Leadership & People

Positive change starts from the top. Great leadership drives teams to succeed, defines a positive culture and inspires the leaders of tomorrow. 

Much is written about what makes a good leader, and no one recipe or formula exists. The challenges facing our current and upcoming leaders vary wildly.

How teams thrive while dealing with internal politics, external ideas and failure are complex challenges every leader must learn to manage. You don’t have to do it alone.

IBRS is comprised of many ex-CIOs with a wealth of knowledge that can provide mentoring and advice to current and aspiring leaders. Our career development, networking and thought leadership resources help leaders solve problems and create workplace cultures geared towards success and satisfaction.

Conclusion: When it comes to craving what we desire, we’re often our own worst enemies. Sometimes the steps that are taken to achieve an outcome result in the antithesis of the desired effect. Many of the attempts CIOs make to gain CEO attention may be misread, causing the relationship to distance rather than strengthen. However, there are some steps all CIOs can take to properly position IT in the mind of the CEO, building strong CIO/CEO connections and heightening CIO job satisfaction.

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Conclusion: The CIO role is one of the most demanding jobs in an organisation as it involves driving the business to new highs based on an effective IT and business partnership arrangement, so IT can act as a services business. To succeed the CIO needs to articulate a vision that is acted on by business managers who assume the role of informed buyers of IT services

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Conclusion: More than almost any other factor in a CIO’s armoury, having good people within IT is a mainstay of continued success. Building good teams starts with staff selection. While some use search firms for senior roles, most CIOs use traditional recruitment methods: profile the role, advertise it, shortlist candidates, interview them, check references, then appoint. In difficult employment markets it is tempting to make staff selection compromises purely for the sake of filling a vacant role and relieving a stress-point.

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Conclusion: Between the initial enthusiasm of planning a new system, the focused effort of selecting a vendor and negotiating a contract, and the frenetic activity of implementation, nobody wants to think about how to deal with the possibility of a major project failure. While rare, organisations need to put in place contingency plans before they start, preferably during planning and negotiations.

Organisations should establish a framework for dealing with failing systems that gives them the necessary tools to quickly get it back on track or terminate it and seek reparation if appropriate. Without this, organisations risk a long and bitter struggle, which is both costly and embarrassing to themselves and the vendor.

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One of the most valuable IT professionals is the resilient project manager or program director. This is the person who can ‘jump tall buildings in one bound’, ‘walk over hot coals unaided’ and can deliver the solution or issue the tender while meeting OTUB (On Time Under Budget) requirements. (The role is gender neutral). Such is their value that astute CIOs ‘ring-fence’ these managers and stop them being seconded to projects outside their area.

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Conclusion: A new leadership team in a major IT provider such as IBM will mean the potential for change and disruption for customers, partners and staff of IBM. This change may vary from a potential for a shift in strategic direction to more incremental changes as new management seeks to place its stamp on company performance. Just as in your organisation, new leadership at IBM will mean new ideas and processes for both IBM and its clients.

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Conclusion: The generic term “the business” as used by IT people to refer to their stakeholders, is a gross and somewhat dangerous generalisation. Blithely referring to “the business” while making little effort to understand the real needs and priorities of system constituents can leave IT practitioners disconnected from the people they are trying to serve. Organisations have many different facets and characteristics that all seek different qualities from IT solutions. Understanding these differences is an essential requirement to delivering superior IT services and solutions.

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Conclusion: Knowing what it costs to provide IT services is fundamental for sound IT governance and external comparison. Whilst it might be tempting to quote the IT expense budget as the basis for comparison, doing so is naïve. This is because each organisation differs in the way it collects and allocates IT expenses. Without normalising the costs, comparisons could be way off the mark.

Once IT costs have been normalised and adjusted, as described and depicted in the diagram below, comparison is defensible with a) comparable organisations, b) what an external services provider might charge for the same services and c) the average costs for the industry sector as set out in IT industry survey spending reports.

