The first days at a new job are nerve-wracking for anyone. But for the high-expectation position of CIO, the first weeks are often seen as a litmus test, a chance to make or break your reputation as a leader of business, technology and people. The idea of compiling a set of best practises to orient CIOs through their first 90 days germinated last year and eventually nearly 70 CIOs from around the world contributed to the report, A running start: success in your first 90 days on the job.

Eldon Amoroso, CIO at London Police Services in Ontario, Canada and project steering committee member, was internally promoted to CIO three years ago and wishes he knew then what he knows now. “Sharing what we’ve all learned will give new CIOs a good framework to organise their first few months and know what they should focus on,” says Amoroso. Fellow steering committee member Ted Maulucci, CIO at 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.” Below, several members go back to their own first 90 days and share their most critical lessons.

Meet the people

You are the new CIO on the block – whether you have come from a different company or have been promoted – so relationship building with your fellow senior executives should be top on your list in these crucial first weeks.

“When I became CIO, I set up 45-minute appointments with every senior officer in the company,” says 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 $9 billion Applied Materials, he wrote customised business relationship plans for each business leader – nine in all, with the goal of making each early interaction with them a valuable one. He mapped out ways to do this, ranging from including specific business executives in his IT team meetings to taking certain business leaders out to dinner.

Relationship-building also extends to your new team. Vicki Petit, who was promoted to vice-president of information services at $300 million furniture manufacturer Krueger International in 1999, still remembers how hard it was to make the transition from being an IT peer to being the one 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 of their talents,” says Petit.

First-time CIO Kristen Blum is just coming off her initial 90 days after being hired by retailer Abercrombie & Fitch.

“I came into the job and made sure everyone knew my focus was on the people – you can’t succeed without a strong team. I met with all of my direct reports and their direct reports – as many people as I could,” says Blum.

Take your time

Although new CIOs feel pressure to accomplish things quickly, the best thing you can do in your first 90 days is take your time when it comes to big moves. Maulucci has spent his entire career at the family-owned construction company Tridel and became CIO five years ago.

“Even though I already knew the team and had the respect in place, I didn’t rush into anything when I first became CIO,” he says. “I had witnessed other colleagues step into senior roles and rush into decision-making to make a name for themselves. It didn’t work and I took that to heart.” Blum agrees: “For me, one month was the right amount of time to really sit back, get immersed in the culture and just take it all in. After that, it was time to get to work.”

Petit was one CIO who made a big move too soon – she changed the function’s organisational structure – and regretted it.

“I did it too quickly without taking the time to see what the existing staff could accomplish in their original functions. It didn’t work and nine months after I did it, I went back to the original structure,” says Petit.

Delivering small, quick-wins is a safer way to make a positive impression in the short term. In his 90-day strategic plan, Kifer made it a point to include quick-wins as one of his objectives to quickly build credibility with the business. He wanted these short term IT projects to use existing technology with the product being highly visible to the end-user.

The CIO checklist

CIOs ranked in importance the top 10 activities critical to success in the first three months of a job:

  1. Understand the corporate strategy and assess how well the IT department you have inherited is aligned with that strategy.
  2. Communicate your own goals and leadership style to your team.
  3. Identify key success factors for IT from the perspective of all business units and functional heads
  4. Structure your days so that you have time to learn, focus and create short term value while preparing a plan for the long term.
  5. Spend time working with each group within your IT department to get a feel for team dynamics and become acquainted with individual members.
  6. Seek to establish interpersonal relationships with influential people and lay the groundwork for coalitions.
  7. Understand the recent history and current state of the relationship between the IT department and each corporate function.
  8. Target early wins that matter to your boss and other key shareholders.
  9. Identify the informal networks in the organisation, such as whose opinions are sought out even though they have no formal authority in a matter? Who has the ear of the boss? Who do front line staff seem to really trust and follow?
  10. Negotiate the terms for success with your CEO and board.

One of these quick wins was a better way to manage the proliferation of passwords that employees needed to access the hundreds of online applications. Using existing security capabilities and changing some overly restrictive policies, Kifer implemented 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 our security controls, reduced our operating costs and improved worker productivity. It also served my quick-win criteria of being highly visible and positively affecting a large customer base,” says Kifer.

