The Virtuous CIO  

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July 15, 2011 — Training a New Boss

The Virtuous CIO spends a lot of time thinking about how to hire replacement employees. The annual turnover in the average IT shop is always greater than desired, so therefore the challenge is to hire employees not only suited to the job description, but also that present some promise of staying around for a while.

Of course, with the average tenure of the CIO being less than four years, there is a very practical aspect of career planning which cannot be neglected. This is sometimes known as keeping your parachute packed. You just never know.

One aspect of human resource management that is seldom thought of is training a new boss. The CIO is not the only C-level officer with relatively short average tenure. So, it should not be totally unexpected to arrive in your office on Monday morning to confront a management change that may have occurred the previous Friday afternoon. These things happen.

Having recently inducted a new boss into the organization, these matters have definitely come to mind. Fortunately there has been plenty of advance notice, which provided the opportunity to create an agenda to follow in getting the new guy oriented.

There are two highly important anchors on the framework to building a relationship with the new boss: first of all he must be familiar with what you are doing, and where you are going. Secondly it is important to find out his marching orders or mission. It is very likely that the CEO or the board has given the new corporate officer explicit goals or directives. Discovering and understanding these items is critically important.

First, set up a general meeting. Publish an agenda that both of you will follow in the meeting. Among the items to be covered is an overview of the IT organization, plus the state of technology in the business. Secondly, give the new CxO with the opportunity to communicate his expectations and goals. This is an ideal way to open a dialogue and begin to develop avenues of communication.

As you are preparing for this meeting review the basic rules of boss/employee interaction. The first rule, which is almost Biblical in perspective, is to make your boss successful. This is the number one priority. In addition to being the right thing to do, it makes good pragmatic sense. The successful boss usually leads a successful organization, of which you are a part.

In addition to developing the Critical Success Factors (wink, wink), keep in mind the best way to manage the inevitable mistakes that accrue to a technology organization. When you, or someone in your organization makes that life changing error (whether through ignorance, stupidity, or simple incompetence), make sure the boss finds out about it from you first. This is actually a corollary to the other rule – never surprise the boss.

The final item, in terms of the summary, is to help the new boss avoid those cultural cow plops that infest the pastures of every organization. This is actually trickier than it may seem at first. The new boss may have a mandate to change corporate culture and you will do him no favors by attempting to hold him back. On the other hand it's important to stay alert for the dead falls and help the boss adroitly maneuver around them.

Obviously, this requires communication. If the CIO is not communicating with those to whom he reports, he needs to go back to the paragraph about packing his parachute. Communication is sometimes easy; sometimes difficult. But it cannot be avoided. You must communicate.