April 24, 2024

20 Tech Leaders Share Smart Steps To Take As A New CIO Or CTO

Stepping into the role of a CIO or CTO is both a challenge and an opportunity. Charging ahead without first doing some essential research and outreach can quickly derail your efforts (and your future in the role).

Early strategic steps can help a new leader ensure they set off in the right direction and that the whole team is fully engaged in the journey. Below, 20 members of Forbes Technology Council share advice to help a new leader “set their stamp” on the CIO or CTO role and ensure their tenure is a success.

1. Commit To Communication

New leaders have to establish themselves as great communicators—especially CIOs and CTOs, since the stakes are high and there can be a lot of pressure on teams. Being accessible and open is key to ensuring success and creating an environment of innovation and collaboration. Emphasizing the importance of evolving security measures, such as data-in-use encryption, sets a benchmark for technical standards. – Ryan Lasmaili, Vaultree

2. Reexamine And Realign Strategies

When you step into the role of CIO, you’re granted a vital six-month window to evaluate existing decisions before you are judged on their value. During this time, don’t shy away from tackling the mistakes of the past—this period empowers you to critically reexamine and realign strategies to match your vision. – Gary Hoberman, Unqork

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3. Take An Inventory Of Essential Business Services

Any new CIO should inventory the essential business services currently in use. Then, consider the specific tools, technologies and talent needed for direct operational support of service-delivery goals today and over time, coordinated with the company’s overall business plan. Focus on creating a detailed support plan for the digital infrastructure upon which all other business relies. – Song Pang, NetBrain Technologies

4. Ensure You Have The Needed Core Knowledge

A CTO or CIO should be an expert in the core knowledge necessary to run an enterprise and understand the company’s business needs and opportunity areas so they can clearly explain how technology can provide solutions. If we can’t translate these things, our peers won’t understand (or care) about the value we offer. The ability to be a business-focused CTO or CIO is critical today. – Velia Carboni, VF Corporation

5. Dig Into The Codebase And Architecture

A new CTO or CIO must immediately get their hands on the codebase and architecture to gain an inside-out understanding of the technology. This is the sure way to get up to speed quickly so you can figure out which areas need improvement and investment and, more importantly as a stakeholder, get a bird’s-eye view of all hardware and software. This will ensure a long-term future in your new position. – Sireesha Chilakamarri, AdMedia

6. Listen And Learn About The Organization

Be a good listener and learn about your organization. This will build trust and foster the relationships that provide the constant intelligence, feedback and support you’ll need to be successful for the long term. Because there isn’t a single playbook that works universally, take what you learn to empower and guide the right leaders, blending past experiences with the needs and culture of your new company. – Ken Ringdahl, Kantata

7. Ensure You Understand The Business Objectives

One thing to do on day one (and every day) to define a successful term as a technology leader is to ensure you understand the business objectives. When it comes to aligning technology to that, ask questions and listen to the answers. You don’t have to agree, and you don’t have to argue, but you do have to be available. – Ben Johnson, BML Digital

8. Adopt A Customer-Centric Approach

New CIOs and CTOs must align their strategies with the evolving needs and feedback of customers. Adopting a customer-centric approach sets the stage for impactful leadership and organizational success. Not only does it reflect a commitment to meeting ever-changing customer expectations, but it also signifies dedication to driving growth through a responsive and adaptive leadership style. – Prashant Ketkar, Alludo (the company behind Parallels)

9. Forge A Data-Driven Culture

A new CTO or CIO must forge a data-driven culture. By instilling an ethos where decisions, innovations and strategies are meticulously crafted from comprehensive (potentially AI-driven) insights, you not only empower your team to make informed choices, but you also unleash the full potential of data, thus propelling the organization forward into a more precise future defined by technological advancement. – Vladyslav Matsiiako, Infisical

