Welcoming a New CEO: What’s the CIO’s Role?

When a new CEO arrives, it is natural for the CIO to get a bit nervous. The worries abound: Is my job in jeopardy? If not, will we get along? Will the new CEO fully appreciate the role that IT plays in the organization’s strategic future?

Chuck headshot

Charles W.B. Wardell, III

Time will answer many of these questions. What the savvy CIO can do though is be prepared for this level of uncertainty—to have answers ready before questions are asked, says our CEO Charles Wardell, speaking to the Wall Street Journal’s Kim Nash last week for an article titled, “Meet the New Boss: CEO Turnover Can Imperil CIOs.” The key, offers Wardell, is for the CIO to calm some of the CEO’s greatest fears (about data security and budget issues, for instance) and to present a realistic picture of the IT team. “Be very honest about the IT department’s capabilities,” Wardell tells Nash. “It takes a frank, calm assessment of the department and people and the abilities they have or don’t have.” He adds, “No CEO wants to hit a stone wall at 100 m.p.h. They have to know” about potential obstacles or crises.

For good measure, Wardell shares more with Witt & Wisdom as he suggests five other tips that CIOs can follow to make sure they are off to a good start with the new CEO:

  • Get face time with the CEO. Like any senior-level executive, get on the CEO’s calendar, make sure to keep scheduled appointments, and follow up at scheduled times. Make oneself available on short notice and off hours.
  • Note the CEO’s personality, communication style, and workplace preferences. It’s about building a strong bond and not just strategy. Research suggests that most CIOs have introvert personality types. Knowing one’s own personality and leadership style will go a long way toward connecting with the CEO. Network with peers and others to get a read on the CEO’s preferences or biases (though form your own judgments over time).
  • Gauge the CEO’s technology savvy and understanding of IT matters. Some might call this a “digital IQ”. What does he or she think about “the cloud” or “big data”? Speak to that level without being condescending.
  • Have statistics for support. The CEO will want some numbers. Know your budget, expenditures, investment outlook, ROI, etc., and be able to provide digestible documentation to the CEO if needed.
  • Find common ground. The goal is to create a shared, enthusiastic vision of the future between you and the CEO. Share your ideas for what is possible, and pay very close attention to the vision of the CEO and see where you can align and provide support.

One more thought from our CEO Wardell: Forethought, preparation, and confidence on the part of the CIO can go a long way toward establishing a productive and healthy relationship with a new CEO.

By Paul Thomas, Strategic Communications Leader

Guidebook: Building Better Healthcare Boards

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