Month after month, companies announce the appointments of new technology leaders who are tasked with lofty transformation and efficiency goals.
To meet expectations, tech leaders need to start off on the right foot, especially if they plan to disrupt the technology status quo.
Turnover is slightly more frequent for tech leaders than for other C-suite members. In 2019, the average tenure for a CIO was up to 4.6 years from 4.3 years in 2017, according to management consulting firm Korn Ferry, which analyzed the 1,000 largest U.S. companies by revenue. The average tenure across the C-suite was 4.9 years, raised by the average CEO tenure of nearly 7 years.
When CIOs and other tech leaders join a new company, they must work to establish themselves as a leader. While a seasoned resume might get a tech leader in the door, a comprehensive understanding of business operations, trust building within teams and alliances with members of the C-suite are crucial for how they will perform during their tenure.
When Toby Roberts joined Zillow Group as SVP of IT in 2016, he said the keys to his successful onboarding were to understand how technology aligned with the business and to build trust within the organization.
“I think the first phases of onboarding is really listening and understanding the business as a whole,” Roberts said.
Each business is different; from culture to how it operates, so tech leaders need to be open to embracing their new environment.
“I took the time to understand how the company operated, and then I positioned myself and my team in alignment with that,” Roberts said. “Taking that time is a worthy investment and will pay dividends.”
Tips to follow, traps to avoid
On a tech leader's first day on the job, it is important to have a game plan to support staff and avoid common pitfalls.
“We’re here, in my opinion, as leaders to really support and unblock our teams,” Roberts said.
But before CIOs can set strategy and direction, they must listen to their teams regarding what’s working and what isn’t so that they can address roadblocks and establish trust early.
Larry Bonfante, founder and CEO of consulting firm CIO Bench Coach, advises leaders to schedule time with staff in order to get to know them — and give workers a chance to get to know them as well.
“Get out of your office and meet people,” Bonfante said in an email. Leaders need to show they support the efforts of their staff, ensure they are recognized and rewarded and “will fall on the grenade when things go poorly,” according to Bonfante.
When starting a new position, leaders might feel the need to establish respect. However, respect can only come if there is first a level of trust.
Tech leaders that don’t connect with teammates early on, or fail to truly understand the business, will have to rebuild relationships or start trust-building from scratch, according to Roberts.
“There are many reasons why things go sideways,” Bofante said. “Respect people enough to let them know that you feel that they can be part of the solution.”
Building a relationship with other C-suite members will also benefit new tech leaders in the long run by creating alliances and identifying potential challenges, according to Bofante.
Self-assessing the progress or success of onboarding for a tech leader can be difficult, but there are a few places to start.
“I am a strong believer in having KPIs and other measurements, but it’s not always quantifiable,” Roberts said. “From an organizational perspective, you can get that [feedback] internally from creating safe spaces and avenues, making sure you’re accessible as a leader, your team members feel comfortable coming to you and making sure you’re getting signals from other parts of the business.”