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Conclusion: Many an incoming CIO stumbles between acceptance of an employment offer and the first few months in the job. Often for the CIO it seems that there is so much to do it’s difficult to know where to turn and what to focus on. Coupled with this, the incoming CIO usually has an overwhelming sense of desire to do a good job and achieve recognition.

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Have you ever been at a conference where everyone in the room is a stranger and you just wanted to leave? Have you ever tried to conduct an interview with an applicant who gives only ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ responses to questions and clearly does not want you to enter their world?

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Conclusion: It would be unusual to find a C-level executive who doesn’t have at least a glancing admiration for companies such as Apple, Google, Amazon and Intel1. All are highly successful and all are known for their innovative cultures.

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Conclusion: In the best-selling 1982 publication "In Search of Excellence"1Tom Peters introduced the concept of MBWA or Managing By Wandering Around. His hypothesis, which remains valid today, is that to gain perspective senior executives should periodically distance themselves from usual management activities to see their organisations differently.

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Conclusion: As a CIO enmeshed in day to day activities, it is easy to think myopically of a world bounded only by what is closest to hand: IT clients, staff and suppliers. But to do so can be delusional. Effective CIOs are first and foremost good strategic thinkers constantly focused on delivering better business outcomes. As such, they take the time to survey the world beyond their immediate boundaries, reflecting on and gaining inspiration from the manifold influences that can shape their future plans and indeed over which the CIO may exert affect. Such a world, quite distant from daily routine but subtly connected to it, may be thought of as the CIO’s role as seen from space.

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Conclusion:All contracts eventually terminate, however the reasons for the termination and the way the termination is handled can lead to different outcomes. To minimise the risks associated with contract termination it is essential that the buying organisation gives due consideration to this event while in the early stages of the procurement cycle. Unless the procurement contract is drafted to cover the issues that can arise as a result of termination, the buying organisation can be faced with significant business disruption, financial penalties and potentially even legal action.

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Conclusion: Many CIOs seek to be seen as visionaries in their organisations. Usually bestowed with higher than average intellect and with unique insight into the workings of their organisation and its role within its ecosystem and society, they are well-placed to make a significant contribution toward organisational growth and innovation. Yet curiously, this rarely happens.

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Conclusion: The GFC (Global Financial Crisis) has forced most organisations to reduce their operating costs to stay viable, and have given the task of achieving it, by challenging spending proposals and trimming budgets, to the CFO.

To ensure the right areas of expenditure are targeted CIOs must work with the CFO to not only assess impact of reduced spending but also develop a fallback plan in case IT spending is cut. CIOs who adopt an adversarial approach or are slow to co-operate with the CFO are putting their careers at risk.

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Conclusion: In Australasia in 2009, admittedly in the thrall of the GFC, an unprecedentedly high number of CIOs lost their jobs. A broad spectrum of CIOs were involved: some were high profile industry figures, a few had been promoted from within whilst others with seemingly well-credentialed backgrounds had been in their roles for a matter of months.

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At the conclusion of a course on ‘Selling Ideas’, in which I was an instructor, one of the participants was an Enterprise Architect in a large bank. He stated that he now planned to be a ‘political animal’. His management team when told, and unaware of his identity, were both alarmed and delighted. Alarmed, because he might ‘ruffle a few (of their) feathers’ and delighted, that by being politically active, he might fast track decisions needed to complete projects on time.

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The structure of the IT function will more often than not be influenced by the structure of the organisation it serves. There is no one right way to organise IT within an organisation. Rather there are a variety of models, each with their own benefits and disadvantages. Whatever model is implemented however, it is important to ensure that decisions on the optimum structure for IT are driven by business rather than political imperatives, and that the CIO has significant input.

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While it is commonly accepted that the success of an IT department is very much dependent upon its people, processes and the relationship between IT management, IT staff and their clients, an important relationship which is often overlooked is that between CIOs and the executives to whom they directly report. It is critical to the delivery of an efficient IT service within an organisation that a strong and mutually beneficial relationship is established between the CIO and their manager. CIOs must work continually towards maintaining this relationship.

