Companies without a history of strong IT leadership often don’t really know what a CIO does or how to incorporate one into the organization. ING Americas CTO Raymond Karrenbauer says that a strange ritual developed during his first weeks on the job in 2001. “Each morning, people from legal, HR, finance and sales kept coming into my office,” he recalls. “I assumed that they were going to welcome me on board and say, Nice to meet you.” Instead, they all asked him if he had heard about the latest whiz-bang tool for content management, CRM or whatever piece of software the visitor thought would best help his department. “It was frustrating,” Karrenbauer says. “They didn’t realize that this is what I do.”
Rather than explain over and over again that, yes, it was his job to know technology, Karrenbauer decided to give these executives a taste of their own medicine. He searched for and printed out the latest articles on new marketing techniques and financial law changes, brought them to the offending executives’ offices and asked them if they had heard about the new material. “I did this every morning for two weeks,” he says gleefully. They got the message: Give me a chance to do my job.
Larry Bonfante, CIO of the United States Tennis Association (USTA), advises incoming CIOs to find out how their new organizations really work. But knowing who to turn to isn’t always obvious, and the obvious answer may be wrong. When Bonfante first arrived at the USTA, he watched carefully, trying to see how things really got done?and by whom. “There is formal power and informal power,” he explains. The CEO and CFO fall into the former category, but the latter can’t be overlooked.
The trick is to identify whom people go to when they need to get things done. It could be a midlevel manager or even an administrator. “Take these people out to lunch and find out how they make things happen,” says Bonfante.
It is important to establish yourself early. Rob Tabb, Ecolab’s vice president and CIO, thinks the first six months set the tone for the rest of a CIO’s tenure. That’s the same amount of time that new leaders take to reach what Harvard Business School associate professor Michael Watkins calls the break-even point: the place on the learning curve at which they start creating net value for their organizations. If you take any longer than that to demonstrate your worth to the organization, that revolving door for CIOs just might hit you from behind.