t outsource that, but you must develop that skill to be successful.

2. Meet with your team one-on-one.

Meet with everyone on your team, or, at the very least, those who directly report to you. With these conversations, you can start to get a sense of existing talent, what their views of the organization are, and what they think of the IT department. Also, ask what they want to do in their careers and if their current roles match these goals.

Of course, the larger the department, the more difficult it will be to meet with everyone. You will want to include your direct reports but also others throughout your organization, from all levels and from all backgrounds. You won’t learn everything in one conversation, but you will learn a lot! I encourage you to note key pieces of information from every conversation.

One such conversation I had was with a colleague responsible for IT purchasing. What I learned was that she was far more valuable than someone handling purchasing. She had more seniority and more institutional knowledge than anyone else in the company and quickly became my right-hand person. Within a few years, she was managing our business analyst team.

3. Meet with your peers in the company. 

In addition to meeting your team, meet with other department heads. Some of these roles may be higher or lower than your role’s position, but you are looking to see what their impressions of the organization are, and what they think of the IT department. Do you share the same goals for the IT team? Where do they think the IT team can improve?

One of the first conversations I had as a new CIO was with one of the senior vice presidents of our firm. I asked, “What do you think of our IT department? How are we doing?” His answer: “You guys are doing great! Whenever my PC is broken, Sue is right here to fix it.” I thought to myself, “Great. Not a very strategic-looking view.” I knew right away I had to work on marketing IT throughout the business, so others looked to us, not just for maintenance and device upkeep, but to assist with the company’s business objectives and overall growth.

4. Meet with your key vendor partners.

Whom does the IT team employ for certain managed services? This could be a cloud services provider, a SaaS platform vendor, a value-added reseller, an insurance provider, a strategic services provider, etc. Here, you’re looking to establish yourself as the new face they’ll be coordinating with. What are their perceptions of your IT team and your business?

You will need an ecosystem of partners in order to be successful. These initial conversations will start to identify those vendors who are partners and those who are transactional. Both are very important, but you will want to nurture the partners who are or can be strategic. Developing trust, transparency and respect will enable you to build a partnership.

One of the strategies I have used to great success to build these partnerships is to invite them “behind the curtain.” I invited our strategic and key vendors to participate in our annual planning offsite. There, they saw firsthand what our challenges were, what our vision was, what our plans were and the constraints that were keeping us from getting there. As a result, they could bring us solutions that solved a myriad of problems.

Craft your vision for the future.

As you go into your first 30 days as a CIO, your ultimate goal is to have as many conversations and meetings as possible. This will help you gain a solid perspective of both your IT department and your organization — it’s strengths, weaknesses and desires. Only from this full understanding can you develop a meaningful vision for the future of IT.

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Jeffrey Ton is SVP of Product Development and Strategic Alliances for InterVision, an author and a speaker.