Change your perspective

Becoming CIO is not just being the new person in charge of IT; it is about changing your perspective to that of a business leader and new C-level executive. CIOs promoted from within say they found it tempting to continue doing parts of their old technologist jobs, like day-to-day application management.

“You need to push yourself to change your perspective and embrace your new responsibilities,” says Petit.
Abbene still remembers a piece of coaching advice that he received: “Forget that you’ve been here. What do you think someone would do if they were coming in from off the street?” And for those CIOs who are coming in off the street? “Be sure and understand the key success factors before you step through the door,” says Kifer.

He thoroughly researched Applied Materials, contacting vendors he knew were working with the company and learned what he could from the interviews he had with executives prior to taking the job. From this research, Kifer concluded that he needed to be a “change leader” and this was the foundation for his 90-day plan.

Regardless of their path to the position, new CIOs must recognise early on the unique value of their position and work to that from the outset. As one respondent put it when asked for his best nugget of advice: “Remember, the value of the CIO proposition is the intersection of business strategy and technology strategy.
“If you become ‘all business’, you cease to add distinctive value. It’s the same outcome if you become ‘all technology’.

“Learn the business, learn your technology architectures and chart a course that ties the two together.”

Helpful tools for the first 90 days and beyond

Comprehensive strategic plan. Ron Kifer, group vice-president and CIO at Applied Materials, created a high-level 90-day strategic plan before his first day on the job. He drew on his previous experience as CIO, extensive research and best practise recommendations from outside experts. Within the first 30 days of arriving at Applied Materials, he developed a more comprehensive 90-day plan, which incorporated specific pain points of the company, the type of CIO leader required – a change agent – and the overall mandate by the executive team. The plan overleaf, lays out steps to support this mandate, with the end goal of positioning the transformed IT organisation as an innovation leader.

30-60-90 day plan. Commonly used in sales functions, a 30-60-90 is also helpful for CIOs starting new jobs. Vicki Petit, vice-president of information services at Krueger International, created such a plan with her boss – the CFO – when first assuming the role. She could gauge her progress and outline what she needed to do in her new position at the 30, 60 and 90-day mark.

Business relationship tracker. Petit also created a simple Excel spreadsheet to track hours spent per month on building relationships in five areas: vendors, cross-functional meetings, individual business leaders, professional associations and external peers.

She sets annual goals in each area, tracks her progress in a bar chart and reports results to her boss monthly.

Personal Coach. Michael Abbene, CIO at Arch Coal, used an external coach – a former CIO from a different company – to offer guidance during his first 90 days, act as a sounding board and offer new perspectives. Abbene had weekly phone discussions with the coach and regularly met with him face-to-face. The relationship continues today – albeit less formally – 18 months after becoming CIO.

The CIO IT checklist

CIOs ranked in importance the top 10 activities critical to success in the first three months of a job.
While many priorities for CIOs in their first 90 days are applicable to any
C-level business leader, there are some that are unique to IT.
Three were ranked of highest importance.

  1. Understand the critical technology dependencies throughout the organisation.
  2. Review and understand all current projects for which IT is the lead or a major contributor.
  3. Learn key metrics and implications of any internal SLAs that IT must deliver against.

Of course, starting a new CIO role is not the only option for IT executives these days, there are more opportunities than ever to expand their careers. As the CIO role has grown more business-oriented, strategic and recognisable, the skills required to perform the job successfully – the ability to sell ideas, build consensus, attract and retain talented staff and manage a budget – are the same necessary to carry out any other executive role.

Consequently, more CIOs are moving into operations, becoming CEOs or joining technology vendors in business development roles, to name just a few potential paths.

“There are some things you develop as a CIO, certain transferable skills like getting alignment between IT and senior management, developing leaders and strategic planning that there’s a need for regardless of what you do,” says Carl Dill, the former CIO of Time Warner and McDonald’s who is now chairman of Technology Solutions.

