Making a move to a leadership position in an organisation involves driving forward your vision and putting an infrastructure in place to deliver it. Mark Holt is Chief Technology Officer at Trainline and has been a regular feature in the CIO 100 list over the past few years. At Robert Walters’ ‘Entry Into a C-Suite’ seminar, Mark provided insight into how to deliver in your first 100 days in a CIO role.
“The first 100 days as a CIO is all about people and what does your organisation feel and look like.”
Before joining Trainline in March 2014, Mark founded Europe's first secure eCommerce site in 1995 and has led innovative teams at companies such as Capital Radio, FT.com, GE Capital, Trayport and CPA Global. His passion for technology and strong people-focus helps drives his vision to shape the future of smarter rail travel for customers.
So what are the factors central to success at C-Suite level?
You have one chance to measure how bad or good it was when you joined, but in three years’ time, you want to be telling the story of continuous improvement – what was the situation back then, and how much better it is now?
So all the things you could possibly imagine measuring: how much faster is our website? How many errors do we have? How satisfied are your customers? Start to baseline those metrics by capturing them from the outset. It will also give you an indication of what is and isn’t working 100 days later.
During my time at CPA Global, we jumped from a 3 out of 10 customer satisfaction to a 7 out of 10 in 17 months – and I know that, because I measured it. I had the data points behind me to support the story I was trying to tell to prove the resources I was providing were value-adding.
Think about what the story is that you want to be able to tell in three years’ time. At the trainline, we wanted to say we were a modern, high-performing e-commerce company.
Understanding the grain of the organisation will allow you to work more effectively and get things done, at the right time.
As a private equity backed company, we wanted to support the story that they’d bought a slow-moving, undervalued piece of the rail industry, to be able to sell a modern, high-performing technology organisation. It’s important to keep the technology narrative in line with that business narrative.
It’s important to consider that an organisation can only evolve so much at one time – so break your narrative down into a series of chapters:
Although you may have your roadmap in place and 20 plus projects you want to achieve, think about where the power lines lie and what you can prioritise first to instil greater confidence in those internal stakeholders.
Politics and timing in your organisation will always come into play when attempting to move forward your narrative, so it’s important to wait for an opening where you can make your planned changes. For example, don’t try taking out a system that everyone loves, even if it causes you a problem. Look to understand the grain of the organisation - this will allow you to work more effectively and get things done, at the right time.
A well-engineered team is essential to ensure delivery. By simply ‘putting people in the right places’ – you have the structure and responsibilities in place to be able to deliver. It’s taken me five years to get to a place where I have three reporting lines in place, and I’m confident that my entire team is exceptional. As a CTO, my role isn’t as an individual contributor, I’m there to fix the processes and people so they can deal with the work. Your role is to create and maintain the fast-moving, agile organisation that comes up with the best ideas in the world and act upon them.
There’s no use in hiring five people that resemble your technical skill set, so make sure your team makes up for your own deficiencies. For example, I’m brilliant at initiating projects but I struggle to see one through. For this reason, every single one of my direct reports is brilliant at sustaining and finishing them.
More importantly, beyond skill set, your recruits should be professionals that have great energy and fantastic attitude. You have a lot of chapters to get through in your narrative, so it’s integral to have people that feed energy into your vision, rather than suck that energy out.
To develop your team, you want to hire people that are willing to disseminate information to upskill your organisation, not those that want to keep it all to themselves. For example, I hired an architect that wasn’t technically the most skilled, but they were brilliant at teaching fundamentals to other people and dispersing knowledge throughout the team, as well as bringing on board and developing fresh talent. As the business would take on graduates every year, by the end of that one year, they had become some of the best programmers in the company.
It’s important to rationalise the fact that you will hire people in year one, that probably aren’t suitable in year three of your roadmap. For example, a problem you need to resolve now may require a particular skill set in chapter one, but in chapter three, the skill sets you require have evolved which requires you to hire new talent.
As part of managing people, you need to adapt to be comfortable with having those conversations on a regular basis. This approach fundamentally stems down to thinking about the business need over personal relationships with colleagues.
As the centrepiece in delivering innovation and value-add to your organisation, as a CIO, your technical know-how will give way to an unwavering focus on businesses and an emphasis on building a flexible and empowered team capable of taking your vision to market.
It's a delicate balancing act of implementing change intuitively, keeping your stakeholders invested in your success, and continuously adapting to digital shifts to ensure your team grows in tandem with the technology landscape.
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