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Managing People from a CIO’s Perspective

Thought Leader

The last article discussed the CIO’s role in a manufacturing enterprise from a people, process and technology perspective.

This article will focus on the people with whom we interact. They are either a blessing or a lesson. We emulate the traits of those who are a blessing and we learn from those who are not. For this discussion, let’s consider those we manage and those we support. 

Those We Manage – Our Technology Teams 

Teams start with recruiting.  Approach recruiting just like you would a major technology purchase. Draft a set of business requirements. We will call those requirements a job description. Solicit candidates just as you would list possible ERP vendors. Evaluate the offerings, i.e. interview. Perform an ROI evaluation.  How much are you willing to invest in this new team member? Consider the financial resources for salary and training and the personal resource of your time to mentor in leadership, attitude and maturity. It is analogous to the continual enhancements you make to your ERP to keep up with the ever-changing business landscape. 

My management team does the first round of interviews to select the most technically qualified candidate. I interview the short list of qualified candidates to look for leadership qualities that could eventually take my place. I ask two questions. 

1. “Tell me the <insert name here> story.” Ok, not technically a question, but it does require a thoughtful answer. It is interesting where they start: childhood, college or career. Follow with “Why did you start there?” Where they start, tells you what they value.

2. “If you could be a player on a professional team, would you rather be the star player on a mediocre team or a mediocre player on a championship team, and why?” “Why” tells you everything. Are they a team player, a mentor, a winner or just coasting along. 

Once you hire someone, treat them like family. Mentor them constantly, and not just your direct reports. Have 1-on-1 meetings. Review projects. Ask about their family. Share anecdotes.  If you do not get them to open up when things are going well, they will never trust you enough to tell you when the wheels start to fall off. This might sting a little, but please Stop Firing People. Firings rip at the fibers of trust. Invest in them. Teach them. Drive success in them. The ERP system gets your A-game, shouldn’t your team? Discipline them.  PARENT them. You would never adopt a child and ship him or her off for bad behavior.  Don’t do it to employees. Firing an employee means you did not do your job when you hired them.  There are two exceptions: malicious, gross insubordination and malicious felonious behavior. You have to protect others in your care.

Those We Support – Look at Everything Through Other People’s Eyes

When presented with an opportunity, many CIOs just see the potential risks and the effort needed. 

• Look at each opportunity through the eyes of the requestor. They are coming to IT for help. Be helpful from the beginning. Some CIOs look for reasons to reject projects. I was fortunate enough to spend several years on the “IT for profit” side, you know, consulting. You find a way to take on projects and drive success and revenue. I have kept that philosophy as CIO. We have the ability to create solutions. Find a way. 

• Look at every application request through the eyes of the users that will spend their days working in that application. Engage them. Help them to take ownership. Let them drive functionality. Give them the bells and whistles upfront. Over-deliver. 

• Look at each Helpdesk request through the eyes of the requester that is struggling to get their job done with broken technology. Technology always works for the CIO. Your team will see to that. Not every employee is so fortunate. Users find workarounds and suffer in silence. 

• Look at project plans through the eyes of your team and your users. They missed family activities to make sure they hit YOUR date.  Acknowledge, reward and appreciate them. 

• Look at failed projects through the eyes of your owners.  Take responsibility for failures. I send many emails of apology. We are all human and we make mistakes. Admit them and learn from them. I conduct “Lessons Learned” for all major projects. We meet with the users and draft lists of things that went well enough to do again and things that did not go so well.     

People are the least predictable component of a project. They are also the only component that can say, “Thank you.” Please have empathy. Next time we will look at process improvements through CIO-driven collaboration. 

Bu John Miller, American Textile Company.