The Sky Isn’t Falling – It’s Just a New CIO

It happened again. Another CIO is named and those familiar feelings of uncertainty, change and job insecurity rush into your every thought and conversation. What are her priorities? Are layoffs coming? Will she bring her own team? What does it mean for me!?

Don’t hyperventilate. As the executive communicator for four Chief Information Officers in seven years, I’ve been there. Naturally, we all rush to the potential downside, but it is also an opportunity for you to take charge after the changing of the guard.

Make an impression, but be subtle. Don’t bury her in minutiae about what you do or look for ways to reinforce your value. Instead, help her navigate the culture, personalities and nuance that comes with all companies. Discuss employee sentiment, the company’s perception of the team, and current priorities or near term deadlines.

Get to know her. You won’t have time to play 20 questions, so be ready to observe and adjust to her expectations. How does she run meetings? What information is she looking for? Is she detailed oriented? What types of questions does she ask? This insight will help you anticipate her needs and enable you to have more productive conversations with her in the future.

Establish a rapport. In the early days, your new leader is still locating the café and restroom. Give her a sense of her new role by discussing executive perceptions and expectations, team’s dynamics, in progress initiatives, or even strengths or fallout from her predecessor. This helps you be seen as a trusted advisor and someone she can depend on.

Don’t overwhelm her. She’s in information and meeting overload, so don’t add to it. Find ways to make it easier – anticipate her needs, deflect unnecessary or lower priority requests, and proactively offer recommendations and alternatives to make decisions easier. This will help her acclimate faster.

Share your insight and opinions. She’s ramping up quickly and may turn to you for a decision or perspective on a situation. Not only does this strengthen your relationship, but reinforces your role as an advisor. Be honest, offer alternatives, make recommendations and even take on a new project when appropriate. There is no better way to showcase your strengths and potential.

Take your career into your own hands. Now’s the time to think about what you like to do, what the role needs, and how you can better advance your leader’s and the company’s priorities. While she may not have time to chat with you right away, doing the work in advance will enable you to explore new ways of doing things or even new opportunities. And, by helping your leader get acclimated, you could even gain mentor and advocate.

Most importantly, breathe deep. While unnerving, a new CIO doesn’t have to be a death knell. She needs to show value as soon as possible, so the more you help her hit the ground running, the more apt you are to make a good impression and lock in your role.

Read my other blogs about communicating for CIOs and IT at


Evolving IT Communications White Paper

White Paper

I began this blog a few months ago to share my lessons learned leading executive, employee and internal communications for the CIO and IT organization at a large enterprise company.

To take it a step further, I’m publishing a more in-depth white paper to provide more perspective on why this is such a critical role for IT organizations. By all means, download it and share it with your teams. And, keep coming back because I have more blogs and papers in the works.


Evolving IT Comms – Fretless Communications

Communicating the Climb From CIO to CEO

Communicators are increasingly being tapped to elevate a CIO’s presence and thought leadership internally and externally. Not only does it help today as IT is increasingly intertwined in all aspects of a business, but CIOs may also have aspirations of becoming CEOs. Don’t just take my word for it. When discussing this progression with CIO Magazine, Puppet CEO Sanjay Mirchandani said, “To me that makes the CIO job the perfect place to groom your next CEO.”

In full disclosure, Sanjay was the first of four CIOs I supported. From early on, he recognized the value CIOs and IT bring to the business and was determined to showcase the team’s successes internally and with customers. And, he’s since transitioned this experience to his role at Puppet.

While not all CIOs want to be CEOs, IT communicators have a role to play. To help, here is some advice for working with CIOs (and other executives).

1. Build a rapport. Spend time getting to know them. Understand their interests, goals and aspirations. And, most importantly, look for ways that communications can help advance their cause.

2. Understand the ecosystem. What is the CIO up against? How is IT perceived? Is she or he stepping into a supportive IT environment or a viper pit? Your experience and counsel can help them navigate the calm or choppy waters. And, this candor and insight will help them see you as a trusted advisor.