Sometimes, pursuing a new career is not something you intended. Whether you were laid off or forced to resign from your position, you are suddenly out of a job and need to find something new. Keep in mind that you do not have to be a CIO. Take stock of your career, assess your skills and think creatively about other professions where you can use them. This is a valuable exercise even if you are currently employed since having a back-up plan is always worthwhile, says Sheleen Quish, the former CIO of a manufacturing company who is now a consultant. Sandra Hofmann, also a former CIO and chief people officer of Mapics who is now COO of the Turknett Leadership Group, agrees: “Anybody who finds themselves at that time for a career change – or who has one thrust on them – needs to reflect on their exceptional skills that they could transfer to other industries or positions and that are skills which they want to continue to use.”

The profiles below are of three former CIOs who moved into new roles and the skills that enabled them to get there.

Carl Dill: Taking Control

Current Role: Chairman, Technology Solutions

How he got there: The AOL and Time Warner merger eliminated most of the corporate IT function, and with it Carl Dill’s position as CIO of Time Warner. Although he was offered a job running a start-up infrastructure services business within the combined company, Dill, then 56, decided it was time to do something different.
“CIOs have to worry about infrastructure, cost and personnel issues. I wasn’t motivated at that stage of my life to do the same thing again,” he says. “I had worked for big companies for so long that I felt I had enough insight into all of that.”

To chart his next course, Dill contemplated what he liked most about being CIO, which was grooming leaders. He also knew he wanted more control over his life, so he started his own consulting business, TriCour Partners, to help small technology companies and professional services firms with their strategic planning and leadership development. His 25 years in the corporate world gave him the financial flexibility to strike out on his own.

The same year, he joined Technology Solutions’ board of directors. He also became a director of ThoughtWorks and an advisor to Arxan Technologies.

All three organisations sought out Dill for his experience as a discriminating and long-time buyer of technology products and consulting services. Prior to joining Time Warner in 1998, he worked for McDonald’s for 16 years as its CIO.

Technology Solutions’ board named Dill lead director in May 2005 because it agreed his IT industry expertise and background as CIO could help the then-struggling company more directly than some of the other board members. As a former CIO, he has instant credibility with Technology Solutions clients, many of whom are IT executives and because he has done their job, he has an easier time connecting with and advising them, he says.

Consequently, he was named chairman and acting CEO of the company in December 2005. Although Dill is relinquishing the CEO title – he hired a CEO who started in December 2006 – he is not ready for retirement at 61.

“I’m likely not going to move out of a direct role. I want to continue to add momentum and add value,” he says.

Transferable Skills: Dill says CIOs’ intimate knowledge of technology and the IT industry easily carries over to consulting.

“Running a technology consulting business is very similar to what you have to do as a CIO,” he says. “Job one for a CIO is to align IT with senior management and business priorities, to make sure IT investments fit the needs of the business. You have to manage priorities and make sure they’re aligned with senior management. Serving on the boards of technology companies, you have to make sure that the shareholders’ interests are lined up with the company’s product and service offerings.”

Mike Altendorf: Keeping his options open

Current Role: Renaissance Executive Forums (franchise owner)

How he got there: Mike Altendorf found himself in the midst of a career catch-22 after leaving Ace Hardware in June 2005. He wanted to return to his roots in marketing but having most recently served as Ace Hardware’s vice-president of IT, convincing headhunters he could make the cross-over was not easy.

“Recruiters told me, I would never make the transition. They’re not looking for someone who’s been a vice-president of IT to fill a vice-president of marketing position,” he says. They told him the only way he could get back into marketing was if he first got an IT job with a company and then made the switch internally. But he was not ready to jump back into IT for fear of being stuck there.

In July 2005, Altendorf received a call from a former Ace employee who was working for a company that connects individuals with opportunities to run franchises. The colleague helped Altendorf, who had been toying with the idea of starting his own business, find Renaissance Executive Forums, a membership organisation that offers peer advisory services to senior executives at small and midsize companies.

Altendorf purchased a Renaissance Executive Forums franchise in March 2006. By purchasing a franchise, he essentially runs his own business without the risks associated with starting his own firm. He does not have to build systems or processes from scratch which are available from Renaissance Executive Forums. The company also provides its franchisees with training, operations manuals and a support staff for cold calls.

Currently, Altendorf spends his days exercising his sales and relationship-building skills by meeting with business owners to explain Renaissance Executive Forums’ programmes and to encourage them to buy memberships.

The work is very different from what he did in IT but just as challenging and sound experience regardless of what he pursues in the future.

