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First Impressions

First Impressions

Although new CIOs feel pressured to accomplish big things quickly, the best thing you can do when it comes to big moves is to take your time

The first days of a new job are nerve-wracking for anyone. But for CIOs, those first days and weeks are often seen as a test of their abilities as leaders. The idea of compiling best practices to guide CIOs through their first 90 days germinated within a small group of Canadian CIO Executive Council members. The larger council membership embraced the idea, and nearly 70 CIOs from around the world contributed to the council report "A Running Start: Success in Your First 90 Days on the Job".

Eldon Amoroso, senior director at London Police Services in Ontario, and project steering committee member, was promoted to CIO three years ago and wishes he had known then what he knows now. Fellow steering committee member Ted Maulucci, CIO at construction company Tridel, adds: "You can't do it all in the first three months, but you can definitely start targeting different areas, especially building strong relationships."

Meet the People

"I set up 45-minute appointments with every senior officer in the company," recalls Michael Abbene, who was promoted to CIO of Arch Coal in July 2005. When Ron Kifer started his job last year as group vice president and CIO at $US9 billion Applied Materials, he developed customized business-relationship plans for each business leader, ranging from inviting certain execs to his IT team meetings to taking others out to dinner.

Relationship building also extends to your new team. Vicki Petit, who was promoted to vice president of information services at $US600 million furniture manufacturer KI in 1999, remembers how hard it was to make the transition from being a colleague to being the person in charge. "I didn't know the specifics of what each of my team members had accomplished, and it took meeting with them to broaden my perspective," she says.

First-time CIO Kristen Blum finished her first 90 days last September after being hired by retailer Abercrombie & Fitch. "I made sure everyone knew my focus was on the people. I met with all of my direct reports, their direct reports, as many people as I could," says Blum.

Take Your Time

Although new CIOs feel pressured to accomplish big things quickly, the best thing you can do when it comes to big moves is to take your time. Maulucci has spent his entire career at Tridel and became CIO five years ago. "Even though I already knew the team, I didn't rush into anything when I first became CIO," he recalls. "I had witnessed other colleagues step into senior roles and rush decision making to make a name for themselves. It didn't work." Blum agrees. "For me, I needed one month to sit back, get immersed in the culture and just take it all in," she says.

Petit made a big move too soon (she changed IT's organizational structure) and regretted it. "I didn't take the time to see what the existing staff could accomplish in their original functions. Nine months after I did it, I went back to the original org structure," she says.

Delivering small, quick wins is a safer way to make a positive first impression. To build credibility with the business, Kifer designed a 90-day strategic plan featuring short-term IT projects that had highly visible, positive outcomes and employed existing or underutilized technologies. One of these was a way to manage the proliferation of passwords that employees needed to access hundreds of online applications. Using existing capabilities and changing some overly restrictive policies, Kifer implemented a single sign-on capability for more than 400 of the most frequently accessed programs. "With negligible cost to implement, this quick win [it took less than 30 days] strengthened security, reduced costs and improved productivity. It also met my criteria of being highly visible and positively affecting a large customer base," says Kifer.

Change Your Perspective

Becoming CIO doesn't just mean being the new person in charge of IT; it means becoming a new C-level exec. CIOs promoted from within say they found it tempting to cling to parts of their old job. Instead, "You need to push yourself to change your perspective and embrace your new responsibilities," recommends Petit. And for those CIOs coming in off the street? "Be sure you understand the key success factors before you walk in the door," says Kifer. He researched Applied Materials and contacted vendors he knew were working with the company. From this research, he concluded that he needed to bring a "change leader" way of thinking to the table, and this was the foundation for his 90-day plan.

Regardless of how they get there, new CIOs must recognize the unique value of their position. As one respondent to the council survey put it when asked for his best single nugget of advice, "The CIO position is the intersection of business strategy and technology strategy. If you become all business, you cease to add distinctive value. It's the same if you're all technology. Learn the business, learn your technology architectures and chart a course that ties the two together."

Below, CIO Executive Council members recall their own first 90 days and share their most critical lessons.

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