3. Listen. How do they speak? What topics do they gravitate to? What are they passionate about at work and outside? How can you capture their passion, empathy and drive in your communications? And, what aren’t they saying that may shed some light on their challenges?

4. Show your CIO how you can help them. Regardless of their aspirations, a CIO needs to communicate to motivate teams, communicate successes and at times, deliver bad news. Be available when they need you, anticipate their needs and proactively recommend solutions. And, their time is valuable, so be selective and ensure you are bringing them the most impactful opportunities.

6. Communicate. Seems obvious, right? Whether they are happy where they are or dream about the corner office, CIOs need to regularly communicate the value IT is delivering for the business. Look for ways to partner with corporate communications and others to extend your reach and impact.

I’m sure there are plenty more..what did I miss?

More Resolutions to Break?

Ah, yes, another round of resolutions for folks to ponder for New Years. However, unlike the ones we all break – to get our lives in order, lose weight and pursue some unlikely objective – here are a few realistic resolutions for IT communicators:

First, it is safe to say transformation will be at the top of most IT organizations’ 2018 priorities. With that comes, budget conversations, process improvements and changes for employees – all of which will need communications. While you will need to tactically execute, resolve to plan strategically and showcase IT’s progress and success towards this priority.

Second, IT communications must also be willing to transform. It’s a new year, so take this opportunity to break away from some of the tired, more comfortable approaches and try something more creative and compelling to enhance the experience for users.

Third, what good is a weight loss resolution if you don’t measure the results? Given everything else we are tasked with in communications, we don’t always provide consistent metrics that showcase our effectiveness. How about we resolve not to break this resolution in 2018?

Fourth, take control of your career. As an IT communicator, we live between two worlds – an all-consuming life in IT and our roots in communications and marketing. Regardless of your career path, the new year is a perfect time to engage a mentor, broaden your network, and look for courses and new experiences to strengthen your skills.

Finally, have patience. The business world will awake from their sugar cookie highs and eggnog hangovers and realize they need to get back to work. Before the mayhem begins, start thinking about the year ahead and how you can resolve to have an even better IT communication program and career in 2018.

So, there you have it – a few resolutions to ponder as you ease into the holidays. While I’ll be pursuing these, I assure you, there is no judgement or shame if you’d rather break the usual “get in shape” resolutions instead. 🙂

Happy holidays from Fretless Communications.

Communicate IT

We have all considered this philosophical phrase, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” However, for the purpose of this blog, let’s alter it slightly to relate it to how we communicate in IT.

If we send an email out and no one opens or reads it, did we communicate? 

Unlike the prior statement, we don’t need to debate this. The answer is no. Assuming we even monitor the email metrics or the service adoption and usage, IT organizations will likely just resend the email or escalate it versus evolving our overall approach. I mentioned this in a prior blog, but let’s explore some questions you should ask to increase our chances of being heard.

  1. Have you surveyed users about their preferred way to receive IT news? Even better, can they opt in or out of receiving communications?
  2. Besides email, what vehicles can you use to communicate with your users? Are there internal communities or social media outlets you can leverage?
  3. Do you target your emails to users or organizations that are most impacted or likely to use the service? This goes beyond using a targeted distribution list and involves modifying communications to use terms and examples familiar to that audience or business unit.
  4. People are more apt to open a communications from someone they know. Can you work with business leaders or business unit communicators to share IT news that impacts their teams?
  5. In lieu of or addition to an email, are there other deliverables that would be helpful to a user, such as using videos, infographics and helpful hints? They may not read the entire email, but they may watch a short video or scan a checklist.

Email may be the most convenient option for you, but we all receive too many emails. And, frankly, we consume information from many other places today. While it will involve more planning and will take time to take root with users, it’s worth exploring other vehicles to get the word out.

What are you doing besides email?