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Gartner: Five pitfalls for a new CIO to avoid

Entering a company as the new CIO is an unpredictable experience. Here are five common issues to look out for

Whether this is your first CIO role or you’re already well-versed in the nuances of the job requirements, the first days can pose challenges, present surprises and produce a healthy amount of paperwork to wade through.

These early days are also a crucial period during which newly incumbent CIOs should learn from commonly made mistakes, avoid pitfalls and thrive in a new role.

Incoming CIOs have around 100 days to set themselves up with a smooth runway to success. The good news is that countless CIOs have already gone through the rigmarole and made the mistakes so that you don’t have to. 

There are five common mistakes a new CIO should try to avoid.

The first one concerns ego. So far, you’ve proven your CIO credentials to interviewers and HR – but to the rest of your new team, stakeholders, peers and suppliers, you remain an unknown entity. While it’s tempting, resist the urge to establish credibility by sharing anecdotes of success from previous roles. Arrogance will not curry favour. 

Instead, immerse yourself in the familiarisation process with quiet confidence, a contained ego and minimal bravado. Even if you boast a flawless track record thus far, consider re-establishing your brand and value proposition from scratch with a view to becoming a trusted leader.

Take comfort in the knowledge that if you are good at what you do, employees will see that in the results you’ll ultimately produce.

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The next issue that needs to be addressed is the fact that several members of your new team, direct reports, peers or stakeholders may well have applied for your CIO position.

These applicants will naturally disappoint – and some might even be resentful of you, believing you aren’t deserving of the role. This is, unfortunately, an unavoidable pitfall not of your making. See it as a chance to demonstrate effective leadership and genuine empathy.

Anticipate potentially frosty relations and pay extra attention to thwarted applicants. Channel energy into converting them or helping them search for a role elsewhere – in reality, unsuccessful applicants will often move on of their own accord anyway. 

Poor decisions made early on in your new role are a common way to set yourself up for failure, so look before you leap. 

It’s worth bearing in mind that, unless a serious crisis is unfolding, waiting a couple of weeks to implement significant changes won’t make a huge difference. Acting too soon, however, might cause lasting damage which then requires rework, redesign or repair.

And while new CIOs are often tempted to criticise the legacy of the previous CIO, they should refrain from being too condemning. Existing employees, such as the IT team, might feel targeted by such criticisms. 

While you have been hired for your beginner’s mind and critical faculties, temper criticisms early on, and wait to deploy them until you’re certain you can improve on what you’re criticising. 

Find wise counsel

Before you begin your new role, assemble a small, strategic team of trusted counsellors to advise you on matters of company politics.

Draw a variety of people who know you well, from industry experts to powerful figures in your new organisation who are invested in your success. Their advice can help you avoid making glaring missteps, or acting counter to your new organisation’s culture, norms and policies. 

CIOs transitioning into a new role find themselves in a high-risk situation. The tactics you try out during this transition period will ultimately enrich your leadership toolkit and help you thrive in a new CIO role from the outset.

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