Mitigating Risk in Your New Position

An executive may face his or her toughest challenges when accepting a new role as a CIO. Because a company?s IT strategy tends to be at the core of every major business decision, most new CIOs are transitioning into a role fraught with hidden risk factors?land mines that are ready to detonate and derail their careers.

The good news is that new CIOs have control of these land mines. However, there are three hazardous land mines that you should begin deactivating well before your first day on the job. They are role, relationships and knowledge.

ROLE RISK: Is there widespread agreement on your role among key stakeholders?

When CIOs accept new jobs, most assume that widespread agreement exists across the organization on the role of the CIO. This is a mistaken assumption because key stakeholders are often more confused about the responsibilities of?and expectations for?a technology leader than for any other business leader?s role. When expectations, resources or key stakeholders are not aligned around the CIO, role land mines are guaranteed to detonate.

Before even accepting a position as CIO, you should speak with each of the key stakeholders and ask critical questions about how they perceive the role. Listen carefully for contradictions, changing representations, uncertainty and any signs of unspoken friction or disagreement?and then pursue these telltale signs with more questions.

Also make sure that key stakeholders are aligned in terms of the position?s role and responsibilities, deliverables, timetable, authority, interactions and access to essential resources. By getting everyone in agreement before the official start date, you can mitigate some of the biggest risks facing new CIOs.

RELATIONSHIP RISK: Are you identifying, establishing and maintaining key relationships with stakeholders who can have an impact on your success?

Most transitioning CIOs wait until they have started their jobs to begin developing deep relationships with key stakeholders, but that represents a huge risk. It is imperative to know exactly what you are expected to deliver before you start, as well as what resources can be controlled and influenced to deliver against those expectations.

When stakeholders? expectations are not clearly understood or are unmet, relationship land mines will begin to detonate. These are often the most damaging and difficult to repair. Begin early by identifying individuals who have a stake in or can affect your success. When thinking about the people to include in this group, lean toward being more inclusive rather than less so.

Before starting the new job, speak with these stakeholders to better understand their needs, agendas, strategies and relationship with IT. Doing so will enable you to develop solid relationships sooner and give you a better vantage point on how to meet expectations.

It is surprising how reluctant some executives are to set up those meetings. They often expect to encounter resistance, but rarely do. Other executives will fly halfway around the world for hour-long meetings, just to get those meetings done before their official start date. It?s that important.

KNOWLEDGE RISK: Have you gained adequate information, awareness and knowledge of the business?

Successful CIOs want the organization?s IT and business strategies to be tightly woven together. To do that effectively, they must have as solid an understanding of the key business drivers as anyone else in the executive suite.

CIOs must have an expert level of knowledge about the organization and the competitive environment so they can speak with and understand their colleagues on their terms. Technology expertise is not enough; it is imperative to possess a comprehensive knowledge of the business and competitive threats.

If IT executives fail to grasp any of the information in the five C?s?customers, collaborators, capabilities, competitors and conditions?they will find that land mines have been created. Some executives miss the importance of certain C?s or minimize the importance of one or more.

For a CIO, if a comprehensive due diligence plan is not in place for every C, the risk exposure increases significantly. The time to gain this foundational knowledge is before starting the job, to allow you to hit the ground running on the first day.

Developing a comprehensive on-boarding and transition acceleration plan is a must for a serious leader?and is probably most important for a new CIO. Before the official start date, gain a head start by implementing a plan to mitigate the role, relationship and knowledge land mines that are sure to exist.

Know that these and other pitfalls are most easily hidden and most easily mitigated in the first 100 days. Address these three areas before you start, and you?ll be on your way to securing a foundation for success.

Jayme A. Check is a co-founder and managing partner at the executive on-boarding group PrimeGenesis, which helps new leaders and their teams deliver better results faster. He is co-author of The New Leader?s 100-Day Action Plan (Wiley).