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7/9/2012
04:40 PM
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Here Comes Corporate Brain Drain

If IT organizations don't get their act together, there's going to be a massive brain drain, and we're all going to be in trouble.

10 CIOs: Career Decisions I'd Do Over
10 CIOs: Career Decisions I'd Do Over
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
"Many corporations are still managing people as if we were living in another era," says Slim. That's not a surprise for those of us who are survivors of the corporate wars. For the record, I have worked in midsized and large government and private sector organizations, and let me assure you that the dysfunctions are very, very much the same. There's always someone who has a bright idea about how to "increase productivity" by putting their thumb on people and treating people like factory workers in the industrial revolution. And, as much as your organization might "rah, rah, rah" behind the bottom line over all else, the great likelihood is that this is NOT the highest life priority for most people at your organization.

During WDS it was apparent to me that not much has changed and, in fact, that some of the bully bosses out there think that they're doing the right thing. One attendee who works in the telecommunications industry told me how her boss recently handed down an imperial mandate that employees would no longer be able to listen to music on a headset while they work. "It makes you less approachable," was the justification. Yeah, it also makes you not want to come to work if you're an introvert that needs to focus in a cubicle environment while lots of chatter is going on. The stories go on and on. Well meaning, yet stupid rule, meet worker-made-uncomfortable-and-unwelcome.

One of my favorite people that I met at the conference happened to be a lawyer. We got into a conversation about law, since I work for government in one of my roles, and she quite seriously told me that the thing that drives her crazy is that the law is this massive and powerful instrument that gets misused. For example, it's the only way, she said, for you to put someone to death legally. It completely drives her nuts that it gets used for trivia, over-regulation, and so on. This is no less true of rules and restrictions in our organizations. Rules are powerful tools. We should use them only when it is critical to do so. As one of my mentors has said to me about performance reviews, when you give a review, it's as if you're holding a megaphone to an employee's ear. Be minimal and soft.

[ How do IT leaders see industry trends? Read U.S. Tech Leadership On Solid Ground, IT Pros Say. ]

I am of course not advocating for a country club attitude. As I've pointed out in the past, that's a good way for the organization to burn down around your ears. But why, oh why, do we persist in doing things like asking people to "get approvals" to take some time off to go see their kid in a show? Why isn't the real position, "get the work done, and of course we're going to be flexible"?

As authors like Dan Pink have repeatedly pointed out in books like "Drive", our best and brightest don't just work for money. They do it for autonomy, mastery, and purposeful work. I would also add that the money that they do collect is for their LIFE purpose, what I call their "core." For some people, that's their dog. For others, it's their kids. For yet others, it's travel. We get in the way of that with capricious rules at our peril.

Ringleader Chris Guillebeau ended the conference with a bang. He distributed $100,000--in CASH--to the attendees there, with a mission. Go forth and contribute to something that matters. "Make an investment to a startup project. Invest in someone else because of community, adventure, and service," he said. Being part of something that matters is the reason why micro-finance sites like Kiva succeed. It's why Kickstarter projects succeed. And it's why, unless large organizations are very, very careful, they will lose their best and brightest as the micropreneur phenomenon takes hold, and as their best and brightest flee the organizations. It's still early on. Start doing something about it. Now.

Jonathan Feldman is a contributing editor for InformationWeek and director of IT services for a rapidly growing city in North Carolina. Write to him at jf@feldman.org or at @_jfeldman.

At this year's InformationWeek 500 Conference, C-level execs will gather to discuss how they're rewriting the old IT rulebook and accelerating business execution. At the St. Regis Monarch Beach, Dana Point, Calif., Sept. 9-11.

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markmeyer1
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markmeyer1,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/26/2013 | 3:12:36 AM
re: Here Comes Corporate Brain Drain
The reality in today's world is that, if what you do can't quantifiably add to the bottom line, you are not important. As a CEO, I can tell you that IT is highly overrated.
jdredhawk
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jdredhawk,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/9/2012 | 5:24:27 PM
re: Here Comes Corporate Brain Drain
In Pam Slim's book Escape from Cubicle Nation she states that before you make a business plan, make your life plan. This is what more and more people are doing, largely because they realize they have a purpose in life beyond working towards what was once considered security. Chris Guillebeau also stated, before handing out those envelopes with $100 bills in them, that the 3 common qualities of WDS attendees are: Community, Service and Adventure.

And I'll add that in the WDS world people help each other through referrals, master-mind groups, becoming mentors, find ways to work together rather than cutting one another down because of the mentallity of abundance and not scarcity. Abundance is happiness because you are wanting that which will fulfill your needs and you plan to consistently give back, rather than greed without bounds. With this attitude there will be enough for all, the key is being honest with ourselves to define our needs and then not destroy others by attaining more than our share. This is the new wave of business, and this is what Chris has tapped into in the creation of the World Domination Summit.
EVVJSK
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EVVJSK,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/12/2012 | 12:43:33 PM
re: Here Comes Corporate Brain Drain
Maybe our best hope for innovation is to have this mantra (let your best people help you innovate and guide the company) repeated at Trade Shows, Gartner symposiums, etc... that CEOs, CIOs, etc... get to attend. Yes, sometimes it is tools (i.e. the right software) that will help the company, but it still takes talented and innovative people to recognize which tools and to implement them in the right way.
EricLundquist
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EricLundquist,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/12/2012 | 11:19:57 AM
re: Here Comes Corporate Brain Drain
Nice post, I've read a couple of reports (including Chris Brogan's) out of WDS and it seems to be a turning point conference. In any case, thinking about how to take the 80% companies spend in time and money spent on maintenance and direct it towards innovation may be the most innovative and valuable activity which a company should engage.
Andrew Hornback
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Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/12/2012 | 1:51:21 AM
re: Here Comes Corporate Brain Drain
I absolutely agree with your point here.

