Guest blog by Chris Van Liew, Chief Information Officer, Weyerhaeuser Company.
Why I Must Change To Get What I Want From My IT Suppliers
As a CIO, I’ve experienced the joys and challenges of working with a wide variety of IT suppliers, and most often am very pleased with their contributions to our success. But sometimes, I catch myself thinking, “Why did they do that?” Examples might include a supplier returning to me with one more last-ditch price reduction well after the timeframe for “best and final” was complete; a supplier arguing that they shouldn’t be held accountable to our agreements; or a supplier attempting to “end around” me or my staff to hawk a new product. As I ponder my question, “Why?” I invariably come back around to the same answer: “It’s my fault.”
Why do I suggest that most persistent IT supplier issues, in particular the ones that involve an IT supplier’s sales team, are my fault? Because it’s up to me to ensure that I create incentives for the right behaviors. In other words, if I want my IT supplier to work well with me, it is up to me to create the business and relational landscape where every IT supplier who wants to do business with me sees no other viable alternative but to provide the right product or service at the right quality and price.
For example, looking at the recent Heller Report survey of CIO Opinions of Vendor Sales Practices, we see a great list of what we want from vendor sales reps. But IT supplier sales reps are measured on their productivity, and if their current tactics didn’t work, they wouldn’t use them. Because their tactics are working (e.g. sales are happening, along with associated bonuses), sales reps see no need to change.
So we should not expect our IT supplier sales reps or the IT suppliers themselves to change until we as CIO’s change first. Here’s a list of some of the ways, in no particular order, that CIO’s can change themselves and their organizations to create an operating environment where their IT suppliers will partner in a predictably productive fashion.
- Establish IT procurement and supplier management disciplines in your team, perhaps starting with a few key folks. Intentionally build these skills into your IT function, even if you partner with a broader-focused corporate procurement team. The goal is to manage the full lifecycle of your IT suppliers, not just the contracts.
- Develop clear criteria for IT supplier performance, and rate them against it consistently year-over-year (wash, rinse, repeat). Don’t forget to visibly celebrate those IT suppliers that nail it for you.
- Train your IT leaders in IT supplier management, give them insight into the IT supplier’s business model, and how that translates into the sales tactics and approaches you want to dissuade your IT suppliers from engaging in. For example, in IT, there’s really no such thing as “a limited time offer.” And then have your IT leaders educate their internal customers over time, as well.
- Maintain a competitive landscape for every IT purchase based on clear requirements and evaluation factors. This is a critical point of leverage, and worth doing consistently, if you want your incumbents and potential IT suppliers to always bring their best.
- Ensure that you have a credible exit/switching strategy from every incumbent IT supplier. Yes, they know when you’re bluffing and have no other choice but to buy from them.
- Remove IT suppliers who don’t play well, no matter how long they have been involved in your company or a part of your team. Word will get around.
- Start negotiations for renewals of products and services early, well in advance of the termination of any existing IT supplier contract. You need time to act if your incumbent can’t or won’t partner with you for the future.
- Do your research: you need to know what a truly fair price and service level combination is for the various IT products and services you consume (an 80% discount off of list price may still be a crummy deal). Connect with peers at other companies to learn from them, and for large purchases, it’s well worth it to spend a little up front on some sort of price benchmark.
- Write your contracts based on the expectation of a future separation. You will not use any IT supplier forever, and you must ensure that you build the flexibility in at the beginning of the relationship. Don't expect it to be donated to you later, when you want to make a change.
Ultimately, by taking this approach, you and your IT suppliers will be more successful together – but you have to change first. I’m sure that there are other CIO’s out there who do this quite well, and I would love to have you contribute your comments to my list.
About Chris Van Liew
A Pacific Northwest native, Chris Van Liew holds the position of Chief Information Officer at Weyerhaeuser Company, responsible for developing strategies to improve competitive advantage through IT. As a 22-year veteran of Weyerhaeuser, Chris has performed a broad set of roles across the IT function, managing a wide variety of projects and operational teams, in addition to performing various non-IT roles during that time. Chris and his wife Deborah have been married for 18 years, and they have four children, ages 7 to 14.
Guest blog by Gregory J. Fell, excerpted from his book, Decoding the IT Value Problem. Greg served as the CIO at Terex Corporation for seven years and is currently Chief Strategy Officer at Crisply, an enterprise SaaS company.
It’s an understatement to say that George Washington was a great leader. He was an exceptional leader. He was also one of those rare individuals who can listen to the opinions of others without wavering from his true course.
Washington knew when to dive into the details of a problem and when to step back. If he was alive today, I am certain that he would appreciate the need for good IT governance.