“I hadn’t been a direct sales person before in my career,” he says. “Learning to be a better sales person was a skill I was enthusiastic about honing. It’s a skill that will serve me well no matter what I do in the future.” Altendorf’s goal is to run four peer groups of eight to 12 executives. Once his groups are up and running, he will be facilitating monthly half-day meetings with each group during which time members will have the chance to pick each others’ brains on how to run their organisations more effectively. He also provides one-on-one coaching with members each quarter and conducts a two-day planning retreat with members each year.

Altendorf says he is going after business aggressively because he has several children to put through college. He notes that he has the potential to earn as much if not more than he would earn as a vice-president inside a corporation.

“You can have a very successful, lucrative business or if you’re retiring and only want to work part-time, you can do one group and still have income coming in,” he says.

“In 10 or 15 years, if I’m still doing this, I could ease my way out. You can’t do that in every franchise.” Altendorf has not ruled out a return to IT. To keep in touch with the industry, he is teaching an MBA course on managing information technology at Northern Illinois University and doing some consulting.

“I may go back to the corporate world some day and if I do, I want to stay on top of IT because that may be a good entry point for me,” he says. But at that point, he will probably be ready for a vice-president of sales role.

Transferable Skills: Altendorf says a lot of the skills he acquired on his way up the corporate ladder are appropriate for what he is doing now, such as mentoring, problem solving and creating agendas for meetings and facilitating them.

As Ace’s vice-president of IT, one component of Altendorf’s role was to provide individual Ace store owners with the applications and systems that would help them succeed.

He is still helping business owners be more effective, just in a different way – by bringing together the right people to serve as consultants and sounding boards. He is also imparting the strategic thinking he honed as an Ace executive to his group members. “Sometimes small and medium-sized companies are short
on strategy,” he says.

Sandra Hofmann: Sharing her experience with others

Current Role: COO of Turknett Leadership Group

How she got there: Sandra Hofmann has possessed a clear picture of what she wants to do in life for years. Unfortunately, it was her husband’s suicide that forced her more than 10 years ago to focus on her role in this world.

“At that point, I thought my life was over. But through the experience, I came to value the time that I have and the impact I need to make on others,” she says.

When her former employer, manufacturing software vendor Mapics, was purchased, she left her post as CIO and chief people officer.

She knew precisely what she wanted to get out of her next job: new challenges, learning experiences and the opportunity to share what she had learned about leadership, change management and innovation during her 25-year IT career. It was just a matter of finding the specific assignment that would meet her needs.

Fortunately for Hofmann, money was not a factor; she had received a generous compensation package from Mapics that afforded her the luxury of taking a six-month sabbatical from work.

Hofmann considered looking for another job as CIO after Mapics but ultimately decided against it. “The more I reflected, the more I thought, I’m at a point in my life where I need to try something different,” she says.
“I found there were places that needed the skillset I had, much of which I had acquired as a CIO, that were outside of that arena.”

One such opportunity was with the Turknett Leadership Group, a consulting firm that focuses on executive development, business strategy ethics and culture. Turknett’s founders, who had heard her speak at events, approached her about coming to work for them. She knew the company had a good reputation and was attracted to its mission, so she accepted a 50 per cent pay cut and signed on full time as Turknett’s vice-president and COO in January 2006.

Between Turknett, the boards she sits on and the work she does with Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Centre, Hofmann is as busy today as she was when she worked for Mapics. “I’m driven to make sure I use my time here well and if there are minutes left over every day, I spend them thinking about what I can do to make a difference,” she says.

Transferable Skills: All of the work she is doing with Turknett, the Advanced Technology Development Centre and TechBridge calls on her knowledge of technology and the IT industry as well as the experience she had as a CIO leading organisations through cultural, organisational or technological change, growing leaders and making every penny count.

As Turknett’s COO, Hofmann is helping the organisation use technology to grow its business and to deliver components of its educational programmes. Although her new role sounds very similar to a typical CIO role, she says it is much more focused on revenue generation. Because of the similarities between the CIO and COO posts, she thinks more IT executives can move into operations. “I talk to so many CIOs who have really been prepared to be COOs because they’re the only ones besides the CFO who have visibility across the enterprise and, as a result, see a way to help the whole enterprise operate better on a daily basis,” she says.