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: 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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Conclusion: Many IT departments struggle to understand and meet their client's expectations, often leading to the perception value is not being delivered. One way to address the problem is to appoint CRMs (Client Relationship Managers) who become the client's 'eyes and ears' and represent their interests with dealing with IT. The role is a senior one. Its occupants must be skilled in managing business relations and rewarded accordingly.

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Conclusion: Programs aimed at reducing IT and business operating costs are more likely to succeed if the targets are realisable, stakeholders committed and there is a clear roadmap for the journey. Conversely, cost reduction programs that have unrealistic targets, or are the brainchild of senior managers and linked to their incentive bonuses, are unlikely to succeed.

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Conclusion: When a CIO is appointed he or she becomes the centre of attention in their new IT ecosystem. Major demands will be placed on the CIO’s time by those seeking to espouse their views on IT and effective judgement will be needed to filter essential input from dross. Being visible and accessible within the organisation is important at this time. Drawn from broadly-based stakeholder input, a principle-based framework needs to be established setting out the new IT leader’s agenda. This should be followed through with decisive action. Adjust the plan quarterly to ensure continued relevance.

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Conclusion: From the moment a new CIO is appointed, the clock starts ticking as organisational scrutiny commences. Generally, a new CIO has 100 days to prove his or her worth. However, from the new CIO’s point of view, the clock should start ticking 20 days earlier. This is when savvy incoming CIOs can carry out due diligence on their new organisation and begin planning to ensure the strongest possible impression is made in the vital 100 days. In addition, the new CIO needs to carefully select the most appropriate driving modalities that best characterise the major themes the new IT leader will pursue. Failure to act as outlined may prove career limiting.

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Conclusion: Industry surveys continually rank as high the need for IT professionals and their managers to understand the business context in which their clients operate and deliver systems solutions quickly. IT professionals that can promptly turn a business requirement into a systems solution bring credit to themselves and their organisation.

Peter Keen1 coined IT professionals, who understand the business context and can drive systems delivery, as hybrids. Put simply they are people who are proficient in both the business and IT domains. Astute managers know that hybrids have to be identified and developed and the process takes time. Hybrids do not fall out of the sky.

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Conclusion: Three previous articles on this topic were triggered by a January 2006 McKinsey & Co. survey1 on the IT spending patterns of 37 retail and wholesale banks. The survey revealed a surprising paradox. Those that were the lowest spenders were judged as delivering the greatest business value from their investment in IT.

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Conclusion: Two previous articles on this topic were triggered by a January 2006 McKinsey & Co. survey1 on the IT spending patterns of 37 retail and wholesale banks. In essence, it showed that the lowest spenders were judged as delivering the greatest business value from their investment in IT.

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Conclusion: Last month’s article on this topic was triggered by a January 2006 McKinsey & Co. survey1 on the IT spending patterns of 37 retail and wholesale banks. In essence, it showed that the lowest spenders were judged as delivering the greatest business value from their investment in IT.

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Conclusion: A McKinsey & Co. survey1 of the spending patterns of 37 retail and wholesale banks, published in January 2006 revealed a startling paradox. Those banks judged as delivering the greatest business value from their investment in IT, were also among the lowest spenders.

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IT due diligence is primarily undertaken to understand the target business IT systems with a view to establishing the resources and costs involved in integrating them into the acquirer’s IT systems, the possibility of the target business having a more suitable IT infrastructure already in place should not be ignored. The IT due diligence exercise must be exhaustive and particular emphasis placed on reviewing and understanding contracts with third parties and the possibilities of rationalising software licences. These are areas where value can often be added in the form of cost savings and improved processes.

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Conclusion: Evolutionary changes in the composition of the IT workforce 1 will continue to occur in mature organisations in next 3 to 5 years, but in immature organisations, where the focus is on today’s operations only, revolutionary change will be needed to enable the IT workforce to maximise the benefits from IT-related investment.

Fuelling the need for change in the IT workforce is the continuous enhancement of desk top and business process automation software combined with an increasingly IT literate workforce keen to exploit the latest technologies. In the opposite corner is the need to maintain business systems as usual, keep costs under control and minimise risks from uncontrolled use of the Internet. Senior management’s role is to hold the competing interests in tension.

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How often have we seen it in recent years? IT Management journals with articles about the need for CIO’s to get closer to the business. In many cases it is suggested that in order to add value to the business, the CIO should become involved in the development of business strategies and to put forward proposals for the use of technology to support the implementation of these strategies.

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Conclusion: A recent study1 has found Australian IT managers have the highest need, compared to their peers, to develop their influencing capability overall. The result is not surprising. Previous studies2 have found, as a generalisation, IT managers and professionals are task oriented and have low social skills relative to their peers. Unfortunately, these attributes stymie efforts to influence others and sell their ideas.

All is not lost however. IT managers and professionals can acquire the insights and skills needed to exercise an influence and persuade others, providing they are willing to make changes to their management style.

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Conclusion: Even with software to automate research functions and aggregate data, many organisations do not have a clear understanding about their customers. This condition of near blindness is made more difficult in large and diverse organisations, where it is obvious that a whole customer perspective would be commercially advantageous, but is challenging to obtain.

By a mixture of technology and astute strategic planning, it is possible to gain customer insights but to do so requires precise planning, setting objectives and indicators, in conjunction with methodologies to gain feedback.