In his role as commander-in-chief of the revolutionary army, Washington was surrounded by strong-willed, proud, and often egotistical men. Many of his subordinates were genuinely brilliant, and many of them had been successful entrepreneurs or seasoned soldiers before joining the revolutionary cause.
Washington’s senior officers and advisors were self-confident, experienced, knowledgeable, and accustomed to getting their way. They truly believed that they knew what was best, and they weren’t afraid the share their opinions.
To many, Washington’s management style seemed mysterious and mortifying. He would listen with the courtesy of a gentleman. He refrained from indicating his agreement or disagreement. To some, he seemed removed or aloof. To others, he seemed the embodiment of patience.
Many of his officers believed that Washington had too much patience. Some perceived him as indecisive. Some even accused him of being a coward.
Through it all, Washington maintained his stance as a keen listener and patient judge. He did not rush to a decision. As Richard Brookhiser observes in George Washington on Leadership, “With the fate of the army, and the country, on his shoulders, Washington was willing to take an extra moment.”
Indeed, it is fair to argue that Washington’s patience was in large part responsible for winning the war. His patience was no doubt buttressed by his belief in a simple overarching strategy: Win the war.
The main lesson we can draw from Washington’s approach to leadership is that when you have your own strategy, listening to others and taking their advice into consideration is relatively easy. Listen to the people around you, consider their recommendations, and stick to your strategy.
Why We Need IT Governance
IT governance is a process for making sure that the details are covered and thoroughly understood by all stakeholders. In most companies, IT governance is a four-letter word. It evokes images of long, boring meetings on subjects that don’t seem particularly interesting to most people.
George Washington knew the importance of governance, and he understood why it was important part of winning the war. While his generals proposed bold plans, Washington focused on what seemed to be trivial details. He reviewed food supplies and clothing, reviewed powder levels, and evaluated the impact of the army’s movement on supply lines.
He realized that while these details wouldn’t by themselves win the war, failing to address them would surely result in defeat. I think the same principle is at work in IT governance. It might not be exciting, but it is a necessity. Failure to address it will not lose a battle, but it might cost you the war.
A Process for Generating Commitment
IT governance provides a natural antidote to fear and resistance to change. IT governance is also a good business practice that yields positive results. In my experience, the difference between successful IT projects and unsuccessful IT projects usually boils down to business commitment. IT governance is the best way for generating the kind of business commitment required for guiding IT projects from conception through successful completion.
It’s helpful to think of IT governance as a process for making absolutely certain that the company’s key executives and managers meet together and say, “This is what we’re going to do—are we in agreement?”
From my perspective as an experienced corporate CIO, the idea of people coming together to discuss capital projects makes complete sense. That being said, I am astonished and somewhat saddened by how few CIOs seem to meet regularly with the key influencers and decision makers in their companies to talk about IT projects. It’s not surprising that so many IT projects fail.
Meeting periodically with senior management to talk about IT is a major challenge for many CIOs. Close working relationships with peers are prerequisites for success in most business scenarios, but for some reason, many CIOs find this part of the job difficult.
This I can state with absolute certainty: The CIOs who have the best and most productive relationships with their C-level peers are often the ones who have developed and maintained the best IT governance processes.
In business, almost everything depends on some kind of process. Why should IT governance be the exception to the rule?
At Terex, we had a strong governance process, and our ERP implementation was fairly successful. Executives from other companies often asked me, “How are you guys able to pull off a global single instance, across multiple geographies, with all of your manufacturing, engineering, purchasing, and financial processes? How can you pull all that stuff together in a company that is so very diverse?” My answer was “We have a strong governance process.”
When I’m talking with people who need IT projects, but who aren’t familiar with IT governance and who expect the IT group to just “wing it,” I usually begin by saying something like this:
That puts the ball in their court. If they’re not willing to commit to a governance process, why should IT commit to implementing their projects?
Two weeks ago, we asked Heller Report readers to respond to the following question: "If you were to change one thing about the way vendor reps sell to you, what would it be?"
We received a huge number of replies, all of which fell into six categories. We have assembled representative comments here for you to review. Feel free to chime in on this question using the Comments section below.
I. Do Your Homework
“Don’t presume you know my business and that your solution is going to work in my situation. Get to know me first, get to know our business and how it works, get to know the pain points that we have."
"IT vendor sales reps could make significant improvements and inroads with their prospective clients if they would seek to understand their clients’ business needs and application architecture. Using these insights, they could tailor their proposal/pitch on how their product/service would address our business needs and fit into our architecture. In other words; engage like a partner with us."
"I forget the number of times I've had to tell the salesperson to stop trying to sell me a solution that is a total misfit for my IT landscape."
II. Build the Relationship
"In order to command my respect and trust (and therefore make me want to work with them when the need arises), a vendor has to demonstrate that they’re interested in more than the sale…that they’re committed in some way to making things better in a broader way, either at my company or in the industry."
