Listen and learn as leading CIOs share the decisions they'd do over, from misusing outsourcing to adopting tech too early.
"In the corporate world, failure is an F word, and you just don't talk about it," says Steve Schlecht, CEO of Duluth Trading Company. Schlecht knows the topic. His entrepreneurial career started when he bought two tire shops that proved to be in bad locations, forcing him to start a farm supply catalog business on the side, which took off and he later sold. His advice: "When you fail, admit it and move on."
Easier said than done for most of us. That's why my favorite question in InformationWeek's CIO Profiles is about the "decision I wish I could do over." Whereas I once expected to see bland responses, I'm now impressed by CIOs sharing specific and often personal examples.
Our CIO Profiles ask a range of questions of IT leaders whose companies rank highly in our InformationWeek 500 list of IT innovators. Perhaps it's no coincidence that leaders who excel are also those who can honestly assess their mistakes.
This is the third time that we've collected the answers to this "Do Over" question; we did so last year and in 2010. In this year's list, we hear from the CIOs of Levi Strauss, Vail, Walgreens, and PACCAR (our top IW 500 company), among others. Some of their regrets are intensely personal, focusing on career moves, or the high family and personal cost of business success. Some do-over wishes focus on strategy, from how to use outsourcing to whether to be an early tech adopter.
For us, it's a chance to listen and learn.
Steven Haindl, of Automotive Resources International, has actually formalized that approach, and has a weekly meeting to discuss mistakes from which his team can learn:
Decision I wish I could do over:
Early in my career, I didn't recognize the plus side of failure. If I made a mistake, I'd either ignore it or, even worse, hide it. Now I stress the importance of learning from mistakes. On a weekly basis, my team holds an incident and problem management team meeting to identify areas where we can improve.
Robert Urwiler, Vail Resorts: At times when I ceded control of significant efforts to third parties, I regretted the outcome. What I've learned is that core functions and complex project execution need direct internal oversight. It's OK to use third parties to augment the team where necessary, but control must stay with people you know and trust.
Tom Peck, Levi Strauss: Too often, I've chosen an early-adopter approach to new technologies. I've found the risk more often than not outweighs the potential benefits. I'm now more likely to be a fast follower unless there's super-clear joint accountability.
Kyle Quinn, PACCAR: Early in my career, I considered going back to school to get an MBA but decided it could be deferred. Fifteen years later, I looked at it again and committed to it. Both the academic experience and the skills I acquired are much more valuable than I had imagined. Get it done early in your career--don't delay.
Steve Hannah, CRST International: Many times, it's very hard to balance the desire for growth in your career with the needs of your family. I'm lucky to have two great daughters and a very understanding wife, who have had to make several moves because of my career. I wish I had taken more time to better understand their needs when making a move. Ask for and listen to your family's feedback instead of just focusing on new opportunities.
Chris Corrado, Asurion: Leaving a firm after 12 years because I became impatient. I could have waited longer for senior management to make the changes needed to effect the necessary improvements in our operating model. In retrospect, this wasn't the best move for me--though the learning experience resulting from the move was a valuable lesson and helped me become a more effective manager in international markets.
Rick Peltz, Marcus & Millichap Investment Services: IS professionals, including me, continued developing and building desktop solutions for too long. We should have transitioned to Web-based solutions across multiple operating systems earlier.
Galen M. Metz, The Group Health Cooperative Of South Central Wisconsin: While I've had a good track record with people decisions, I would like a "do-over" on one or two hiring decisions. One person quit after a day because of a cultural mismatch. She came from a large, regimented organization and we represented a midsize, nimble, innovative one. She wasn't comfortable in that new environment. Our hiring process is now more extensive, and includes a look at the cultural match.
Brook Walsh, GreenStone Farm Credit Services: I remember making a decision without fully taking into consideration the entire team's perspective. I gathered a majority of the management team's perspective, but not the people who were actually doing the work. I thought that by incorporating their managers' opinions I was capturing theirs, and I was sadly mistaken.
This inaugural episode of Business Matters explores the subject of leadership with former Air Force Brigadier General John Michel, the Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer and President of MV International.