Four Ways to Make the Most out of Your New Leadership Role

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This story originally appeared in The Enterprisers Project.

I’m currently a few months into a new CIO role at a highly-admired, cloud-based technology company. One of my first tasks was to get to know the organization’s people, culture, and priorities.

As part of that goal, I am visiting all the major IT sites. While In India, less than two months into the job, I was asked directly: “What are you going to do? What is your plan?” My response, which will not surprise seasoned CIOs, was that I was still in discovery mode, and I was there to listen and learn.

I’ve never gone into an organization with a set blueprint for what I’ll do. I know some CIOs have a playbook for how they will operate. They’ll come in and blow the whole organization up and put their set plan in motion.

Yes, there may be situations where things are massively broken and not working, so that course of action makes sense. Once I’m inside a company, however, my strategy is to go through a discovery process. I don’t want to have any preconceived notions about the way things should be or what’s working versus what’s not.

Here are my guiding principles as a newly-appointed leader:

1. Get to know your people

This means building relationships, and it includes your IT staff as well as your business users and your top salespeople. What are the top things on their lists? What do they want you to focus on? What’s working well? What’s not? How is the customer experience? Knowing how you can help everyone be more successful will help you shape the way you deliver services to them.

If your department is spread across several floors, as mine is, consider meet-and-greet lunches or mini-tech fairs so people can introduce themselves, discuss what they’re working on, and share stories about their family, if they feel comfortable doing that. If you have an open-door office policy, make sure they know that as well. If your staff spreads across countries or continents, get out there and visit as soon as you reasonably can.

2. Get to know your products and company culture

One of the things that surprised me coming into to Adobe was how broad our product portfolio is. We have a platform of solutions and services across three clouds – Adobe Creative Cloud, Document Cloud and Marketing Cloud – and a vast portfolio of products within each. You’ll never know how much opportunity your new company presents until you get to know your products and learn how to support all of them. At Adobe we use many of our digital media and digital marketing solutions as Customer Zero, so we have first-hand experiences to share with our customers

3. Get to know customers

Very early on, I started getting requests to meet with customers. Meeting with customers is a great way to jump-start your thinking into the future of the IT organization, which includes the different types of technologies, customers, and consumers we could have going forward.

4. Plan for the future

As a new leader, I have a fresh perspective and can think about the future of the organization without getting distracted by challenges or obstacles.

What CIOs need to do is jump-start IT into its next generation. When I meet my staff, I’m asking them what we want to be three to five years out so we can start positioning ourselves for that future. That means discussing the initiatives and priorities.

After that, it makes sense to bring the leadership team together so you can work to co-create the next generation of the organization – its mission, vision, modes of alignment, and operating norms.  If you start changing IT from the inside out, it will percolate into business and everything else you do.

Through this whole process, I’ve been very open with people that this is not going to be a top-down directive. I have ideas on priorities and what we need to focus on, but we have to be in lockstep, working as a team and figuring out what we want to do jointly.

Cynthia Stoddard, CIO

As senior vice president and chief information officer of Adobe, Cynthia Stoddard oversees Adobe’s global Information Technology team. In her leadership role, Cynthia spearheads a global strategy for delivering services that form the mission-critical backbone for the company. This includes providing always-on systems and enterprise applications that enable us to run Adobe’s business; delivering productivity to employees everywhere; and providing the information and data services for real-time decision making and personalized customer experiences.

Cynthia Stoddard, CIO