"I do have "stories of love and admiration" about some of the sales reps I have worked with. They are the ones who are relationship sales reps. They are honest about products or services their company offers and let us know when it isn't right for us. They send me helpful information or give me helpful connections for my situation that may have nothing to do with their company's solution. They have a long term view, patiently build up the relationship and then when I have a need it is often sole-sourced to them."
"They need to understand its about the relationship, not the transaction. We live with our decisions for a long time, they need to appreciate that reality."
III. Integrity, Honesty & Transparency
"The thing that I would value most is transparency right at the start. Many times during negotiations, it feels like you are dealing with a magician with three cups and a ball where you are always trying to figure out which is the cup with the ball under it. "
"You’re not always the right solution – don’t be afraid to admit it."
"I'd change the endless parade of vendors bombarding my email and voicemail with poorly written scripts filled with buzzwords, then following up 3 times to 'shame' me into responding."
"Don’t have some minion with no product knowledge call me. I will give most companies at least a little time to make their pitch, but having someone call me that cannot answer simple questions about the product is a waste of my time. "
"Reaching out to the CEO / COO / CFO and then using them as a reference to talk to me is an absolute NO. Many vendor reps feel name-dropping is going to get them extra brownie points - it doesn't."
"Stop asking me ‘what keeps you up at night?’ which invariably leads to ‘we can help you with that’. I’m interested in what you do best and why you do it better than anyone else. "
"Quit pretending that your software is easy to install and configure out of the box. This is very rarely true. Instead, focus on what the reality is and what they think the best approach is to deal with the complexity."
"Stewardship. This is one attribute that I demand of vendor reps. It takes many forms; from regular interaction with my staff (not just when there is something to sell), to actively participating on project teams, to being our advocate within the vendor hierarchy, and more. I want an investment of time and intellectual capital ... not just an order taker."
"I'd appreciate finding one who will take ownership of the relationship when there are problems and step up toward getting their organization in line to provide a solution, rather than handing off problems to subordinates. If you want to 'own' the relationship... 'own' it."
If you've done a good job defining your professional brand, updating your resume, and taking yourself to market, before long you will be invited to interview for a job you really want. But interviewing—like skiing or speaking French—is a skill that gets rusty when you don't use it. You need to prepare.
Obviously, you want to know everything you possibly can about the company and the people who will be interviewing you. For a public company, there's plenty of information online. For a private company, you have to work harder, but you can usually find their core values on the company website. In either case, your contacts who have worked at the company, and vendors may be able to provide you with information about the company’s technology portfolio, it’s approach to IT investment, and the business challenges it is facing. Armed with this information, you can prepare for your interview by thinking about the connection you want to draw between those values and your own experiences. Here are some approaches to keep in mind:
1. Turn the interview into a conversation
Your goal is to convey to the interviewer that you understand the company, but you don’t want to seem as though you are delivering a presentation. When you're interviewing, there's a metaphorical microphone at the center of the table, and you want to hold that microphone about 60 percent of the time.
Some interviewers talk so much that you don't get a word in edgewise, and then penalize you for not getting into details. In those interviews, you have to assert yourself by saying something like, "I’d like to spend a minute on how I have addressed that issue in the past," or “Great point. May I take a moment to respond?” But when you have the microphone, don't hold it forever. Through eye contact, you can determine whether the interviewer thinks your answer is on the right track or whether you've said enough, and that it's time to move the discussion along.
You'll be more likely to keep your answers focused, and be sure to share the air-time, if you think of your responses as structured. They should have a beginning, a middle and an end, or be delivered as itemized lists. Interviewers hate candidates who talk too much. It’s a standard complaint they make to their recruiters when giving interview feedback.
2. Be judicious about how much knowledge you impart
You are being tested about your knowledge of the hiring company, but you need to be careful about how you demonstrate that knowledge. Hiring managers don't want to hear you spouting a bunch of facts and figures about their business that anyone can memorize. You'll be most successful when you can apply your knowledge of the company in a context that showcases your understanding of the business and the challenges it faces.
One approach is to treat the interview as if you already have the job, and you're having your first set of meetings. Ask the questions you would if you were starting to build an IT strategy for this company. But don't start solving the company’s problems. As much as you might know about the company, you'll appear arrogant if you suggest concrete solutions. There is too much you still don’t know, and your solutions might miss the mark. CEOs know that the ability to listen, before acting, is a critical CIO skill. Be sure you demonstrate it.
3. Details matter
You're interviewing for a role as an executive leader, so you want to showcase your achievements as one. If you prepare a few success stories in advance, with three bullet points each, you will have a premeditated, clear and structured way to articulate your accomplishments in leadership, strategy, execution, and transformation.