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Conclusion:The participation rate of IT and Business Professionals in teleworking is growing and has the potential to reduce occupancy costs while increasing productivity. That is, using ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) to support work activities away from the employer's office. Growth in recent years has been triggered by the availability of robust IT infrastructure and an increasingly IT literate workforce.

Despite its upside, surveys1have shown that teleworking, if not effectively managed with boundaries put around its participation, may negatively impact business relationships and lead to work-private life conflicts.

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The tendency to promote highly skilled and successful technical people to managerial positions as a form of recognition and/or reward, if not thoroughly thought through, can have the effect of weakening both the managerial and technical streams of the IT department Before making such a promotion the ability of the technical people to make the transition successfully must be considered and the necessary skills and techniques to be successful managers imparted through training and education. Continuous mentoring through the provision of advice and support, particularly in the early days, is essential to a successful transition.

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Conclusion: Historically grown organisational structures and simplistic job descriptions sometimes stand in the way of creating a high-performance team. Taking personality attributes into account when assigning roles and responsibilities can have a measurable influence on overall costs, delivery time, functional fit of IT solutions, as well as on skill development in the team.

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Conclusion: IT departments that do not effectively engage with users, at all levels, within an organisation will fail to actively promote both their services and the value they can add and, as a result, will find themselves disadvantaged during times of cost cutting.

A lack of understanding by the user of the role, the position and the contribution of IT within an organisation can lead to significant issues between IT and users.

Open communication, and an understanding and respect for each other’s roles, vision, goals and objectives can go a long way to resolving these issues.

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ConclusionTurning expected outcomes identified in the business strategy into reality, is high on the agenda of most senior managers. What is not well understood though is the role sound planning has to play in ensuring the outcomes are realised while meeting the typical project performance criteria such as delivery on time, costs kept within budget and ability to meet agreed service levels.

Project planning skills are not acquired overnight. They are based on a sound understanding of the project life cycle, as depicted in the diagram below, the ability to unravel the business strategy and plan the IT-related activities (tasks) needed to facilitate workplace change.

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In the last year billions and trillions seemed to be the only numbers that counted for anything anymore. The Australian government is raising approximately $1.5 billion dollars per week on bond markets; the US public debt could reach up $20 trillion dollars in five years. According to the International Money Fund, public debt in the world’s top 10 economies could balloon by 36% to 114% of GDP, or US$50,000 per capita by 2014; and let’s not forget the $680 trillion dollar OTC derivatives market, which may produce some more heart racing, and wealth destroying, events in the future.

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Conclusion: During hard economic times it is not uncommon for IT to be instructed to consider a restructuring to better serve the organisation. However the temptation to reduce costs by relaxing governance, adjusting standards and reducing the service structure, even with the best of intentions, may result in inadequate service levels and where possible should be avoided.

Where business units within an organisation have enjoyed a fully collaborative and cooperative strategic planning and development relationship with IT it is important that Innovator CIOs continue to fulfil this role during the economic downturn. Reverting to a more defensive utility manager role will disadvantage IT when the turnaround comes and business and systems activity increases.

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Conclusion: Many technical, and systems related, documents are hard to read and authors run the risk only a fraction of their target audience read them. Those that do read them have difficulty reading them with understanding. The problems with hard to read technical documents are likely to exacerbate as an older age group remain in the workforce and they represent a challenge for workers whose primary language is not English.If we are to have an efficient and productive workforce, we must ensure that those who need to can both read our documentation and understand it.

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There are many theories being thrown around at present on the reasons for the global financial crisis. One that is getting traction is that there is a significant relationship between high levels of testosterone and preparedness by male traders to take extra risks to get a greater return.

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IT departments who start putting together their 2009-10 budgets early, plan carefully, fully engage with the user and understand, and show that they understand the implications of the economic downturn on the organisation will create better opportunities for the negotiation of a satisfactory outcome with their organisation’s senior management.

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Conclusion: The successful IT (line) manager and CIO is one who can comfortably operate in the technical arena and political (organisational) domain at the same time. Whilst the skills to operate in the technical domain can be acquired, those needed for the political domain are more elusive.

