Top Seven Things a New CIO Should Know

Lessons From the California CIO Academy.

by / February 22, 2010

Sacramento, Calif. -- Being an effective CIO isn't all about IT, industry leaders say. It comes down to balancing the lure of technology with current business trends and keeping staff motivated.

While the current economic climate seems dismal and everyone is doing more with less, these tough times can be a catalyst for change. A panel of public- and private-sector CIOs at the California CIO Academy on Monday, Feb. 22, gave tips on what a new CIO should know and pitfalls to avoid:

o Don't forget your people. Denise Blair, CIO of the California Department of Mental Health, said that while you can't make everyone happy -- there will always be sticks in the mud in the workplace -- you can learn and implement methods that motivate most staff. If the typical "Employee of the Month" award just isn't cutting it, ask employees what would be a better motivator. "We need to ask them," Blair said. "I thought I knew."

o Embrace change and never say never. Richard Gillihan, chief of IT and consulting for the California Department of Finance, said we're all in the same boat when it comes to slashed budgets and fewer resources, but it does no good to dwell on the negative. "Don't let financial hard times be the backdrop to everything else related to work," he said.

o Build and maintain relationships with staff. Mark Sunday, senior vice president and CIO of Oracle, said the most important part of one's job satisfaction is directly related to the direct relationship with supervisors and peers.

o Don't let stress consume you. The stress will always be there, so manage it effectively and keep a positive attitude. Blair said it helps knowing the Mental Health Department and she herself make positive impacts on people's everyday lives. But not all jobs have that perk. "If it's always got you frazzled and eating you alive, it's the wrong job," said Teri Bennett, CIO of the California Public Employees' Retirement System.

o Find the brave and the bold. Building and maintaining a team is key to a successful work environment. "Ultimately it's all about the people," Gillihan said. "Build your team and treat them like gold because that talent can be stolen." Put employees in an environment where they'll flourish, challenge them, carefully choose those in executive leadership roles and "learn everything you can about everything," Blair said.

o Speak plainly and avoid jargon. To better understand and engage customers, put yourself in their shoes, Gillihan advises. "Make sure you speak the business of the business," he said. "Don't speak in IT jargon."

o Be accountable. Implement progress reports to illustrate accountability, set strategy that aligns with the business and find stability holes.

At the end of the day, your job is what you make or don't make of it, Bennett said. And make the most of these economically challenged times, Sunday said. "When things are going well, no one has the initiative," he said.


Karen Wilkinson

Karen is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.