When you're asked to discuss your own experience--say with a performance problem-- resist the urge to give a generic, consultative answer, like, “You should always start with communication.” Instead, stick with the first person and provide real details to support your response. “When I ran a major transformation program, here is what I did,” is the better way to go.
CIOs are so often called upon to be advisers or consultants that they have trouble talking about their own experiences. However, the interviewer wants to assess how you have handled the challenges of your jobs, not whether you can rattle off generic best practices.
4. Make sure you know why you're there
Prepare a specific and substantive answer to why you want the job. Interviewers want to hear that a particular job is extremely attractive to you for some very concrete reasons, not just because it’s different from the job you already have. Too many candidates focus on location and compensation when they should express passion for the values, culture, or challenges of the hiring company.
And when the interviewer asks why you want to leave your current job, or why you're currently unemployed, keep it short and sweet. A job interview isn't the appropriate time for a soliloquy on the injustices visited upon you at your previous employer or the incompetence of your current colleagues. One or two sentences will do. Then turn the conversation back to why you want the new job.
5. Don’t try to close the deal
Some recruiters recommend that at the end of the interview you use some probing questions to learn the status of your candidacy. In my opinion, it is better to resist that temptation. By all means, express strong interest in the role and your confidence that you’re the right person for it, but don’t ask for an evaluation of your performance. You want to end the interview by demonstrating your belief in your candidacy, not expressing anxiety over how you performed.
And--though you should know this by now—never bring up money. There will be plenty of time to discuss compensation as you move closer to an offer.
Many things can get in the way of a business’s ability to use information technology to best advantage – a lack of alignment between IT initiatives and business goals, poor project management, not having the right skills in place, choosing the wrong technology, a lack of funding… the list goes on. The most insidious inhibitor, however, is one that underlies many of the other problems: an inability for the people involved to connect and communicate effectively.
Author Mark Cornillie, founder of TechCommBridge, a company specializing in bridging understanding between technical professionals and non-technical audiences, addresses this problem in his new book, The Brainiac Paradox: Solutions for the Communication Challenges of STEM Professionals. In it he shares his experience, gained in over two decades working with some of the largest organizations in the U.S. and around the world, and research into this phenomenon, as well as practical, prescriptive, and proven solutions for addressing it. He recently spoke with Abbie Lundberg of Lundberg Media, herself a communication advisor to CIOs and their teams, as well as the former editor in chief of CIO magazine.
Abbie Lundberg: What is the Brainiac Paradox?
Mark Cornillie: It is a phenomenon whereby the aptitudes that facilitate success in technical fields (the STEM professions) seem to run in inverse proportion to those that are important for effective communication, which I define as constructively influencing people’s perceptions and behaviors.
Why does this matter? What is at stake?
Technology is crucially important to drive economic growth and address societal challenges. I’ve worked with many brilliant people over the years who were not able to deliver fully on their gifts. They possessed certain characteristics that interfered with their ability to make personal connections, create mutual interest, convey understanding, and appeal to the logic and emotions of disparate audiences. Without those, they had problems getting projects approved, funded, supported, etc.
What role does empathy play in effective communication?
Empathy is at the heart of effective communication. Unfortunately, I think people often confuse being a considerate communicator with being an empathetic communicator. In the book, I relay the story of a woman who went to the doctor to get some very important test results. He provided her a lengthy explanation, using a lot of very technical language. When she expressed her bewilderment, he defended himself by saying that he hadn’t wanted to talk down to her, because he would never want someone to talk down to him. He was being considerate, but he wasn’t being empathetic. Being an empathetic communicator means communicating in terms of our audience’s understanding, abilities, interests, etc.
You talk about communication as a result, not a task. What do you mean by that?
Most commonly, people who work in technical fields are linear thinkers. They tend to be very logical in their communication planning and disciplined in the execution. However, some get so wrapped up in the process that they lose sight of the objective. But communication is an imperfect art. As you communicate you have to monitor how people are reacting, how the environment might be changing, and even if the goal needs to be changed. You must pay attention and be willing to adjust in order to achieve your ultimate goal.
A lot of people get caught up in crafting their message so every detail is exactly right, and once they complete that message and launch it, they think their job is done.
Exactly. They’ve done their planning, created their messages, executed flawlessly – check, check, check – so they contend they have communicated. But sometimes they are confusing communication the process with communication the result.
And it is immensely frustrating when that doesn’t work, because they have put so much into it.
Absolutely. I get frustrated too, so I use that mantra, “if they haven’t heard it, I haven’t said it.” I find that very helpful. It usually takes me a short while for the frustration to pass, but then this mantra helps me recalibrate and focus on why they haven’t heard it, and find a way to reach them.
