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New CIO? Your transition playbook in 10 (not-so-easy) steps

Clint Boulton | Oct. 9, 2017
What you accomplish in the first six months of taking over an IT leadership role is critical. The following 10 steps will help you navigate the rocky transition, get your IT house in order and set a clear path toward a strong strategic future.

New CIO? Your transition playbook in 10 (not-so-easy) steps
Credit: Pixabay (CC0)

A running joke among CIOs is that the acronym for their role stands for “Career Is Over,” a nod to the fact that the average tenure for a technology leader runs about four years. Evolving business needs and dissatisfaction with IT leadership suggest that timeline won’t change anytime soon.

CIOs joining new companies face a number of obstacles. Technology’s outsized role in driving businesses means many CIOs find themselves in the difficult position of using technology to both run the business and accelerate business growth, says Khalid Kark, research director of Deloitte’s CIO program. “Companies are not looking for [just] technology leaders,” Kark says. “They’re looking for inspirational business leaders that can lead and inspire the IT organization and develop a culture of high-performing talent.”

Transitions are particularly tough because business stakeholders expect new CIOs to dive right into business strategy, Kark says, when the reality is that they must often spend months getting their IT house in order. Moreover, some business stakeholders take longer to fill vacant CIO positions because they want to make sure candidates fit snugly within the company’s culture, Kark says. Adobe Systems, for example, took seven months to fill its CIO position, requiring CIO Cynthia Stoddard to remake IT’s identity.

There is no one-size-fits-all playbook for CIO transitions. But new research from Deloitte, which has helped roughly 200 CIOs slide into new roles over the past five years, offers the following tips for IT leaders making this crucial transition.


1. Be scrupulous with your time

Level set, decide on initial priorities and recalibrate business expectations. Just know you have very little time to get your house in order when you join a new company, so what you do in the first six to nine months is absolutely critical. “At the end of 6 months you’re expected to deliver a change agenda, and if you haven’t built it by then you’re in trouble and it sets you up for failure because expectations they have coming in are very high,” Kark says.


2. Huddle with your team

Transitions are fraught with uncertainty so you’re bound to encounter some operational paralysis. Explain your strategic vision to key, high-performing staff members. Try to divine whether they’re onboard with your plan; tough decisions may have to be made later.


3. Talent appraisal, house cleaning and acquisition

Take stock of your talent, deciding whether key team members are the right ones for the culture you aim to instantiate. If you find yourself spending too much time on execution, you may have to reconfigure your team. Realign staffers, add new talent and integrate your teams to eliminate siloed “centers of excellence.”


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