In the article entitled, ‘Making the Transition from IT professional to Line Manager’,1 I focused on what IT professionals moving to a line management role needed to do initially to build a foundation for success. In summary the new manager needs to understand the technical requirements of the role and its political dimension and establish effective relationships with major stakeholders.

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Conclusion: The number of documents (reports, email, TXTs, other written material) managers read every day amounts to a huge amount of textual information. All of us are now 2.0-conditioned and are more used to absorbing sound or word-bites and less sympathetic to struggling through long documents. So you can be certain that, no matter how important the substance of your reports, your audience will not read them with as much care and attention to detail as you spent writing them. Even the management summary may get the 10 second treatment: a once-over-lightly scan to determine the document’s usefulness before giving it a proper read – or not if it doesn’t grab attention.

Bloggers know all about the 10 second treatment and the good ones construct their blogs to capture and hold their target readers. (If they don’t they lose the revenue from selling their products or the advertisements on their blog sites). Competent bloggers use successful attention grabbing and holding techniques to help ensure that their communications get the attention they deserve and convey their intended messages.

Observations: Thanks to the 2.0 world most people have learned to skim-read really quickly. This is a problem for those writing reports for management. It means that if they haven’t made the important parts easily findable and accessible then the whole report becomes invisible. Write reports, and especially, management summaries, expecting their readers initially to only scan them. Once the report has captured their attention, they will return and read more closely what they initially scanned.

The medium is the message. Marshall McCluhan1 meant by this that a medium affects the society in which it plays a role, not only by the content delivered via medium, but by the characteristics of the medium itself. The widespread acceptance of PowerPoint last century (!) resulted in many documents and reports being produced in a PowerPoint-like format. Now, the ubiquitous influence of the Internet and Web 2.0 means that reports and documents are being delivered and presented in web-influenced styles.

It’s a 2.0 world, so cater for speed readers. Managers have to wade through scads of written material and become proficient speed readers, scanning at about 900 words per minute, rather than reading at about 240 words a minute. (It is likely that you will spend about 10 seconds scanning this entire note to determine its usefulness and, if it has captured your interest, will return and spend four or so minutes giving it a proper read.) Therefore, if your writing is initially going to be speed-read it is wise to write it on this assumption.

Learn from bloggers. Expert bloggers capture their readers by making it easy for them to scan the blog and find the key elements in the approximately 10 seconds they’ll initially allocate to the blog’s content. They attract the reader’s eye with:

  1. a catchy blog title,

  2. subtitles or subheadings within the blog

  3. bold, underlined, quoted, or otherwise highlighted text and hyperlinks

  4. pictures, graphs, charts, or images

  5. a summary of key findings/points/recommendations

If their scan suggests the blog is likely to meet the readers’ interests they will then go back and read the article in more depth.

Copy the bloggers. By including these keys in your document, your target audience can rapidly appreciate its value and assess the relevance of the content. After that, those who are interested will re-read it, this time in more depth, understand the message and act accordingly.

Content is king is a web catchcry, generally focused on ensuring that the web sites are easily indexed by search engines. The same meme2 applies to blog writers, wanting to ensure that blog readers see the value of the blog’s contents and return for more rather than ensuring search engine optimisation. The whole point of a blog (and your report) is the message. The person reading the blog (your report) wants to learn something or have something they ”know” confirmed – they are reading it for the content. That is why bloggers use the approach described above.

Rule number 1: Remember, busy people never read beyond the first page or maybe (the diligent ones) the second. You may still have to provide all the expected back-up bulk, but the serious content must appear early. Help the diligent ones find all the detail by using hyperlinks to the relevant components.

Rule number 2: Follow the Three Rules of Targeted Traffic to ensure those you want to read your material do so:

  1. Determine the audience you are writing for – write for them.

  2. Stay on-topic – don’t introduce irrelevant distractions.

  3. Write the document – and its title – so that your targeted reader finds it as interesting as their favourite web page.