The most direct route in communication is not always the most effective one. Talk a little bit about enlisting other people into your communication strategy.
At one company, IT attempted repeated communications when the e-mail system would be down for maintenance over the weekend, but inevitably, the maintenance period would be at a crucial time in some executive’s travel, and there would be some heated feedback.
The communication planning methodology that I offer in the book takes an approach similar to a Sudoku puzzle. The idea is to plug in the information you know, and then fill in the blanks and try to find the most effective way to meet your communication objective. In this case we realized that the executives had become immune to the IT team’s many operational email notifications. Rather than trying to break through by sending more or better emails, the tool caused us to think, “if they ignore IT, who do they listen to?” The answer: their executive assistants. We talked to the various executive assistants and came up with a system where we would alert them, and they would alert their bosses. It worked beautifully. The tool encourages the kind of lateral thinking that is sometimes necessary to solve problems that linear thinking won’t.
I’ve worked with clients where projects get slowed down by fear and a lack of trust among some of the business executives. This happens a lot when a new CIO comes in to fix a bad situation, and there’s a perception gap between the old reality and the new. If you assume the CIO and his or her team are good at their jobs, how can they overcome this mistrust?
IT leadership must make managing their team’s credibility a top priority. Look at it from the executive’s perspective. If someone were to propose that you make a high-stakes decision on something you didn’t fully understand, it would be the credibility of the person, more than what they say, that is important. And yet, IT teams will spend considerable time and energy preparing elaborate proposals for top leadership, and typically very little actively managing their credibility.
They can start immediately by managing expectations – under-promising and over-delivering. They can also get a quick shot of credibility by “selling from the outside in,” i.e. getting third-party endorsements. Business execs might not have the expertise to know whether their IT team is a top or a bottom performer, but if they hear that IT is receiving recognition, winning awards, and otherwise being endorsed by credible third parties, they are likely to think “if they think they’re good, then they must be good.” Finally, and most importantly, I recommend communication mapping. It emphasizes proactive communications, which facilitates strong, consistent and compounding messages. This builds credibility as opposed to reactive communication, which leads to sporadic and inconsistent communication, typically diminishing credibility.
You identify nine foibles that STEM professionals are prone to that get in the way of effective communication. What kinds of issues do they cover?
I take an exceptions-management approach. The foibles represent the key constraints, the things I have repeatedly witnessed impeding the effectiveness of some in technical fields. These relate to denial, a lack of empathy, using too much jargon, excessively long communications, overly process biased (or not being results oriented), aesthetics, poor collaboration, not managing credibility, and reluctance to sell ideas. Of those affected by the Brainiac Paradox, most will have problems with only a few of these, maybe only one. I devote a chapter to each, offering both an explanation for the foible and prescriptive techniques for addressing it.
How do you want the book to affect people?
Generally, I hope that it will reduce the communication issues that zap the productivity of technical teams, but specifically I think in terms of the people I’ve worked with and helped in the past, and I just hope to reach more like them. There is nothing like seeing a really talented person who has been stuck because of just one or two characteristics, and then watching their careers take off. I assume that through the reach of this book I will be able to do and see much more of that.
Guest blog by Randy Pennington, author of Make Change Work: Staying Nimble, Relevant, and Engaged in a World of Constant Change (Wiley, 2013) from which this article is excerpted.
Organizations change . . . when?
If you immediately thought, “when things are broken or not going as well as we want,” your view of change is like that of most people. And, that view dooms you to always playing catch-up in the marketplace.
The best IT leaders, organizations, and teams don’t view change as a negative. They embrace it as an opportunity to prove their continued relevance and strategic value in a competitive marketplace.
Yes, But How?
The idea of proactive and positive change is appealing. Who wouldn’t rather work on innovative technologies and applications for the future?
Unfortunately, the time and resources to focus on the future are often sacrificed when your team is running as fast as it can to meet current demands.
You want your team to be simultaneously focused on making the present work while bringing the future to life. They, on the other hand, may apply Boolean logic to a world where binary choices do not yield the best results.
You won’t change perceptions about change overnight. You can make progress by taking these four actions:
1. Change the conversation
The word change, along with its negative connotations, exists everywhere. You will never completely erase the word change from your vocabulary. You can look for opportunities to substitute change used in a negative connotation with other words that reinforce the positive aspects of adapting to stay relevant.
Some groups use the language of continuous improvement. Others talk about innovation. A few others simply talk about adding value as a strategic partner with their business partners.
And they talk about it all of the time. They devote time in staff meetings to involving everyone in discussions about how to make things better or new trends. They expect people attending conferences to present the ideas they learned upon returning. They create time for people to share ideas about what works and ways to make things better.
