Friday, February 8, 2008

Always Look on the Bright Side

Every day as a CIO, I inevitably receive unpleasant emails. I truly wish I could receive emails like

"The network and the servers have been running flawlessly for the past year. Congratulations on zero downtime"

but alas, no one is likely to send such an email.

The CIO has the challenge of delivering flawless operational performance while also managing constant change. It's a bit like changing the wings on a 747 while in flight.

I have an appropriate budget which is prioritized by excellent governance committees, and a yearly operating plan that is only occasionally interrupted by the "Tyranny of the Urgent" due to compliance, quality, or strategic opportunity mandates, but I still receive daily complaints such as:

"The Spam filters are too lax since I still receive some junk mail, but by the way, you need to let my eBay transactions through"

"My brother in law will offer me an Owuga 3000 desktop computer at a cheaper price, why are you using Dell and Lenovo hardware?"

"I need to surf pornography sites as part of an NIH funded research study and you should not restrict my academic freedom"

"My application, although not funded and not reviewed by any governance process, is your highest priority"

"I did not tell you that we needed network, telephones, desktops, and new applications by next week but now it's your emergency. I'm headed out to my vacation, let me know how it goes."

To all such complaints, a kneejerk response might be:

"Your bad planning does not constitute an emergency on my part"

or

"Every project is function of funding, scope, and time. You've provided no funding, so your project will either have zero scope or take infinite time"

but the CIO needs to respond

"Thanks so much for your thoughtful email. There is a process to evaluate your request and I will personally supervise your request during that process. Your peers and the clinical leadership of the entire organization will evaluate your request based on

Return on Investment
Quality/Compliance
Staff/Patient/Clinician impact
Strategic importance"

Every time I have responded to angry email with emotion I have regretted it. Although it may feel good to respond to a negative email with a venomous answer, emotion is never appropriate. I tell my staff that if they ever feel emotion while writing an email, "save as draft". Get someone else to review the response first. Send it after a day of rest.

Rather than judge the quality of every day based on the negative email I receive, I ask about our trajectory. Have we moved forward on our yearly and five year plan? Has today had 10 good things and only 5 bad things? Do I have my health, my family, and my reputation?

No matter how bad the week, the answer to all of these questions is always yes. Our trajectory is always positive.

With a positive trajectory in mind, a non-emotional response to every issue is easier. If a CIO ever uses profanity, a raised voice, or escalation to the CEO, the CIO diminishes himself/herself.

You can always recover from a bad day, but you cannot always recover from a bad email. Just ask Neal Patterson.

Thus, keep a stiff upper lip, have a thick skin, and run each day based on your trajectory not the position of your ego. And remember, "save as draft."