A Guide for new CIOs


Often new and aspiring CIOs ask advice on how they can move ahead. Recently, there was an interesting discussion on LinkedIn on this topic. The discussion was started by a newly promoted CIO and a lot of advice was given by many CIOs and ex-CIOs. There are many words of wisdom that are worth sharing, which will not only help CIOs but also aspiring CIOs.

‘Promote’ Yourself

In Michael Watkins’s book ‘The first 90 days’ he advises functional leaders who are moving to executive roles to ‘promote’ themselves. This means stop thinking yourself as a functional leader e.g. Applications Manager, or Infrastructure Manager or an expert and realise that your role is now a broader leadership role. This new role has different demands and expectations than the old role. As an executive, you are now part of the business leadership team and not just the technology leadership team.

Understand the Business

Your new leadership role requires you to have a sound understanding of the business (products, services and dynamics). Unless you know how the business works, what the customers are expecting and what the competition is doing, you are not going to be able to leverage the technology capabilities needed to achieve success. Learn from your ‘C’ level peers, visit the branches/ factories/ call Centre to continue to learn about the business.

Take time to sit back and understand the organisational context, vision and goals and IT’s capabilities (e. g. their team, infrastructure and services) as well as how they relate to each other.

Focus on a Few Things

As a new CIO there is a temptation to ‘transform’ IT. New CIOs often get into trouble by trying to solve every problem and please everyone right out of the gate. If there are service delivery issues, deal with them first and set realistic expectations with the management team. No one wants to talk strategy when basic IT functions aren’t working. Understand what needs to be fixed. What are the  biggest concerns of the CEO or your peers? Is the service delivery satisfactory? Are projects delivering value? Does IT have credibility in the business?

Once you understand what needs to be fixed, create a 3 or 6 month plan and share it with your boss to get his buy-in. Demonstrate some quick wins. This will create positive momentum for your change agenda.

Create a Shared Agenda

Share your understanding of the business’s challenges and expectations with your staff. What you know, they should know (within reason). There should be no surprises. When your team shares the same understanding with you, they are more likely to buy into the change agenda. When everyone is oriented in the same direction, achieving success becomes easier. Creating a shared agenda also builds trust between you and your team.

Clear and Simple Communications

A large part of any leadership role communication. You are leading people who need to understand why they need to do things differently, where the business is going, what IT’s plans are and how can they contribute.

Your team members are not the only stakeholders with whom you need to communicate. Your business peers also want to know how you will support them and what they can expect from IT. Keep your communications simple and clear, avoid the urge to promise to provide more than you can deliver and manage your peers’ expectations.

Communication is on ongoing process. Try scheduling regular communications using different modes or forums (E.g. one-to-one, team meetings, e-mail, newsletter, dashboards, and town hall meetings etc.). Remember it’s not possible to over communicate.

Challenge but Support Your Team

Don’t make decisions for your team or do their job for them. Set high expectations for team members, remove the barriers they face in doing their jobs, then step aside and allow them the freedom to work independently.

Listen to your team because they will have great ideas. Remain approachable because you are the new guy and you may not  know exactly what your team does. Treat your team with respect, support them and above all thank them for their effort even when they stumble. Forgive mistakes. Celebrate and reward success and punish incompetence.

When your team expects you to make decisions, don’t dither. Consult and decide. If you make the wrong decision, adjust or refine your approach.

Involve Your ‘C’ level Colleagues

Find time to meet your stakeholders. Learn everything you can from your fellow “C” level peers and involve them in the projects, activities and plans that IT is forming. Their buy-in will not only help the projects move more smoothly, but will result in the project to being well rounded.

One big complaint about IT is the lack of transparency about what is going on inside IT. Explore ways to share your plans, performance and successes with your peers and customers. Tailor your measures and reports so that they become relevant to your colleagues.

Sharing information and involving your peers will help them become ‘informed buyers’ of technology. This will also leads to better IT/ investment governance in organisations and ultimately, to better decision making.

Keep on Learning

Keep on learning and updating your knowledge as this will give you more confidence.  Use conferences, peer CIO forums and the media to improve your knowledge about the business, technology trends and to share your experiences. Vendors and business partners are a good source of information as they work with many different organisations across the industry.

You can learn quite a bit sitting in the call centre or working on the cash register and your colleagues will have much more respect for IT when you understand the work they do. Be a working manager, a caring CIO who listens and rolls up his sleeves with the guys in the trenches.

Create an IT Portfolio

Try to create an IT portfolio as it can be a fantastic tool for communicating value to your senior executives and you don’t need to spend a lot of money to put it together. A simple portfolio that shows the health and value of IT systems and assets can inform and educate others about the challenges IT faces.  Similarly, a portfolio of projects can demonstrate where IT effort is directed and how it aligns with the business strategy.


Network with other CIOs and use various associations as well as local groups. We all have a wealth of information, which we are typically happy to share. No matter how big or small our company is, we have all had the same issues to deal with and have reached out to someone with more expertise for help.

Final Words

Keep the big picture in the mind. Step back from the daily grind from time to time to think about the big picture strategy and adjust the course accordingly. Use the strategy as a guide rather than as a rule book.

There are many good books that CIOs have recommended including, The New CIO Leader, The Real Business of IT, The CIO Edge and for CIOs without IT background, Adventures of an IT Leader.

Good luck! If you need additional help, please free to contact the author.