Changing the conversation, over time, reinforces that change is something that we do every day to get better and not only when things are broken.
2. Reinforce new ideas that promote change
What gets reinforced gets repeated. So what are you reinforcing when it comes to new ideas that promote change? Are new ideas welcomed and applauded, or are they pushed aside with, “We’ve never done it that way before,” or “I’ll take that under advisement”?
Try this exercise: Ask your team to list all the “idea killer” phrases that they have heard in their careers. Involve everyone. New ideas are killed from every level, not just by managers. Most groups can come up with an extensive list of phrases and words in a matter of minutes.
Next, list the words and phrases that promote and reinforce new ideas and change. Experience shows that this list is significantly shorter.
Most important, make a conscious effort to reinforce new ideas and language that promote change as a positive opportunity.
3. Change the consequences
Who gets promoted? Who gets the merit increases? Who gets the opportunities to work on the cool new ideas?
It may become necessary to deal with those who do not change their view of change in a corrective manner. But that isn’t the best initial approach if you want to engage people to change their view of change.
Most people want to do a good job. They want to help the team get better—and they will if given the opportunity and ability.
4. Work on your own time and perceptions
How do you think and talk about change? How much time do you invest in studying trends or thinking strategically about the future? How often do you talk with your business partners and IT team about what is possible rather than what must be done to keep up with current demands?
The present should be guided more by the future than the past. The IT leaders, organizations, and teams who make change work don’t view change as a negative. They embrace it as an opportunity to prove their continued relevance and responsiveness in a competitive marketplace. It begins when they change the way they think about change.
Guest blog by Doug Moran, President of If You Will Lead, LLC, a leadership coaching firm, and author of If You Will Lead: Enduring Wisdom for 21st-Century Leaders.
I spend much of my time helping people deal with things that are broken, flawed, or just don’t work. This may be relationships, business processes, behaviors, etc. As human beings, we like it when things work, and we find ourselves unsettled when they don’t. Our natural reaction to things that don’t work is to fix them as quickly as possible. Now that I have stated the obvious, so what?
The 'so what' is that we rarely move directly from “broken” to “fixed” or “doesn’t work” to “does work.” There is an important interim step – “could work,” and too often people fail to appreciate the value of this uncertain time. We all experience that feeling when we are dealing with a problem or challenge when we realize we have found a solution that could work. When we reach this stage, things are still not working, but we have turned a corner. We have a way forward that may get us where we need to be. This state may be very short lived, or it may last years. It all depends on the nature of the thing that doesn’t work. When the Wright brothers realized that they had an idea that could make flight possible, it still took them several years to create an airplane that “did work.” “Could work” is essential to all learning, just as it was for the Wright brothers.
|"Unless we go from “doesn’t work” to “could work,” we can never reach “does work."
“Could work” can be a period of high stress and mixed emotions. We may find ourselves feeling excited yet anxious. We feel an internal conflict caused by the inherent uncertainty when things “could work.” Although we may be upset or stressed by situations that “don’t work,” we can find a degree of comfort in the certainty of that state. We can say to ourselves and others, “I know it doesn’t work, but I am working on finding a solution.” When we embrace an idea or option that “could work,” we are committing to a path forward – but what if it doesn’t work? There lies the uncertainty, but it is also an integral step forward. Unless we go from “doesn’t work” to “could work,” we can never reach “does work.”
This is a key message of The Explanation Age by Dr. John Lewis, Ed.D. This book reveals an important truth about the way organizations learn and grow. The models that organizations use today to drive innovation and change are fundamentally flawed. Tools like Six Sigma, Business Process Reengineering, and Kaizen, which are great for optimizing industrial processes, fail miserably when applied to learning processes like innovation and change. The fundamental problem is that they treat organizations like machines rather than collections of human beings. They are binary, because machines are binary. Things either work or don’t work. These processes and tools ignore the essential “could work” phase, so they ignore an essential part of human learning.
In The Explanation Age, Dr. Lewis’s Innate Lessons Cycle model offers an alternative that embraces all three states of workability. By doing so, his model allows an organization to think about and act on problems the way the human beings who make up the organization do. When things “do work,” organizations can optimize existing processes, products, services, etc., while integrating new ones. When things “don’t work,” they can think about what went wrong, explore root causes and implications, and investigate what can be done. When things “could work,” organizations can plan and create solutions that can ultimately achieve the state of “does work.” Lewis’s model gives organizations a way to deal with challenges the way the people who work there do naturally.