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Conclusion: Identifying the right person to the right task or project and helping them succeed is a major challenge for most managers, principally because it involves knowing the competencies and aspirations of each candidate. This knowledge is rarely acquired quickly. Ironically it is often only when the assignee has encountered stressful situations, such as a conflict with a client or vendor or had to deal with an unexpected delay in the project that the knowledge is refined.

Stressful situations also test the manager who may have to help the assignee ride the wave or resolve the conflict. This article provides a useful framework for determining how to identify competencies and help assignees maximise their performance. It also canvasses options to consider when things are not going well.

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Conclusion: There is compelling evidence in Australia and New Zealand that ongoing investment in IT is being hindered by a shortage of trained IT professionals. While the evidence, which is in industry surveys, government statistics and job advertisements, is compelling it begs the question, ‘What can I do to mitigate the shortage of skilled IT and business professionals in my organisation?’

While innovative strategies are presented in this article, they are no substitute for sound HR practices, such as implementing flexible working and leave arrangements, sound benefits management and using astute people management practices.

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Conclusion: IT related governance processes in a federated business model, i.e. where autonomous business units or divisions have own IT staff and resources, must focus on what is needed to achieve the strategic objectives of the organisation and at the same time help each unit achieve its potential.

The governance processes typically presume each business unit will cooperate and contribute resources and expertise to the organisation when requested. It is axiomatic that failure to cooperate in the governance, or decision making, processes will frustrate efforts to get the best outcomes for the organisation.

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It was also evident that a number of business and IT staff (some quite senior) who had been involved throughout the acquisition and specification process had growing concerns about the process and the path that the project was taking. However, these people had chosen to remain silent, largely it would seem in deference to Mr. H’s ebullient and fearsome style.

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Since IT began as a profession, within many organisations there seems to have been some degree of tension between IT and Finance.

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Conclusion: Industry and research publications have cogitated for many years on the CIO’s role and responsibilities. Some recent articles in journals have speculated the role will become redundant due to emergence of information systems or point solutions owned and operated by business units.

Whilst some organisations operate point solutions from within business units, e.g. equities trading desks in wholesale banks and exploration systems in oil and gas companies, the reality is that these organisations also have statutory reporting and corporate compliance requirements. These requirements force them to consolidate financial and other data typically under the remit of the CIO or equivalent.

Other commentators emphasise the supply side of the CIO role and assume IT literate business managers will occupy the demand side an act as informed buyers. In my observation this is less than ideal as the buyers typically have stretched performance objectives leaving them little time for involvement in IT related matters.

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I recently had the opportunity to participate in a workspace design project for knowledge workers. The organisation was keen to provide the right physical environment and tools to help retain them and maximise their contribution to the success of the enterprise.

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Conclusion: The literature is replete with reasons why projects fail but strangely one that rarely gets mentioned is, ‘appointment of an inappropriate project manager’ or equivalent. Picking the right person for the right project is not difficult providing some guidelines, related to identifying the skills, attributes and personality type preference of the person, are followed and the type of the project is clear.

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Conclusion: The CIO organisation can be considered as the CEO organisation in microcosm. Both domains encounter similar issues: strategy, market penetration and credibility, cost reductions and so on.

As with last month’s article, this one draws on insights gained from studies of major corporations and is intended to provide inspiration to CIOs keen to improve practices and lift performance within their domain.

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Conclusion: Some of the lessons from corporate management literature can be applied to the successful running of an IT shop. This article contains insights gained from studies of some of the world’s most admired companies and provides new ways to think about planning for the future through the application of the ‘three horizons’ technique.

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Almost overnight our organisation became a $3 billion a year company with staff numbering 3,500 and in excess of 100 locations. This all occurred despite a business plan which stated that we would not be seeking revenue growth over the next three years but rather seeking, greater profit on a steady turnover through increased efficiencies. However when opportunity knocks it is not easy to turn it away, particularly when you are under clear instructions from the parent company.

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2006 marks a significant 50 year anniversary for computing in Australia. On July 4th 1956 it is claimed that the first program was run on SILLIAC, a valve computer that was assembled and housed at the Physics Department of the University of Sydney. Over the years much political mileage has been made on both sides of politics, about how Australians have often been at the forefront in pioneering new technologies, but have been slow in exploiting and commercialising them. However, these assertions need to be tested, certainly as far as information technology is concerned.

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The changes that are currently being driven through the business are having an interesting affect on how Information Technology is being viewed. As it becomes more and more apparent that the changes required rely in the main on IT to deliver the appropriate infrastructure, it becomes equally apparent that there are insufficient IT resources to do so efficiently within the time frame expected. Furthermore the extent of the changes and the demands on IT are such that a significant additional investment in personnel and software is required.

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Conclusion: The end of the calendar year is always a time of soul-searching and reflection. What has been nagging you this year that you know can be improved upon next year? Before 2006 begins in earnest, think about some of the aspects of CIO life that could be changed for the better.

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As discussed in these pages before this company has been undertaking a significant review of business processes since the large losses that were experienced on both the Hilton Hotel and Spencer Street Railway Station projects some eighteen months ago. While this review is still very much in progress a number of necessary organisational changes have already been identified and are in various stages of implementation.

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Conclusion: Manywho have outsourced their Service Desk complain that in doing so they lost touch with the pulse of their organisation. Bringing the Service Desk back in-house allows customer and IT intimacy to be re-established.

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