How to Have a Successful First 100 Days as CIO

By: Alan Seal on September 25, 2019

Stepping into the role of chief information officer (CIO) for an organization can be a daunting experience, even under the most ideal circumstances. Whether it’s an internal candidate ascending to the role to oversee a stable and prospering technology policy or an external candidate stepping in to manage a disruptive tech crisis, the new CIO’s first 100 days are a critical period filled with possibility. A CIO who waits too long to make their mark during those first few months will often find it difficult to accomplish their goals. To be successful, a new CIO needs to move quickly to demonstrate their leadership and build a basis of support that allows them to pursue their agenda and drive innovation.

New CIO Checklist for the First 100 Days

Understand the Organization

This might seem like an obvious place to start, but an incoming CIO should have a good sense of how the organization functions before their first day. They need to be able to identify key stakeholders who will have a vested interest in whatever they try to accomplish in their new role. If the CIO is an outsider, they can use the interview process to gather some of this information, but they might also consult with systems integrators or consulting firms that have worked with the organization in the past to get a better idea of what challenges await them. Discovering this information prior to their first day on the job can help a CIO hit the ground running and allows them to focus on other leadership priorities right away.

Define Success and Mandate

An incoming CIO needs to establish clear expectations about how the organization will measure their success. If they’re being brought in to accomplish a specific set of goals, they need to know that going into their first few months on the job. They also need to make sure there is broad agreement about their mandate. Will they have the power to alter organizational structure as they see fit, outsource certain operations, or cancel faltering legacy projects implemented by their predecessors? Establishing a united front with executive and board leadership can help reinforce the perception that the organization is committed to the new CIO and make it easier to secure buy-in from lower level stakeholders.

Be Visible

The first 100 days are a critical time period for a new CIO to establish a reputation and a tone in the organization. Their initial meetings with other executives and business unit heads are an excellent opportunity to understand what priorities and concerns they have. By making their presence felt and taking the initiative to develop those relationships, CIOs can build consensus and lay the groundwork for future success. For many of these meetings, it’s a time to listen rather than talk, which allows CIOs to learn how people throughout the organization think and make decisions. As time goes on, they can use these relationships to present solutions and educate others about the necessity of change and promoting development.

Present a Vision

A new CIO is expected to come in with a leadership plan that establishes a sense of direction for everyone who will be following their lead and executing their vision. Longtime CIO Ian Buchanan emphasizes the importance of presenting a roadmap people can believe in: “In the first 100 days you have to make your mark. In that period, you also need to formulate a compelling vision because if you want to lead, as opposed to executing the visions of others, you do need to tell a story that everybody can align around. This will also give you a very good narrative for conversations with stakeholders whose support you’ll need to get anything done.”

Build a Good Team

Having a vision is a great start, but without the right team in place to make it a reality, a new CIO isn’t going to get much done, either in their first 100 days or throughout their tenure. That’s why it’s important to build a good team as early as possible. When new leadership takes over, it’s a great opportunity to shake up organizational structure and encourage new skills development. Maybe external hires need to be brought in to make changes, or people from other business roles could bring value to the company by transferring into a new role. If a major technology transformation is being planned, senior employees may lack the skills or expertise necessary to oversee the changes, but they could still bring great value as project managers if they’re placed in charge of team members with the right knowledge. Successful CIOs find the right mix of people who can trust and will help them realize their vision.

Take Action Early

There may be some uncertainty or skepticism when a new CIO takes over, especially if they’re an unknown quantity coming in from another organization. By identifying a few easily accomplished objectives, a CIO can begin building up a reputation that helps them earn the trust and confidence of their teams. Maybe they address an outdated policy by taking the advice of senior managers, demonstrating a willingness to both listen and follow through with action. Or perhaps they terminate a longstanding, faltering project that no one believes in but are too afraid to oppose. While gathering information and developing a plan for the future is vital to long-term success, finding ways to take action early allows a CIO to show that they’re willing to make hard decisions and aren’t afraid of doing what they think is best for the organization. Establishing their integrity right from the beginning will make it easier for them to secure buy-in for much harder decisions later on.

A CIO’s first 100 days are a crucial period for setting a new tone and priorities for an organization’s technology agenda. While making an impact in those first few months can be quite a challenge, this is also the best opportunity to launch bold new initiatives that can drive a digital transformation. Even if a CIO’s tenure lasts for far beyond those first 100 days, the decisions they make and the relationships they build during that early period will set the context for the future.

Speak to an Expert About Your Company's Specific Data Center Needs