New CIOs offer advice, 10 tips for those aspiring to the role [Educause 2016]
The success strategies of these three tech chiefs can serve prospective administrators campuswide
Strong people skills are key to success in any higher ed leadership role, and IT — where workers are often noted for being far more introverted — is no exception.
In a Thursday afternoon panel at last week's Educause conference in Anaheim, CA, CIOs Keith McIntosh (University of Richmond), Barron Koralesky (Williams College) and Sharon Pitt (Binghamton University) offered their advice as people relatively new to the role of campus tech chief.
But in addition to sharing experiences and lessons learned, which we'll get to in a bit, the trio also offered the following list of 10 tips that tied into those stories:
- Create and share a technology plan
- Demonstrate leadership (while being yourself)
- Get a life (pay attention to yourself and your needs)
- Communicate (often, consistently and to everyone — and communicating also means listening)
- Build a team
- Find small victories (build momentum, communicate successes)
- Learn the organization
- Culture eats strategy for breakfast
- Remember the interview
While tips like networking and communicating may seem like no-brainers, as you'll see below, all 10 are key components in an overall strategy for success — and can also be adapted for prospective administrators beyond IT.
When is the right time to try for the CIO position?
Barron, McIntosh and Pitt all agreed that it’s not about chasing the title, but about waiting for the right fit. McIntosh notes that while he was perfectly happy at Ithaca, the University of Richmond checked off more things he wanted in his life, so he pursued the opportunity. Pitt says that she puts the question in technology terms: Is it time for an upgrade? Along with Barron, she adds that it would come down to a consideration of who she would be jealous of if they got the role instead.
What to expect in the hiring process
As with any position, doing the research before hand is critical. Failure to do so all but guarantees disappointment. Pitt says that CIO candidates should go on the institution's website, talk to colleagues and others from the institution, Google the search committee members (if you know who they are), and consider the location and things like school systems, etc.
Of course, the time spent on research can make not getting the job more devastating if you're not ultimately selected, but it’s worthwhile if you want to be at all. And of course, you shouldn't get too comfortable with experiences from one job interview to another.
Barron adds that you should also be your most authentic self, refraining, for example, from trying to crack jokes if you’re not funny. In order to present himself with no pretense while applying for a job at Williams, he says he gave himself a 0% chance of getting the job. Pitt says that the moment you can be your most authentic is when you can really see if that fit is going to happen or not.
For his part, McIntosh says he’s naturally very direct and authentic, but if he goes to an interview on-campus, he prepares for a long day. Candidates should be mindful that every contact they have on campus is an interview point — even the person driving them from the airport to the campus. And they should also consider learning how to effectively negotiate contracts and know their worth in the event they're fortunate enough to get through the whole process.
Positioning yourself for success during the transition
When Barron landed his role at Williams, he was advised by colleague from Middlebury to figure out a 100-day plan. This included tasks to be completed on both a personal and professional level during the first 100 days on the job.
Some of those tasks might include, as McIntosh suggested, listening tours and other activities that facilitate relationship-building with key stakeholders and colleagues. Meeting with as many senior leaders and stakeholders as possible helps you learn pain points and build trust. “If we don’t trust people, things don’t go as smooth,” McIntosh says.
Still in the process of meeting with all of his staff at Richmond, where he transitioned to from the CIO position at Ithaca earlier this year, McIntosh says he's used to being the new person from living all over the world during his time in the military. He adds that he doesn’t give up on getting to know folks. Barron notes that when he has people who are reticent, he puts them at the back of the line until they're ready.
Breaking that ice, however, can be accomplished with fairly simple steps. On his second day on the job, McIntosh held an “About Mac” presentation focused on details about himself and his family. He also went around to various groups within IT and did group meetings before holding one-on-ones. At Binghamton, Pitt says she started “Snacks with the CIO” sessions to learn more about staff, which also helped everyone learn more about each other as people, too. Even then, there was always a group that wasn’t able to come, and she had to account for those on the team who are deep introverts.
In addition, Pitt says an effective transition requires finding a house and making sure your family is settled, as well as leaving your former team in a good place. You should, for example, work out a plan with your supervisor at your former institution so they can move forward in a good way.
What hasn’t been successful so far?
Of course, any new position comes with a learning curve and missteps that require you to get up, dust yourself off and try again.
Pitt says that while she believes she was hired to be a change agent, one of the big challenges is avoiding making too much change too quickly. You have to learn to slow down a bit and allow people with fewer change points to catch up. Learning the right pace for your organization is essential.
Along those lines, McIntosh sa he made a change at his previous institution that impacted faculty and it wasn't initially received well. The misperception around it built to the point that, by the time it hit a faculty listserv, there were calls to get him out of the institution at just eight months on the job. He says he went straight to the "ringleader" of the faculty to address the situation, asking what he could do to make it work and letting him know his thought process. To laughs, McIntosh stated that the faculty member initially asked, “Who are you again?” before telling him he was the first administrator to come from his office to discuss something.
Owning the mistake got that faculty member’s backing in a glowing email.
In another “culture eats strategy for breakfast” incident, Barron told the crowd that many of his missteps had been the result of behaving as he would have at a previous institution where he had more influence built up. Being at a new institution requires thinking about how you should be aware of the system you’re working in.
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