Rule number 3: review your final document – and edit if it needs be – to make sure your target audience will read it. Check that:

  1. You’re making a unique and new point and not just regurgitating information,

  2. You’ve clearly summarised the point of your article in 2 – 3 sentences,

  3. the point you’re trying to make is apparent.

And: Move all those boring front pages containing the revision history and sign off details to an appendix with a hyperlink to them. Put the most important part of your document right up front!

Next Steps:

  1. Determine your target readers’ views of the readability, clarity and value of the documents/reports you provide them, and how they think they could be improved.

  2. Determine if a “blog-like” approach would improve their perceptions.

  3. If “Yes” set up a pilot program to “blog” a particular set of documents and monitor the response of the target audience.

  4. If it is successful, expand the program, possibly placing your non-sensitive “blogs” on your intranet.

What about – Start now – explore the option of blogging your approach as you develop your 2009/10 IT budget3.

2 Meme – A unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another. Coined by analogy with `gene', by Richard Dawkins

3 See Start to prepare IT Budgets for 2009/10 Now IBRS February 2009

The rule of three is a principle that suggests that things that come in threes are inherently more memorable and attractive to us than other numbers of things.

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Strong and clearly defined account management governance procedures are vital in helping to ensure a continuing good and professional relationship between customers and their outsourcing supplier. However merely defining these procedures in the successful tender and in the outsourcing contract is insufficient without strict adherence to them. An acceptable level of adherence can only be achieved through commitment and governance from both sides to ensure processes and procedures are followed rigorously

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Conclusion: The differences in roles and responsibilities between an IT professional and line manager are many and need to be understood by new managers and the manager’s manager. Not only will the understanding help both managers make the appointment work, it will also help the selection panel choose the right person.

A line new manager needs to be aware that the behaviour and strategies adopted in the IT professional role are unlikely to guarantee success in the new role. This is because the new role is typically a multi-dimensional one in which there are more stakeholders, outcomes are elusive and feedback is minimal.

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Conclusion: Interacting continuously with difficult people (also known as ‘jerks’) has the potential to make the workplace an unpleasant environment and sap the energy of those around them. Astute IT managers and professionals must understand the reasons difficult people behave in the way they do before they can develop coping strategies.

If UK and US based research quoted by Robert Sutton1 is a guide, difficult people also represent a hidden cost to the organisation through higher staff attrition, lost productivity and lower job satisfaction.

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Conclusion: Mentoring key IT staff when they may be feeling insecure during tough economic times is of the utmost importance. With the proper mentoring key staff will remain motivated and be positive about their contribution as the business slows.

It is important that organisations hold onto their best staff and the temptation to reduce costs by offloading well remunerated IT staff is a short term solution only and should be avoided. This will ensure that the IT department will be in a strong position to properly service the organisation when the business grows again.

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Conclusion: eLearning is re-emerging as a solution for effective delivery of online, hybrid, and synchronous learning regardless of physical location, time of day or distribution device type. eLearning can be used by the whole organisation for ensuring staff have and maintain the skills they need to deliver top organisational performance. Pending financial constraints provide an ideal stimulus to consider the increased use of eLearning in organisations.

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Conclusion: Because cross-enterprise projects cross management responsibility boundaries and change the way people work, resistance is inevitable. To minimise resistance, start the project only when all plans have been agreed and skilled resources, including change managers, are available.

If the project is started before minimisation initiatives are implemented, counter implementers, who thrive when there is uncertainty, will create resistance and put success at risk.

Project managers and the governance group for cross enterprise projects must be aware of the risks of failure and not be daunted by them. Success comes to those who minimise the political (or people-related) risks. Appoint the right professionals to implement the project and break it up into ‘bite sized chunks’ in which usable results are possible.

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Conclusion: Managers who can retain their best people are well on the way to a successful career. Because many IT professionals and managers have unique skills their retention is vital to business success. Conversely when they resign ‘with regret’, their loss may delay projects, increase system failures and adversely affect their manager’s career.

Astute managers identify their best people and develop strategies to keep them as well as their likely successors. It is called career protection insurance.

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