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My first 90 days as a CIO

My first 90 days as a CIO

Former CUA CIO, David Gee, shares his experience

Former CUA CIO David Gee

Former CUA CIO David Gee

On day one at CUA, I shared my 90-day plan with the CEO. I had prepared this plan before walking through the company’s doors for the first time. It was also shared with my peers over the next few days and weeks during our initial one-on-one meetings.

From day one, my diary was populated with meetings that were inherited and my inbox was full of messages from internal and external contractors. It’s likely that yours is too no matter where you are working.

First things first, I meet with my executive assistant to determine how we are going to work together. We discuss when I need some ‘think time’, the priorities in my schedule, how to best deal with vendors and other external requests, and my overall plans for the next three months.

Setting out my own agenda was the most important task I completed during this period at CUA and in other previous roles. I learnt very quickly that events and meetings would consume me unless I was clear where I wanted to focus my time and energy.

My next priority was to get some regular face time with my direct manager, as there are always going to be some tips and traps that are mentioned during the interview process.

After securing time with my direct manager, my first task was to determine his expectations. I ask for clarification on the burning issues while actively listening to his concerns. I knew that I only received a download of what was top of mind for my manager; there would be other items on the agenda that weren’t immediately communicated to me.

At this early stage, it is critical that as a new CIO, you learn and challenge what you are being told. Your honeymoon period ends quickly so the sooner you are seen to be taking charge, the better.

My advice here is to ask your direct manager where he or she expects you to be from a broader leadership standpoint. Discuss specific areas that you could provide energy and focus. Then walk your manager through your 30, 60 and 90-day plan and ask for input and ideas. I did.

It’s also useful to understand some basics around how to work you’re your manager; ask questions like: When issues arise, should I use voicemail, email or field calls through his or her assistant?

Create your brand

While you may be quietly confident you can succeed, you are aware of the fact that the previous CIO was perceived by his or her peers in a certain way.

But what the previous CIO did or didn’t do is irrelevant. Creating your own brand is important and you will need to consider what will be particularly valued and expected of you.

Remember your brand is ‘what they say about you when you are not in the room’. Being as explicit as possible in the first day, first week and first months is vital. As the new leader, you are setting the expectation of what normal means to you.

In my first 30 days at CUA, I was feeling mixed emotions as I mentally transitioned from my old position and started to understand what was expected of me in this new role.

You may feel the same. It’s likely that you feel that everyone wants a piece of you, and you may be a little unsure about how to interact with others.

The overarching theme for your first month is ‘people’. In particular, you need to spend the bulk of your time with your internal customer. You’ll also be well aware that your new team is anxiously waiting to engage with you, so getting this balance right will be your challenge.

Engage your peers and staff

Be sure to meet with as many people as you can at the organisation as early as possible. At these meetings, tell them what you stand for, how you like to work and what you expect.

Share your 30, 60, and 90-day plan with them. While some of this will be sensitive, remember that telling them what you are focusing on will eliminate much of their personal anxiety.

I remember sharing a short list of 5 things that I expected from my team when I started at CUA. It was interesting to see that many staff later printed out this and stuck this on their cubicles.

In one-on-one and group meetings, I smile but ask many questions, some of these interactions are to learn about the culture and the people. These innocent discussions get repeated and whatever I ask is shared around and this helps staff form their perceptions of me as a person and my agenda.

Engaging your peers and the business in introductory discussions is going to be what seems like an endless series of one-on-one meetings. Some of these will be very cordial and others possibly more contentious from the get go.

After the initial meetings with key internal staff, take some time to prepare a ‘stakeholder analysis and influence map.’ Try to anticipate where they are now from a relationship standpoint and how you will build your coalitions going forward. Be sure to ‘test’ these assumptions with these persons in your follow-ups.

From my last experience, I learnt that your peer’s perception of your role has often been well formed from your predecessor and it takes a concerted effort to shift whatever baggage exists.

In these first meetings with my peers, after the general niceties and understanding the context of their role, I asked them what they thought was required to change.

I also made sure that I asked them to help with my own orientation to speed up my own learnings about the business.

More specifically, these were great opportunity for understanding if there were critical issues. Paying personal attention to this without taking over is going to set the right tone with the organisation.

Make an impact

As you examine your portfolio, you can make a large impact as a leader by deciding early to ‘start’ or ‘stop’ something that is in progress.

It is my experience that stopping an initiative before you start a new one sends a balanced message that you are making the hard choices. Making these choices is really the essence of strategy.

Being decisive becomes part of your brand. At CUA, we had a number of procurement concerns – one in particular was ‘shelfware’ that had been purchased and never actually used. I engaged a peer to provide a better solution for next to nothing.

This was a quick win and having one in your first 90 days is always going to be a preferred approach. However from a bigger picture standpoint, you have a personal stake in creating a culture of innovation and continuous improvement.

Thus setting this environment and having a series of quick wins can start your team on that journey. Once these wins or changes are agreed, be sure to market them widely.

Don’t ever be afraid to self promote yourself and your team. The pride you demonstrate can become contagious with the troops.

Your time will be stretched during these first 90 days and you’ll be subjected to much stress, so be sure to devote time to yourself and your family. Getting this balance right is difficult, but remember you are the only person who can control this. Taking time out to reflect will help you manage and think through where you spend your energy.

A good technique I have used is to set yourself some goals around where you want to spend your time and comparing this to where you actually spend your time can be enlightening.

As a rule of thumb, I spend 30 per cent of my time with direct reports and coaching staff, 20 per cent networking with peers and 25 per cent on transformation projects. I spend 15 per cent of my time in operational meetings and on field visits, and 10 per cent visiting external customers and learning best practices.

After I completed my first 90 days at CUA, I made sure my progress was very visible to my team and my manager.

Was it a mistake to then not create a next 90-day plan? Probably, but as we know events do overtake best intentions and the important thing is that you establish a pattern that you and your team understands.

David Gee's 90-day plan is encapsulated in the graphic below. Click here for a high-resolution version.

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