3 CIO Lessons from Obama’s First 100 Days

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Today marks President Obama’s 100th day in office.  Gallup reports that Obama’s 63% approval rating is the best since Carter’s early approval rating in 1977 (the highest was JFK’s 74% in 1961; CNN’s take).   Americans have used the first 100 days as a predictor of Presidential success ever since FDR’s barrage of New Deal programs.  NPR even has an Obama Tracker that has been documenting domestic, economic and foreign policy milestones since the President entered office.  (If you are an Edward Tufte follower though, you might cringe at this chart’s lack of information at first glance.)

Always looking for a good analogy, I wondered what lessons a new CIO could take from Obama’s early days.  This is especially relevant for CIOs as a good percentage of them are always new in their positions - a direct result of short tenures we see in the role.

Kill Some Sacred Cows

President Obama has certainly hit this one hard.  Reaching out to Islamic and hard-line Latin American leaders, thawing Cuban relationships, and closing Gitmo .

New CIO Analogy:  There will likely be several things - processes, policies, governance teams and meetings, not to mention icy relationships - that will cause some serious head-scratching.  Ask around to find out why they exist and if you don’t get a good answer, kill ’em.  Chances are you will make a lot of friends.  I have an insurance client who has a strange organization structure with three layers of CIOs.  The next CIO (the boss) in there should kill that cow.

I’m From the Government and I’m Here to Help

Obama has changed the decision-making process to involve more of the central government and teams of experts and seems to be adding value, whether in banks, schools or health care.  While some may argue it is a heavy-handed approach, it is one that takes responsibility for solving problems.

New CIO Analogy: Is the IT organization seen as problem solvers or problem creators?  What are the burning issues in the organization that are because of IT or that can be solved by IT?  Insert yourself into one or two of these to set a new tone.  Start with IT service delivery as it is the base on which IT credibility is built.  The IT shop in a beverages company I worked with was constantly, but inadequately, responding to tech support requests from the business executives.  My client, a new CIO in the position, established a “concierge” for the business leaders and quickly increased service and goodwill.

Demonstrate that You are a Competent Manager

There were (and are) many skeptics that Obama’s background as a community organizer was enough to prepare him for White House management responsibilities.  So far, he has demonstrated that he can maintain his composure with days full of CEO firings, bailout discussions, speech writing, meeting heads of state, releasing top secret memos and weather-driven evacuations.  Some would even ask for more emotion.

New CIO Analogy:  A new CIO has sold himself to his boss and his peers during the hiring process.  The first 100 days is a golden opportunity to sell yourself to the organization.  Providing leadership is one part of it - but as important is demonstrating management competency in understanding, prioritizing and directing both tactical and strategic projects.  The first 100 day workplan should include building a prioritized list of the top business issues, important projects and service issues and an action plan to address them.  One of my financial services CIO clients spent much of his first 100 days meeting and dealing with vendors.  This was not a good use of his time.  He should have focused first on his own leaders, teams, issues and projects.

For more perspectives on Obama’s first 100 days, see Charlie Rose’s interview with NY Times writer David Brooks,

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