How to Avoid Bumping Heads Between IT and Business Managers How to Avoid Bumping Heads Between IT and Business Managers Goulston, MD,MD, CIO CIO –Mark Mark Goulston, �o ththis, i s, dodothatthat, , getget it done now,now, and and I don� wan t towant hear to anyhear excuses. � “Do it done I don’t any excuses.” Ever hear hear these xpl ici tly or im porl icimplicitly—from i tly�r om y our CEO your o r anot her or CXOanother d eman CXO di ng t demanding hat you eit her that fixoryou impleither em en t Ever these words� words—explicitly CEO something? They think it� ju st a m a t te r o f tu r ni n g a swi tch, b ut h er e you a r e o n th e ver ge o f a h uge p r oj e ct , a nd th ey fix or implement something? They think it’s just a matter of turning a switch, but here you are on the vergedon� of hear about This don’t endeavor willtotake drastic it. reshuffling of manpower, mayanecessitate money theofCFO will resent awant hugetoproject, andit.they want heara about This endeavor will take drastic reshuffling manpower, spending and could require they least wantspending to give you, namely cooperation andleast patience. may necessitate money thewhat CFO will resent and couldtheir require what they want to give you, namely their cooperation and patience. Before you go down the road of feeling victimized (even though to a certain extent you are) and make matters much worse by acting likego a victim, a deep and listen carefully I� aboutextent to tel you l you.are) and make matters Before you down take the road of breath, feelingexhale victimized (even thoughtotowhat a certain much worse by acting like a victim, take a deep breath, exhale and listen carefully to what I’m about to tell you. If you�e an IT per son, ther e ar e thr ee thi ngs that ar e likel y to be true about you: 1. You�ebet t er wit ht hings and i nformat i on you are withperson, people there (especially wherethings confrontations are required). 2. With regard you�ewith as fothings cused and on Ifthan you’re an IT are three that are likely to be true about you:to1.technology, You’re better what needs tothan be done to make work as you are onwhere what itconfrontations might actually doare forrequired). the business. 3. You� e mo sttoliktechnolel y ma l e. information you are withITpeople (especially 2. With regard ogy, you’re as focused on what needs to be done to make IT work as you are on what it might actually do for the Now consider where most many likely top business-side executives, especially those with marketing and sales backgrounds, come business. 3. You’re male. from: 1. They�e bet ter wi th peopl e and inf or ma t ion than thi ngs (Jack W e l ch sai d, �was afr aid of the I nternet . ..because I couldn� type. � ). 2 . W i th regar d to te chnol o gy, th ey�e m o r e f o cused on wh a t those they wawith n t ITmarketing t odo t han wh a t sales needsbackgrounds, t obe done Now consider where many top business-side executives, especially and to make it work. 3. They�ebetter mo st with likel y people ma l e too.and information than things (Jack Welch said, “I was afraid of the come from: 1. They’re Internet...because I couldn’t type.”). 2. With regard to technology, they’re more focused on what they want IT to What is the significance of you both Men3.will do anything avoidmale humiliation. omen do than what needs to be done to being make male? it work. They’re most to likely too. It� the �ri de� thing. (W suffer this less because any sense of their pride is usually bludgeoned by the way their children treat them every day.) Men feel humiliated when they feel incompetent andmale? will doMen almost anything to prevent that sense of incompetence being What is the significance of you both being will do anything to avoid humiliation. It’s the from “pride” exposed in the light of day others and toany themselves. thing. (Women suffer thistoless because sense of their pride is usually bludgeoned by the way their children treat them every day.) Men feel humiliated when they feel incompetent and will do almost anything to prevent Men� comf of or t incompetence zone is di rect ly pfrom r opor being tionat eexposed to thei r com et elight nce zone. Thetoleothers ss compand et ent they feel , the mo r e uncomf or t that sense inpthe of day to themselves. able. Nobody (CEO, CFO, COO or CIO) likes to be pulled out of their comfort zone, and they will fight it tooth and nail. Rather comfort than feeling reassured by someone else� com et ence, me n of tenzone. feel out cont competent rol and at thethey me r feel, cy of the the m ore Men’s zone is directly proportionate to ptheir competence Theof less more competent person. This is (CEO, especially trueCOO for a CEO who likes has mistreated a CIO his help. uncomfortable. Nobody CFO, or CIO) to be pulled outand of now theirneeds comfort zone, and they will fight it tooth and nail. Rather than feeling reassured by someone else’s competence, men often feel out of conBusiness being dragged into their area of incompetence, thetrue world i ngs. �who Technol st s resi st baeiCIO ng trol and atexecutives the mercyresist of the more competent person. This is especially forofa�hCEO has ogi mistreated dragged theirhis area of incompetence, the world of people (especially people in conflict). And here� the rub for ma ny and now into needs help. CIOs: These business executives are comfortable dealing with