Tuesday, February 26, 2008

How to be a Bad CIO

In my decade as a CIO, I've seen a lot of turnover in the IT industry. Each time a CIO is fired, I've asked around to learn about the root cause. Here's my list of the top 10 ways to be a bad CIO.

1. Start each meeting with a chip on your shoulder
Human nature is such that every organization has politics and conflicts. Sometimes these differences of opinion lead to emotional email or confrontational meetings. If the CIO develops an attitude the presupposes every request will be unreasonable and every interaction unpleasant, then every meeting will become unproductive. I find that listening to naysayers, understanding common ground, and developing a path forward works with even the most difficult customers. Instead of believing that meetings with challenging customers will be negative, I think of them as opportunities for a "walk in the woods"

2. Bypass governance processes and set priorities yourself
Although it's true that some budget decisions must be made by the CIO, such as maintaining infrastructure, the priorities for application development should be based on customer driven Governance Committees . Even the best of intentions can lead to a mismatch between customer expectations and IT resource allocation. I recently participated in a meeting to discuss technology problems, when in fact the problem was governance - a lack of communication among the stakeholders, resulting in unclear priorities and unmet expectations. Once the governance is clarified and communication channels established, IT can deliver on customer priorities and meet expectations.

3. Protect your staff at the expense of customer and institutional needs
As a CIO, I work hard to prevent my 'lean and mean' staff from becoming 'bony and angry'. However, I also work with the customers to balance resources, scope and timing, rather than just saying 'no'. Sometimes organizational priorities will be overwhelming due to sudden compliance issues or "must do" strategic opportunities. I do my best to redirect resources to these new priorities, explaining that existing projects will slow down. My attitude is that I do not know the end of play in the middle of Act I, so I cannot really understand the impact of new priority initiatives until I accept their positive possibilities and start working on the details. Tolerate some ambiguity, accept change, support the institution and if a resource problem evolves, then ask for help.

4. Put yourself first
I've written that life as a CIO is a lifestyle, not a job. Weekends and nights are filled with system upgrades. Pagers and cell phones go off at inopportune moments. Vacations and downtime are a balance with operational responsibilities. When I go on vacation, I get up an hour before my family, catch up on email, then spend the day with my family. At night, I go to bed an hour after they do, catching up on the day's events. It's far worse to ignore email and phone calls for a week then come back to a desk filled with loose ends. Being a CIO requires a constant balance of personal and professional time.

5. Use mutually assured destruction negotiating tactics
Walking into the CEO's office and saying that you will quit unless your budget is increased does not win the war. It may result in temporary victory but it demeans the CIO. Similarly, telling customers that the CEO, COO and CFO are to be blamed for lack of resources does not make the organization look good. The CIO should be a member of senior management and all resource decisions should be made together by consensus, even if the outcome is not always positive for IT.

6. Hide your mistakes/undercommunicate
My network outage in 2002 resulted in what was called "the worst IT disaster in healthcare history". By sharing all my lessons learned with the press and internal customers, everyone understood the combination of issues and events that caused the problem. I received email from CIOs all over the world explaining their similar problems that had been hidden due to PR concerns. I have found that transparency and overcommunication may be challenging in the short term, but always improves the situation in the long term.

7. Burn Bridges
It's a small world and the best policy is to be as cordial and professional as possible with every stakeholder, even your worst naysayers. A dozen years ago before I was CIO, I presented to the IT steering committee about the need to embrace the web. I was told by a senior IT leader that they did not care what I had to say since I was not an important stakeholder. A year later, I became CIO and that IT senior leader left the organization within a week.

8. Don't give your stakeholders a voice
Sitting in your office and not meeting with customers is doom for the CIO. Every day, I fill my schedule with meetings in the trenches with all the stakeholders to understand what is working and what is not. I never shoot the messenger when I'm told that our products or services need improvement. A CIO can earn a lot of respect just by listening to the honest feedback from every part of the organization.

9. Embrace obsolete technologies
The CIO should never be the rate limiting step for adoption of new technologies and ideas. If Open Source, Apple products, and Web 2.0 are the way is world going, the CIO should be the first in line to test them.

10. Think inside the box
Facebook as a Rapid Application Development platform? Empowering users to do self service data mining? Piloting thin client devices and flexible work arrangements? Although exploring new ideas will not always result in a breakthrough, it's much more likely to create innovation than maintain the status quo.

Each time you approach a senior manager, a customer or an employee, remind yourself of the top 10 ways to be a bad CIO. By avoiding these behaviors, you may find yourself embraced by the organization for many years to come.


Dean said...

Great tips!!!

Your article very clearly shows what it takes to be a fair and decisive CIO.

Unknown said...

Thanks John. They are some great tips and things to strive for as everyone deals with customers.