I wrote yesterday about what I was thinking as I began my first day as a CIO. I was planning to redecorate my new office and my organization.
After my first couple of weeks at the company, I realized there was a tradition where a group of senior managers went to a local country club to play golf after work on the second Thursday of each month. I didn't know how to play golf.
Researching hardware and software options for the new IT infrastructure was important, but I decided it was also important to participate in the monthly golf outings. And I figured I needed to know what number iron to pull out of the club bag when I was out on the course. It also seemed like a good thing to be able to hit the ball reasonably straight (even if not that far).
One of my first executive decisions was to take weekly golf lessons at a course near my house. After each lesson, I spent an hour at the driving range hitting balls. It turned out to be time well spent.
My first shareholder meeting with the company happened about six months after I came on board. At that time, I was putting the finishing touches on my plans and budgets for the IT infrastructure I wanted to build. The meeting was at a fancy resort, and there was some serious time devoted to that business bonding ritual known as golf.
I blended in with members of the board of directors, other owners and investors, and the rest of the executive team. It was a big part of rising above my earlier technical management jobs and getting accepted as a fellow business person. That acceptance would be important in the months to come as I asked for big budgets to build the IT infrastructure.
I had also learned that, when asking for big money, you should be really clear about what capabilities that money will buy and when those capabilities will be available to help the company expand and make money. I needed people to trust that I would spend the money well, and that there would be value to show for it. Nobody was interested in spending money based on vague plans or fuzzy due dates.
The other side of being the boss in IT is that you are the place where the buck stops. You are ultimately responsible for the success of your projects. Failure can (and should) result in more than just a letter to your personnel file. If you can't deliver applications the company needs when it needs them, then why are you the CIO?
I broke multiyear projects into pieces that delivered important capabilities every quarter. The tempo of business is measured in three-month cycles, and quarterly operating and sales results are the basis for many (maybe even most) business decisions. When you show the CEO and other executives that you are getting things done in 30-, 60-, and 90-day cycles, you build credibility, and the executives approve your projects and budgets.
The company was spending more money on IT than ever before, and it was not about to give me sole authority to spend that money. Finance and operations people were in on those spending decisions. Delivering hardware and software that went into production and started providing tangible benefits to the company was critical to building the consensus I needed to continue the projects I was advocating.
A practice that turned out to be very valuable was to build close relationships with the vice president of sales and the sales force. When sales guys started asking me to travel with them on calls to close big deals, I knew I really was delivering capabilities that were central to the company's growth plans. The feedback I got from sales people and customers was invaluable in helping me stay focused on the most important projects.
The most important IT projects deliver competitive advantage. They don't just save money -- they make money. They differentiate your company in the eyes of your customers in ways that make it and its products attractive, even when your company is not the lowest-cost provider. Sales people love it when that happens. So do CEOs and CFOs.
My technical skills got me to CIO, but when I got there, I learned I needed to delegate much of that work to my team and focus on my relationship-building skills. Successful CIOs develop a base of support among other senior executives, and they keep their supporters happy by delivering tangible value every quarter.