10. Work Backward Through Processes And Products To Look For Areas To Improve

Focus first on the business’ objectives and how technology can support them. Then, work backward through existing processes and work products to see how they can be improved to deliver the desired outcomes for the business. Listen and learn about productivity blockers, and remove obstacles in the way of teams. Track and measure activities to directly support the business’ objectives—delivery of business objectives is the ultimate stamp of success. – Jim Garrett, Assembly Software

11. Schedule Several One-On-Ones

Begin by scheduling one-on-ones with stakeholders, their teams and your team. This isn’t about flexing the new title, but truly listening. Understand their concerns, feel the organization’s heartbeat and embrace the vision. It’s not just about leading; it’s about partnering. By immediately fostering a culture of trust and inclusivity, one lays the groundwork for a tenure that’s both impactful and harmonious. – Satpreet Singh, Aflac Benefits Solutions

12. Ask Your Team About Their Challenges And Pain Points

Ensure you take the time to meet and engage with your team early on to better understand their challenges and pain points. This also enables you to communicate your strategic priorities, vision and objectives as you embark on your new role. Initiating opportunities for dialogue and collaboration, as well as layering in technology including generative AI to expedite work, can set the foundation for long-term success. – Michael Ringman, TELUS International

13. Publish A 100-Day Plan

Publish a 100-day plan—today. This plan doesn’t need to be comprehensive; it may actually serve you better to keep it fairly general. It will convey the message that you have a plan and immediately (but gently) set the tone that you’re the leader. Further, it allows others to begin contributing to your plan from day one. Shape and add detail to your plan as you acquire more data, and stick to it. – Rene Head, The Methodical Group

14. Establish Market Differentiation

The first step any new CIO or CTO should take is to establish market differentiation. Moreover, it’s important that the differentiation of the product the CIO or CTO is developing stems from what they are most passionate about. Naturally, the second crucial step is developing a clear roadmap that lays out how this market differentiation can be achieved. – Rodrigo Bernardinelli, Digibee

15. Home In On An Artificial Intelligence Strategy

CIOs need to prioritize data accuracy, security and proper governance to enable the business to effectively take advantage of emerging AI technologies. Establishing proper AI policies and governance models and defining concrete, valuable use cases will result in AI projects that are innovative and provide real value to the business, allowing a new leader to make a major impact right away. – Ed Macosky, Boomi

16. Don’t Assume You Know Everything

Ask and listen. Newly promoted tech executives often succumb to the pressure of thinking they must possess all the answers, and subsequently, they tell everyone what to do. This is the wrong approach—those who begin their new CIO or CTO term as “tellers” usually get bogged down in imposter syndrome and lose their team members’ hearts and minds. Instead, uncover hidden talents, value and superpowers by asking and listening! – Ricardo Madan, TEKsystems

17. Make A Metrics Tree

Begin by making a metrics tree that shows how IT affects all of a company’s processes. Then, share this information with leaders in other areas of responsibility and involve them in joint work. – Ivan Shkvarun, Social Links

18. Seek The Information You Need To Start Building 30-, 60- And 90-Day Plans

When you start a new role, you are still an outsider, and you need to act as a consultant. Develop a rapport by interviewing every other C-level leader as well as your new reports and some people in the middle. This will help you get a real picture of the current company situation so you can start building your 30-, 60- and 90-day plans and your yearly roadmap for success as a new leader. – Sergio Tang, Space AG Global

19. Get In Sync With The CEO

Get your CEO on the same page. All companies are tech companies, and yours is no different. IT plays a crucial part in all change, and if you bridge the gap between IT and the overall business strategy, you will elevate IT to visionary status and become a key ally in the management team. Co-design the future together, moving beyond delivery to trusted partnership. – Erik Bakstad, Ardoq

20. Wait To Set Your Stamp

It’s tempting to come in like a bull in a china shop and assert authority in your new leadership post. However, I have found that ensuring you spend the first phase of your tenure absorbing the company infrastructure and culture before executing on your vision can help you “bring others along.” While you are the leader, you need the team to help you build, so make them feel heard. – Garrett Fritz, Swenson He

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