How to inspire and make way for innovation
When I joined Ellucian six months ago, I was fortunate to step into a very well-functioning IT organization. However, the business needs of our enterprise are growing, so many challenges of scale are in front of us. I took some specific actions to ease my transition into the new role and ensure I could hit the ground running. This approach worked well for me, and it may spark some ideas for other CIOs who are just starting out in a new role.
Meet-ups: As a first step, I met with the top 30-40 leaders across our enterprise representing all business functions. Beyond simple introductions, building a personal relationship and listening were key elements of those discussions. I also embarked on a geographic tour, visiting multiple locations to see people in different parts of the organization. It is especially important to get a look at the world outside corporate headquarters.
Customers: I was fortunate to attend our company's annual user conference just before coming on board. We had 8,000 of our customers at the event, and I had the opportunity to dine with many of them, sharing informal conversations. Obtaining that customer perspective has been extremely valuable for my first six months. I was also able to meet Ellucian employees from around the globe at the event. I’ve already scheduled attendance at my next large customer event and will continue to engage customers in other settings.
Roundtables: I’ve held a number of informal discussions with IT associates, other business teams, and groups at headquarters and at the locations I’ve visited. My experience is that informal dialog provides a perspective that is hard to gain from dashboards, reports and business reviews. I’ve also found that a repeated event with the same associates provides insights that aren’t obvious in the first conversation.
Understanding the business and business processes: My meetings with customers and employees have helped me better understand our business. I’ve learned much from other members of the leadership team about our vision, our business direction, our immediate challenges, and the resources we have available to address them. I am continuing to invest time in better understanding the business, because that is essential knowledge for an IT leader.
Deciding what to do: After meeting as many people as I could, I scheduled follow-up visits with key executives across the business. I started to step into roles where there were gaps, and started to think about strategy and identifying tactical solutions. I assessed strengths and opportunities across my organization from a people standpoint, from an IT process standpoint, and from a technology standpoint.
Once I did these things, I was in a better position to identify the highest priorities – and fairly early on – start to develop a strategy. For example, we’re making long-term investments in our change management process, our incident management process, and implementing Agile techniques across IT. These are no-regrets moves that will be valuable regardless of how we evolve, so it made sense to tackle these as early projects.
Ultimately, I expect the time I invested in understanding our customers, building relationships across the business, learning our business processes, and identifying gaps and opportunities will go a long way toward making my first year a productive one. Every situation is different, and the imperatives vary from enterprise to enterprise, but these basic techniques should provide valuable insight for IT leaders starting a new role.