The Three Attitudes of a Disciplined IT Department
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To be trusted, IT organizations should focus on the customer experience, communicate proactively and effectively, and choose adaptability over rigor.
By Charles Araujo
I was livid.
“Karl, how could you hire this outside consulting company. All they are doing is telling us what we already know. This is a complete waste of money.”
Karl was the new CIO, my boss. I was a young manager running technical operations at a large health-care company. And I was positive that I had it all figured out. What I lacked in experience I made up for in an abundance of overconfidence.
Karl had come in as a turnaround CIO and, after quickly sizing us all up, had brought in a consulting company to conduct an operational review of our respective areas. The consultants identified all of the areas for improvement that I had already identified and put together a plan for improvement that looked eerily similar to the plans that I already had in motion.
I just couldn’t understand how Karl could have so little faith in me. He had just started at the company and hadn’t even given me a fair chance. I was mad. I was disappointed. And I was frustrated. Karl would eventually become one of my favorite people and a life mentor, but at that time, I was confused and very upset with him.
In what I would later recognize as his trademark style, Karl chuckled at my youthful insolence and said, “Charlie, this isn’t about me not having faith in you. In fact, it’s the opposite. If I didn’t have faith in you, we would be doing this differently. But I needed an outside voice to help me get this done. I’ll explain more later.” With those five sentences, our conversation was over. I was still confused, but I was also slightly mollified that Karl's decision wasn’t a complete slap in the face.
It would take me years to fully understand what had happened, but Karl’s actions are an object lesson for every IT leader who is battling to gain a “seat at the table” and have the type of strategic conversation that must be engaged in as we move into the new era of IT.
Your Pathway to Political Capital
What Karl clearly understood was that he needed to earn some political capital if he was going to be able to get anything real done. As someone who had been brought in as a turnaround CIO, Karl's job was to fix the IT organization so that we could execute effectively during a period of rapid growth that we were anticipating.
There had been a lot of frustration with the way the IT organization had been operating and, therefore, there was a lot of cynicism about IT’s ability to perform at any level, let alone being able to respond to the coming strategic demands. There had been a subtle chorus call to explore outsourcing options, and Karl immediately recognized that he wouldn’t be able to get anything done if he couldn’t temper the cynicism and the doubt within the executive ranks, as well as within the IT organization itself.
Karl hadn’t brought in the consulting firm to help him discover what was broken. He brought the consulting firm in to help him communicate to the executive leadership team that he understood what was broken and that it would be fixed. When he told me that it didn’t represent a lack of faith in me, what he meant was that because he had faith in my ability to execute on the required changes, he was confident in communicating them to the executive leadership. Using the consulting firm’s report, Karl created a straight forward program that identified the key operational deficiencies that were most annoying to our customers and launched a six-month effort to instill a rigorous process and improvement activities to fix these problems.
Of course, we had already identified these issues and were working on them, but Karl used the issues as a tool to communicate an important message to our customers: “We hear you. We know that we have things to fix. We will fix them, and we will earn your trust.”