A new job comes with its own unique challenges, but taking on a position of senior leadership is often even more difficult. During this time of year, many CIOs are transitioning from one institution to another, confronting issues of leadership, stakeholder buy-in, and assess team support. We wondered: How should CIOs approach these challenges, and what key lessons should they keep in mind as they work to establish their reputations at their new institutions?
To help new CIOs address these concerns, we recently spoke with Dr. Curtis Carver, who just completed his first year as CIO of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Dr. Carver shared his perspective on the five key principles CIOs need to have a successful first 100 days and beyond.
1. Get started before you get started
Dr. Carver began his first day at UAB with a packed calendar. His days were full of meetings, and his strategic plan was already in motion. In fact, discussions about strategic plans actually began in his interview process. Dr. Carver and UAB’s senior leadership used this time to plan and agree upon the IT department’s primary goals.
Related: Read our study Navigating the Higher Education CIO’s First 100 Days
Dr. Carver’s offer letter included a summary of these conversations as well as seven imperatives, in priority order, that formed the basis for the institution’s strategic plan. These seven imperatives helped him develop a roadmap for his first 100 days, and minimized the need for a transition period once he took on the role full-time.
2. Talk to everybody (Really. Everybody.)
Dr. Carver attended 800 meetings during his first 100 days. This translates into 12 meetings per day, or one meeting every 36 minutes over an eight-hour day. Of course, there are no eight-hour days in the first 100 days. However narrow, each block of time gave a stakeholder (or group of stakeholders) an opportunity to share feedback and engage with UAB IT department’s new leadership.
These meetings once again underscore the importance of understanding strategic imperatives as early as possible. As Dr. Carver explains, “At a lot of those meetings in the first three months, I’d hand over a piece of paper that listed the seven imperatives, with the big words DRAFT written over it, and ask, ‘Does this look right to you? Is it in the right order? Am I missing something?’ My open request for a reaction to something specific served as the foundation for everyone to freely share their opinions.”
In addition to helping Dr. Carver refine the strategic imperatives, these meetings also sent everyone on campus a clear message about the culture of the IT department that Dr. Carver was building. It created interest and a willingness to, as one IT skeptic put it, “suspend disbelief until you prove me right.”
3. Get and celebrate ‘quick wins’
In addition to the 800 meetings, Dr. Carver also hosted five town halls in his first six months. He brought together anywhere between 200-400 employees to discuss pertinent problems, potential solutions, and project prioritization.
Feedback from these meetings allowed Dr. Carver and his team to attain 20-30 “quick wins” each month, with a goal of 100 wins in the first year. These wins refer to technologies and policy changes that enhance the productivity of students, faculty, researchers, and administrators. Recent wins include:
- Increasing fundraising callbacks from two callbacks per week to two every 15 minutes by resolving a request from Advancement (that had been languishing in the IT queue for six years) to change telephone procedures so that UAB did not appear as “anonymous” on fundraising calls
- Reducing the 17-step campus visit request process to only two, simple steps
- Increasing the speed of UAB’s high performance computing by a factor of 10
- Expanding network connectivity from 10 to 100 gigabits per second
Dr. Carver uses a monthly newsletter to highlight UAB’s IT accomplishments, and share what the team plans to accomplish next. The newsletter also outlines opportunities to help IT identify unresolved problems and coauthor solutions. This is also part of a larger effort to make IT a department where voices are heard and needs are met.
4. You’re the CIO—use technology!
While meetings and town halls allow IT to more effectively share its mission, purpose, and accomplishments, Dr. Carver and his team reach a broader audience through UAB’s SPARK initiative. Supported through UAB IT, this innovation and ideas platform collects and shares stakeholder submitted technology-related ideas. UAB IT can review these submissions in real time and identify opportunities for more quick wins. Although the platform’s initial purpose was to gather feedback, the campus members turned it into an effective knowledge management and prioritization tool in two key ways:
- Knowledge management: SPARK users vote and comment on one another’s suggestions. They also recommend pre-existing solutions that don’t require any further investment of IT’s time or resources.
- Prioritization: IT uses responses to suggestions to help determine the most popular ideas. Since the community decides what they want IT to address, Dr. Carver’s team can respond quickly and effectively.
In part because of these two ancillary benefits, Dr. Carver notes that UAB IT has reversed its reputation as the department of “no and slow,” since instead of IT saying no, it is other stakeholders saying no. He finds that this effort has also enhanced UAB IT’s reputation as the center of productive dialogue, and this practice is now replicated by other functions on campus.
5. 100 days ain’t nothing but a number
Lastly, Dr. Carver says that the first 100 days is a “magical period” that can last as long as you want. It is possible to extend the standard “100-day” grace period by another 100, and another 100 after that, so long as the CIO continues to deliver quick wins and promote them across the campus. If stakeholders feel happy, heard, and see results, the honeymoon period doesn’t really need to end.