As leaders, we must help others embrace the uncertainty of “could work.” We must recognize the discomfort and stress it creates. We must act to channel this stressful energy towards finding ideas and solutions. We must also help others recognize when we have “could work” and how we should move forward. All leaders understand that one of the most important roles they play is enabling others to fix things that “don’t work.” One of the things that distinguish great leaders from the rest is their ability to embrace uncertainty and ambiguity and to recognize the opportunities they present. When we help others see what “could work,” we enable them to turn problems into solutions. When we embrace the uncertainty, we help others understand that it is a price we pay for the value we hope to create.
You’ve decided to make your move, and you’ve defined the type of position you want. But as any good product manager will tell you, you cannot go to market before you thoroughly understand your brand. When you’re looking for a new job, you are the product, and you need to understand the features and benefits of that product. You may be the CIO of XYZ Corp, but that’s just one piece of your brand.
You’re a turnaround CIO, a technology guru, a financial services innovator, or a startup specialist. You’re a mobility expert, a change leader, or an expert in supply chain management. You have to define who you are, and the qualities you embody, so you can articulate those qualities to your contacts succinctly and effectively.
In fact, having the right reputation is critical to your credibility with whoever is doing the hiring for the position you want. By the time you’re ready for a CIO position, you shouldn’t be starting from scratch; you should already have a clear understanding of what your name represents and have engaged in some strategic self-promotion. However, just as product managers have to update their brand periodically to address changing consumer trends, you may need to reposition yourself in order to emphasize the characteristics that make you attractive for a new role.
Here are four steps to developing or updating your professional brand >>
1. Figure out who you are.
One CIO I know spent some time surveying his peers, colleagues and even some people he had just met to determine what kind of impression he made. From the results he learned which five brand attributes best described him, and he used that information to develop a one-page summary, a personal mission statement and a web page to communicate the unique value that he brings to his roles.
Even if you wouldn’t go so far as to survey your colleagues, you should understand your current brand before you look for a job. If you don’t feel comfortable asking someone to define your brand, look for clues in performance evaluations and what people say when they introduce you to colleagues or at industry gatherings.
Who you are isn’t just about how people perceive you, of course. You will want to define yourself based on your strengths and what you like to do most. If you like nothing better than to fix a broken organization, or you love to generate direct revenue through technology product innovation, you need to highlight the skills and experiences that most directly relate to those roles.
2. Polish your LinkedIn profile.
LinkedIn is often the first place a recruiter or hiring manager will turn to learn about you. Before you start your search, make sure your profile is up to date and sufficiently detailed, including recommendations from past bosses and staff.
If you’re concerned about tipping off your current employer that you’re seeking another job, don’t put “career opportunities” as something you want to be contacted about. Remember that LinkedIn is a tool for establishing relationships with vendors, potential business partners, and for interacting with other professionals in your industry. Participating in LinkedIn does not signify that you are on a job search; it signifies that you are an active member of your professional community.
For more ideas, see “10 LinkedIn Tips to Boost Your Job Search," by Kristin Burnham, on CIO.com.
Before you step up your job search, attend some conferences or industry events. As you meet new people, you can see how they respond to your brand, and give yourself the chance to hone it while the stakes are low. You can also use these events to develop some contacts to help you market yourself and make connections at your target companies.
Don’t limit yourself to networking only with other IT executives. Make sure you establish and nurture relationships with vendors, customers, suppliers, and recruiters, all of whom can recommend you for a new position.
4. Establish a platform.
You’ll be a more marketable candidate if you are known in your industry and among your peers for your ideas and expertise. Writing for IT or industry publications, participating in relevant online communities and speaking at conferences are all effective ways to get noticed.
If writing is your thing, you’re in luck. Online publications are often hungry for bloggers, especially those with a controversial idea, a unique point of view or advice about a timely topic.
You can pursue speaking engagements through local MBA or executive education programs, which are always looking for guest speakers. You can also offer to be a speaker at events for organizations you belong to, including the Society for Information Managers (SIM), or an industry trade group.
If your company frowns on its executives communicating publicly, it will be more difficult, of course, to pursue writing and speaking engagements. Most editors and conference directors will want you because of the company you represent. In such cases, you’ll have to rely more on spreading your story through your personal contacts.
Computer science enrollments are at an all-time low. Your baby-boomer workers are retiring and taking their legacy knowledge with them. Silicon Valley is hot again and start-ups are going after the best technologists. Is your recruiting organization positioned to win this latest war on talent? Are you making the most of the talent that you have? Most importantly: Are you developing “blended executives,” or IT leaders with a balanced mix of technology and business skills?
These are the difficult questions I confront my CIO panelists with in a segment we call "Surviving the IT Talent Hunger Games" held at select CIO Perspectives conferences. The next Hunger Games panel will be at CIO Perspectives in Los Angeles on December 11.
Here is a video clip from the Boston panel earlier this year.
