Without getting bogged down in the obvious theological implications, it's a given that everyone reports to someone – yes, even CIOs. So what should their approach be to the news that they are getting a new boss? Obviously don't panic and then naturally find something out about this incoming individual.
As Paul Strangeway, head of technology at eg.1, explains, it's time to start using two of the key competencies any great CIO has: being politically savvy and understanding what makes individuals tick. "It is essential to build rapport with the new boss, which in most cases will be the CEO, while also sizing them up. And you'll need to ask yourself some difficult questions. Why did the old boss leave? How successful is the business and what was your contribution to the success or otherwise? Because you can be certain the new boss will be doing the same."
It is also crucial to find out what the new business strategy is and how you can make a significant contribution going forward – technology drives the modern business so you may be expected to make changes. "However, it is also important to be neutral and avoid joining cliques or power struggles, which often develop when a new leader joins an organisation," warns Strangeway. "Simply focus on how you can continue to add value."
As CIO, your new boss could be a CEO, a CFO or a COO and all of these will have a different outlook on the requirements from IT. But no matter what the boss's title, points out Colin Rowland, VP EMEA at Apptio, a common denominator will be an alignment to the initiatives of the company and this is where the CIO should start. "At the very minimum, the CIO should have a clear vision of the company's strategic direction and the role IT has in achieving its goals," he says.
At this early stage in your relationship with your new boss, communication is key to the success of establishing a strong working relationship and a clear dialogue will allow both parties to understand the requirements of the organisation. "So make sure you are clear about the journey the organisation has been on and be ready to listen to your CEO's vision for the future of the entire business, so that you can prepare your area as required," urges Jody Kennedy, CTO of Olive Communications.
And be sensible and realistic. "Overegging resource requirements or promises of under- or over-delivery can lead to a bad new experience for both parties and set unrealistic expectations for the business," warns Kennedy. "Remember your CEO is relying on you to deliver a business-critical function and will make operational decisions based upon your strategy."
Don't be impatient to move things along, is the advice from John McLachlan, co-owner of leadership development company Monkey Puzzle Training & Consultancy and co-author of Real Leaders For the Real World. "A new boss is, to some degree, like any new relationship. It will take time, so don't rush in to show what you can do. And don't go into people-pleasing mode. Some new bosses – good ones I would suggest – like to ask lots of questions and really get to know what is going on first. A good CIO will listen to and respond to the questions at an initial surface level and see if they are asked more detailed or supplementary questions, rather than going into big explanations and justifications."
As CIO, it's also crucial not to forget that you're somebody's boss as well. So how do you help your team adjust to this new CEO, CFO or COO? "Consider brokering introductions and/or one-on-one meetings with the new leader for key members of your IT team," suggests Andrew Horne, managing director at business advisory firm CEB. This probably means most, if not all, of the your direct reports. "The CIO should also revisit the IT scorecard to ensure that the metrics used to measure IT performance are ones that the new leader cares about. The IT team's behaviour and priorities are often shaped by these metrics," he adds.
It's also good to share what you learn about the boss with your team, advises McLachlan. "You can also help them by listening to their fears and worries and genuinely help to alleviate them. Avoid saying general things like, it'll be fine, the boss knows what they're doing and at all costs avoid 'siding' with your team and bad-mouthing the boss," he says. "Many people think they are building rapport with their team by doing this, but it will only lead to problems sooner or later."
Finally, if your ideas for IT and the organisation differ from the incoming boss, understand where they differ and why. "Ask yourself 'how different are they really?'," says McLachlan. "Often it is not what is being proposed but how it is to be done that differs, so take time to discover what is really different. If they are significantly different and you have a genuine belief that their plan is wrong, help them to understand the negative consequences of their idea rather than try to prove why yours is right. I have yet to see an 'I'm right, no I'm right' game end well, especially when one is the boss of the other." You have been warned.
Top five tips for dealing with a new boss:
1. Listen and engage – Understand their communication style and their experiences with technology and also their personal use of technology. Then you can understand how to pitch your insights into the business.
2. Gather the troops – Change of leadership causes uncertainty and may destabilise your team. Use this as an opportunity to bring everyone together and ensure the department is firing on all cylinders.
3. Assess – Use the changing landscape to reassess your position even if you have an ongoing IT strategy programme in place, and make sure it fits in with the new boss' plans.
4. Present simply and effectively – Keep your ideas as simple as possible backed up with data where necessary.
5. Update regularly – Hopefully by this stage things are on track and it is now time to anticipate the needs of the new CEO and update him/her regularly.
Source: Dr Peter Chadha, founder of DrPete