More than once in my careeer I've been in a situation where it was possible to implement a solution or change a process that would have provided serious benefits to the organization, but due to the "don't rock the boat" mentality, those projects went away and the benefits lost forever. The, "keep your head down", "don't be a superstar", "don't be a hero", "don't do anything more than you absolutely need to" train of thought is the bane of the existance of creativity.

That's one of the things that happens when your management team is more interested in numbers on a balance sheet than they are with the actual health of the organization. Can you honestly say that the success of your company comes from a set of numbers, even when you're literally working your employees to death?

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor
Mentor
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Mentor,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/11/2012 | 10:41:57 PM
re: Here Comes Corporate Brain Drain
History is like a pendulum, and that pendulum has a nasty record of exacting revenge on those who abuse their positions of power. For the last few decades American Management thinking has been that the employee is but a resource, to be used up, sacrificed and discarded on the altar of high finance and the spreadsheet.

Unfortunately for Harvard, the many MBAs and the Fortune 500, America is leading the way to a new age of collaboration and craftsmanship. In the future, management many find itself powerless to these forces.

Brain Drain? There is no brain drain where it's fun and there is a focus on the value of people and community-like responsibility, not where greed, control of people's lives, extraction of value through short term thinking, cronyism and class warfare run rampant. Politics aside, "Spreadsheet Manager" and "Hedge Fund CEO" will soon become marks of Shame, much like a Scarlett Letter for a business leader.

Portland is the sign of the future, not Harvard, the Ivy League and Washington, DC.

American business leadership, Wall Street and Fortune 500 investors are about to get what they deserve.....to be ignored and thrust onto the heap of discarded history.
Mentor
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Mentor,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/11/2012 | 10:25:12 PM
re: Here Comes Corporate Brain Drain
Commodity is in the eye of the beholder. If I applied creativity and innovation and was able to cut maintenance costs in half while increasing the reliability of that old code.....would I be a hero? You betcha.....and let's not forget that old code in the hands of "commodity suppliers" is like trusting the keys to your all of your house to the guy who showed up at your door one day and offered to mow your lawn for just a few bucks.....a great entry point for hackers.

The real answer? Make maintenance the highest paying part of the IT organization. Give a sizable bonus to those who innovate based on reducing the cost, the effectiveness and the amount of time needed for maintenance.

How about making maintenance assignments a place for funding "side shows"? If you can bring maintenance down to a few hours a day and make it more effective to the business, use your free time to fund your side show!
Mentor
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Mentor,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/11/2012 | 10:19:24 PM
re: Here Comes Corporate Brain Drain
Well said, Ed. There is also a lot of creativity and innovation potential in good IT maintenance as well. Many good leaders put new developers in maintenance so that they can learn the business quickly, put creative yet untested people to develop innovation to work in an environment that can be easily measured, and teach the old business history lesson that many times brilliance and so-called "MBA business savvy" turns out to be nothing more than hot air fad after a few years. Learning through a stint in maintenance or having a maintenance component to your hot shot assignment is like taking Algebra in school. You may hate it and you may think it's boring, but you need to know it to be successful.....and practice....practice and more practice is the only way to learn it!
wdgroover
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wdgroover,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/11/2012 | 5:43:48 PM
re: Here Comes Corporate Brain Drain
Corporate actions through the past ten years are causing an exodus of talent from the American technology base. Companies opted to go off shore in lieu of keeping their in house talent. This single action caused a significant decline in technology's reliability and also served as a reason for younger people to skip over information technology as a future career field. Off shore too has seen the forced retirement of those that developed the technology on which we were once able to rely. We, America, now have a vortex, with companies using declining enrollment in technology as a reason to off-shore and increased off-shore causing an accelerated exodus from technology
2sense
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2sense,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/10/2012 | 6:57:51 PM
re: Here Comes Corporate Brain Drain
The days when someone joins a company and stays until retirement are long gone. Most young people today will end up working for multiple companies throughout their careers either by choice or by necessity. With the demise of defined benefit retirement plans, there is no real incentive for someone to stick around if they're unhappy or aren't being appropriately challenged. Even if you're happy/content with your current gig, it makes sense to always be looking around the corner for the next opportunity. In today's economy, you never know when the ax will fall. I learned early on in life that everyone (and I mean everyone) is expendable. The day after you walk out the door, nobody will remember or care that you were ever there. Therefore, it's vitally important that you look after yourself and your interests first and foremost. Learn all you can in your present position, keep your skills up to date and be prepared to jump ship at a moment's notice. And if youG«÷re looking for loyalty, buy a dog.
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