Carhartt CIO shares 5 things new CIOs must do in their first 100 days

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When a new person fills a high-profile job, much is typically made of the first 100 days: what was accomplished and whether it bodes well for the future.

John Hill says CIOs should be mindful of that milestone. “There’s a tendency to be too conservative during the first 100 days,” says Hill, who became CIO at outdoor clothing retailer Carhartt in early 2016. “IT organizations are expected to be nimble, agile and embrace technology to bridge competitive gaps. If you’re just listening for 100 days, people aren’t going to get the feel that you’re going to provide that kind of culture in the IT organization.”

With the benefit of experience from a previous CIO stint to draw on, Hill was intent on setting the right tone in his first 100 days at Carhartt, while also making them productive. He points to five keys to making that happen.

1. Provide clarity

With a new boss in town, IT staff may naturally be concerned about reorganizations, projects they’ve been working on – and their very jobs. To calm such fears, on his second day, Hill promised his team that he’d complete any reorganizations within 90 days and make all plans clear to everyone. “We achieved that on day 86 or 87,” he says. That served to show the IT team that he understood their feelings and that, if he said he’d do something, he’d do it – on time.

2. Promote unity

Another key is to give the IT group a sense of unity, which Hill accomplished through defining objectives. “We made sure everyone in IT had some shared objectives, to start getting that sense of teamwork,” he says. Together, the group created four categories that served as foundational focus areas:  

  • Increasing Carhartt’s competitive position
  • Improving efficiency and effectiveness
  • Protect the brand
  • Achieve expected financial results.

“I said to folks, no matter what’s happening in the business or with market conditions, we’re always going to be doing things that are focused on those four things,” he says. That helps IT staff understand how what they do ties back to overall business objectives, and to pull together around those goals.

3. Learn the business

Given he didn’t come from a retail or apparel background, Hill made it a point to learn Carhartt’s business as quickly as possible. “I visited factories, distribution centers, and met with design and sales team – all within the first 90 days,” he says. “I still do. I go on customer sales calls, just to understand the business as much as possible, so when we do have opportunities for IT innovation, I’m able to see them.”

4. Find – and fix – a pain point

A key for any new CIO is to find a pain point in the organization and try to fix it as quickly as possible. In Carhartt’s case, from his interviews with senior executives and others, Hill identified collaboration as a pain point. Within his first two weeks, he identified two popular cloud-based suites as solutions and challenged his team to pick one and implement it quickly. By the end of the summer, the job was done.

The move also served to set a new tone about IT with the rest of the business. Up to that point, IT was viewed as being resistant to change when it came to new delivery mechanisms such as cloud, but no more. Additionally, it was the beginning of a move to a more lean, agile environment, where change happened far more quickly. For example, when Hill first came on board, it could be months between any changes to Now, changes come bi-weekly.

5. Break down barriers

Any organization tends to have some sort of barriers, whether between organizational levels or functions, and Carhartt was no different. Over the course of two days, Hill and the rest of the leadership team agreed on norms and delivery principles to define how they would all work together. The effort involved putting IT people on leadership teams throughout the organization, to more proactively work with the business units, understand their challenges and help devise solutions – rather than sitting back and waiting to take orders. The effort also involved empowering IT to challenge the status quo and speak up when they identified a better way to do things.

“That first 90 to 100 days was really about trying to do as much as possible and gaining as much momentum as possible,” Hill says. “It set us up for rest of the year and into next year.”

Paul Desmond has been working as an IT trade press reporter, writer and editor since 1988.  He has extensive experience covering a range of technologies, including networks, unified communications, security, storage, virtualization and application strategies.