November 21, 2000Your letters to my print column and this E-mail forum raise some serious issues about managing information technology in today's world. Since today's world is essentially absurd, my serious responses may sometimes sound a little whimsical, and my occasional whimsical ones, serious. In any case, if you want to participate, or comment, write to me at email@example.com. I reserve the right to edit for size and content. Just sign your E-mail the way you want it to appear online.
In reading your articles on crotchety Kratmeyer, I was struck with a solution for curbing his behavior that you may not have thought of before. Befriend him. Take him out a couple of nights and buy drinks until you are both comfortably lubricated. At that point you might mention how inefficient it is for you to have to handle avoidable crises, and that by giving you more notice on the next acquisition or divestiture it will save the organization time and money.
Follow up these reasonable suggestions by pointing out what an "SOB" he is for doing things to you such as not giving you enough notice on big changes (The Useless Estimate), and that you should just "kick his operations butt." You might be surprised by the bonding that occurs. Of course, he might try to knock your block off. Either way, I think you'll come out of the experience with a better understanding of each other's needs.
You propose a noble solution, but trying to make friends with a scorpion doesn't make it less likely to sting you. A guy like Kratmeyer--bright, competent, dynamic, and completely untrustworthy--has grown up doing exactly what you suggest with his customers and bosses (with the exception of calling them SOBs).
Assuming that he would even condescend to spend any of his time outside of work with me, it would be solely to find some bit of information that he could use to his own advantage. As for telling him that I ought to kick his butt, that would be a mistake, although watching his reaction would no doubt be interesting. I suspect that he would just smile and view it as a compliment, reinforcing to him the power that he has. No, it is better to treat him with respect and think of myself as a cog in the corporate wheel rather than as his buddy, which is just the way he views me.
The only thing that will get him to cooperate more fully with us is for him to see that it is to his advantage, and threatening or criticizing him doesn't achieve that goal. The best way to achieve that end is to get the job done for him so that he can't say we are looking to shift the blame, let the other top executives know that they have waited for their own systems work because of him, and let peer pressure handle the situation.
I hear you and every other CIO stating that they will pay for a quality service. But how would one even begin to offer something to a CIO when they are "protected" behind a wall that takes a hacker with the skills of a Kevin Mitnick to break through?
My question is sincere in that I would like to receive an answer from a CIO's perspective on the best way to make contact to offer service. Most salespeople understand that a CIO's time is managed under extreme priorityhowever, most close relationships seem to come from existing relationships! How does one reach a CIO without babbling incoherently like a used-car salesman or applying back-door tactics that keep the "salesperson" slithering?
Waiting with pen and paper . . . .
I am more than happy to answer your question, but I don't think you'll be pleased with the answer.
It is true that CIOs frequently are surrounded with a wall of people, starting with the executive assistant, that is very difficult to penetrate. It is also true that the CIOs time is often managed tightly, with an eye to priorities, which don't often include seeing salespeople. It is even more true that, given the stakes involved, more and more decisions are made based on the viability of long-term relationships (no matter how good the product, if you can't trust the vendor to be there to support it, the situation is very risky).
So how do you penetrate the wall and get your time with this person who is running the show? The answer is that, except in very rare circumstances, you don't, unless you work through the organization that was put in place to deal with vendors. Don't fret, though. Even if you were to vault over all of those impedimenta in your way, you'd more than likely have to deal with these people anyway at some point. Further, if that happens, human nature being what it is, they won't be happy that you went around them and your life will be made difficult.
Don't waste your time trying to avoid the organizational design set up by the CIO. Go through the processes and if your product/service is good, you'll have a chance to sell it. If it turns out that an individual in the organization is blocking your way unfairly, then talk to their subordinates and their peers in the IT shop in an effort to build a positive consensus about your wares.
Keep in mind, even if you were to get to the CIO, if he or she has the time for only a cursory review and doesn't understand the value of your stuff, or is annoyed with you for going around the organization, you're dead in the water. You really are better off following the way the organization wants to evaluate new services.
Good day from Fort Wayne, Ind.
One day I would like to be a CIO. Would you share with me some of the hills you climbed to get to your current position (i.e., jobs, training)?
Thanks in advance for your time.
Your question made me sit and reflect. There have been so many hills to climb (and not a few valleys to climb out of) along the way, that it's hard to list all of them. I should also point out that some of them may provide useful lessons for today's aspiring CIO, while others are just interesting as ancient history.
OK, here goes my personal list of a half-dozen steep inclines:
- Getting enough experience in a broad range of IT areas so I could demonstrate my ability to handle different assignments.
- Being perceived by business people as someone who could understand their problems, not just an individual who would try to snow them with technical jargon.
- Recognizing that learning how to treat people fairly was harder than learning the details of any new technology.
- Developing the approach of hiring people who knew more than I did about any given subject and doing my best to further their careers--somehow, doing so always helped my own advancement.
- Understanding that it was best for the overall organization to give credit away to others rather than try to keep it for myself. It's interesting, though, that the more credit you give others who deserve it, the more that seems to come back to you.
- Not taking failure (whether it was missing a promotion or having a set back on an important project) as the final outcome.
In your article entitled "Competing With A Dot-Com," you mentioned that your star employee, Bruce, had met with you to discuss his opportunity with the Internet startup.
In the past, when an employee revealed other opportunities to their current employer, the employer typically had one of two reactions: "This employee is not loyal--we need to start looking for his replacement if he doesn't take the new opportunity," or "This employee is trying to manipulate us into increasing his compensation." As the thinking goes, disloyal and manipulative employees need to be replaced, or at least pigeonholed.
Is this still the line of thinking today among mangers? Should it be? Should it change? If so, to what?
I remember those days when a boss immediately viewed you as disloyal if you talked another job opportunity. As you said, the typical reaction was one of either 1) let's plan on his replacement, or 2) we can't trust him with any responsible position if he stays.
Neither reaction ever made sense to me. Aside from the fact that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution outlawed involuntary servitude, why would you want someone to stay with you if they were unhappy? If the employee is a good contributor, doesn't it make more sense to find out why he or she is dissatisfied--and, even if ultimately you can't fix the problem, use the information you learn to keep other good people in the fold?
My feeling is that these old attitudes you describe are slowly disappearing. Since firms no longer offer employment for life in exchange for eternal loyalty to the company, most supervisors I know are beginning to understand that it is quite reasonable for employees to look out for their own best interests. The smart manager is the one who makes sure that the best interests of the employee coincide with those of the company.
If an employee discusses other employment opportunities with his or her manager, it is either because of a true desire to gain a better understanding of what the future will be like, or it is a ploy to gain a better salary and position within the company. In either case, there is no reason not to be up-front with the employee. Surely you can't believe that this is the only person in the organization considering another job. If you try to punish the person for his or her openness, I promise you that the rest of your staff will know about it and no one will ever trust you in the future. Besides, if you haven't planned what to do in case key people leave, you aren't much of a manager.
Herbert W. Lovelace shares his experiences (changing most names, including his own, to protect the guilty) as CIO of a multibillion-dollar international company. Send him E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE TO READERS: As I've mentioned, I am planning to put my InformationWeek columns together into a book with a little bit of additional commentary around the events and people about whom I write. If any reader would like to be notified of such an event, please drop me an E-mail. Just use the word BOOK as the subject line.|
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