interpersonal conflict and confrontation (after all, their negotiationexecutives skills haveresist helpedbeing them dragged get whereinto theytheir are),area whereas most CIOs feelthe like world they�e of in w“things.” a y over thTechnologists ei r head in such Business of incompetence, settings. resist being dragged into their area of incompetence, the world of people (especially people in conflict). And here’s the rub for many CIOs: These business executives are comfortable dealing with interpersonal conflict and So when a business thatskills you get something it done now, youwhereas stand transfixed like afeel deer confrontation (afterexecutive all, their demands negotiation have helped done themand getget where they are), most CIOs in headlights. When they blast you with what they want, then stonewall you when you start to explain what you need from like they’re in way over their head in such settings. them (time, money and patience) to get it done, you are frustrated. No, that� too mi ld�o u�e appal l ed. You�e inf uri at ed. So when a business executive demands that you get something done and get it done now, you stand transfixed And ayou don� o inf ur iat ed w e l l. Youthey di gblast in youryou heelwith s to what we at her thewant, st or mthen and ststonewall op your selyou f fromwhen sayi nyou g thatstart angrtoy, exbut like deer in dheadlights. When they plain what you need from them (time, money and patience) to get it done, you are frustrated. No, that’s too mild—you’re appalled. You’re infuriated. And you don’t do infuriated well. You dig in your heels to weather the storm and stop yourself from saying that angry, but oh-so-relieving career-ending retort to this S.O.B. who crossed over from respecting your dignity to abuse a long time ago and who is making his unrealistic expectations your fault if you don’t meet them. If you were a hard drive, you’d crash. So what’s a mild-mannered, “just let me do the work you want me to do and get off my back” guy like you supposed to do? How to Talk to Your CEO Step 1: Make sure your expectations about your CEO’s behavior are realistic, not just reasonable. You might reasonably expect that you will be treated with respect if your CEO (or COO or CFO) wants to motivate you. But that may not be realistic. Don’t expect an impatient, over-the-top CEO to not act that way if he’s frustrated even in the least. Step 2: Establish leverage as soon as the boss gives you an assignment. Get him to be explicit and detailed and then repeat back to him the following, “Let me make sure I get exactly what you want me to do, so I don’t surprise you later on. You want me to [state here specifically what they have asked you to do] by [state the deadline] in order for you to accomplish [state the near term goal they’re working on]. Now tell me once again, you envision IT helping you by providing...” This is where you should have the CEO restate what he believes the technology will provide. Step 3: After you finish Step 2, say, “What else should I know to pass on to my people? I get the best out of them when they understand why we’re doing what we’re doing.” When you follow the above three steps, you accomplish several things. You empower yourself to have an exchange rather than feeling frustrated at being talked down to and doing nothing about it. You slow the CEO down and gain his (and your own) respect, which will cause him to treat you better by talking to or with you instead of over, or at, you. You cause the boss to see you as an intelligent person who can think, instead of a trained domesticated animal that just provides a function. Finally and most importantly, you will be able to take the following step. Step 4: Say to the CEO, “If and when we run into obstacles, roadblocks and bumps in the road, and after we have come up with the best way to solve them (you don’t want to worry the boss that you’ll need him to solve something in his area of incompetence), the most time-effective and efficient way to apprise you of it and obtain whatever additional resources we might need is...” Here you should pause and let him fill in the blank, which you will then refer back to if and when you hit those bumps. It’s pointless to expect “reasonable” behavior from impatient top executives whose typical approach is to hit you with unrealistic expectations and then rough you up if you do anything other than comply. Rather than allowing them to run over you with a diatribe, engage them in a discussion and, if possible, a dialogue. Do this by getting them to be more explicit and specific about what they want you to do, and then say back to them what they have told you. This will let them know you listened and understood them, and that you should not be treated as if you were mindless. Feeling a little resistant right now? It’s because I’m trying to pull you out of your comfort and competence zone as someone who may prefer to avoid confrontations with your CEO (which is what the above thinly veiled four steps are). It’s analogous to your trying to pull them out of their comfort zone and have them think more deeply (and realistically) of how to best use you. Just because you think you won’t be able to do this doesn’t mean you can’t. You can and should, and you may be pleasantly surprised with your CEO’s response. © 2008 CXO Media Inc.
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