Guest blog by Peter Waterhouse, Senior Technical Marketing Strategist at CA Technologies. Peter is co-editor of the book Service Management Process Maps: Your Route to Service Excellence.
It’s of little wonder that, after so many years focused on enterprise applications and systems of record, CIOs and IT organizations measure their ‘smartness’ or innovative prowess based on the technical ability to deliver or fix something that’s considered inherently complex. However, every day we’re seeing that technology led business innovations don’t have to be technically complex to be successful. Far from it.
Furthermore, innovation (or taking a good idea and making it possible) is increasingly happening outside of traditional IT. That is, with the actual employees, customers, and even citizens. Many of the most promising emerging disruptive business models are those that simply and elegantly leverage societal and behavioral dynamics emerging globally, in conjunction with the mass adoption of mobile devices, social media and ubiquitous computing. Power to the people!
One enormous problem faced by IT leadership teams working to deliver business innovation is the restrictions imposed by the complexity of technologies acquired over the last 30 years to support what are now outdated methods of customer engagement. Not only that, there are new dynamics that could have far greater business consequences if not jointly considered and immediately addressed.
|"Investments should be made in technologies and applications that help customers and citizens interact directly with the organization at the exact point in time decisions are made."
Innovative CIOs must look beyond what’s achievable with technology today and consider many factors that affect the success of their business, especially those that help improve engagement with customers (increasingly from a smartphone, tablet or other mobile device).
Innovative CIOs understand that:
- Behavioral dynamics of a younger and more connected and technically savvy workforce can actually benefit the organization. Rather than impose more restrictive processes that are counter to the collaborative benefits of a workforce far more schooled in social everything and gadgetry, progressive CIOs and IT teams work to eliminate the ‘not invented here’ syndrome and partner across the business – especially in areas where smart Gen Y thinking collides with technology, like in digital marketing and new product development.
- Investments should be made in technologies and applications that help customers and citizens interact directly with the organization at the exact point in time decisions are made. In a retail context this could mean a customer scanning groceries with a mobile device and being immediately presented with a quick and easy recipe, or broadening citizen engagement by allowing residents to report street hazards. Simple innovations yes, but examples where CIOs are recognizing and proactively addressing the fundamental power shift (from process to people) and how IT service delivery must be re-architected.
Build IT smartness into products and services to extend your value proposition
Today the application of sensors or micro-transmitters costing less than a dollar have the potential to deliver more innovation and business value than the million dollar data center hosting your ERP system. That’s because your customers are increasingly judging your business on how they can engage directly with your product or service to improve their daily lives – be it losing weight and getting healthy, consuming less energy in the home, or safely parking the car - every time. Innovative CIOs understand this and are moving well beyond being the traditional gatekeeper of the data center. Working with their business peers, they’re exploring the potential for building smartness into their products - even recognizing that technologies like wireless, API’s and mobile apps can become extensions to the products themselves. And, they don’t even have to be built by internal development teams.
Help the business let go and collaborate – then everyone will have a better future
Without a doubt, superior forms of people engagement are the future of technology-driven business innovation and should be top-of-mind for all CIOs today. To gain an innovative edge, however, CIOs need to consider dynamics beyond the technical: societal changes, consumer demographic behaviors and economic shifts.
For example, in many situations today, the once traditional consumer who bought your goods for their own exclusive use may now be willing to share them with someone else (shock, horror!). What’s more, population growth, a new emerging middle class (who are more accustomed to sharing) and of course finite resources, are forcing many businesses to reconsider traditional business models and embrace more collaborative style economics. For example some luxury automotive manufactures are renting high-end cars, while major hospitality chains are tapping into a new marketplace of room-sharing ventures, offering their brand and services in return for a percentage of the new business.
In situations like these that are highly disruptive, CIOs can play a dual role.
- Advise the business about how new technologies may help accelerate the adoption of new business models – especially those like social computing, which enable easy sharing of information. Or mobile apps and APIs, which could significantly extend the value of a product through an ecosystem of additional services.
- Play a scouting role. Innovative CIOs can constantly alert their business peers about emerging new business models that have the potential to disrupt their own markets. They can challenge the company’s traditional captive market thinking and revenue ‘protectionism’ and help their business peers recognize the opportunities from disruption, and the technology innovations that must be adopted to gain first mover advantage.
Remember - good relationships can be broken in a second, however innovative the technology
For many businesses, it has taken years to build up a large and loyal customer base. But now, loyalties are tested when customers can’t effectively engage with your business whenever, wherever and however they want to. Technologies enable this, of course, but they can also contribute to business failure if the CIO doesn’t factor in what can be termed “innovation side-effects.” This can include being poorly prepared technologically and organizationally for the increased business volume, or persisting with outdated architecture and development processes that are not aligned with the new, dynamic people-centric applications and services.