Monday, April 18, 2016

In the corporate world, the unfit also survive and at times thrive

In every enterprise and almost every domain, roles and responsibilities have been evolving, some driven by global expansion, industry dynamics, technology driven changes in business, and customer demands. The biggest change has been the emergence of the CXO roles and their rapid evolution from a departmental or functional manager to an enterprise leader. Youngest among these is the role of the CIO has transformed at a faster clip than most others though some traits have become basic expectations.

Like every other function IT has not had the luxury of time to polish the rough edges and create a persona that grows over generations and gains acceptance with the rest of the organization; the fast-track pace of change in technology led to big shifts in expectations which also led to a clear divide between the CIOs in their ability to execute. The lines separated them into three broad buckets: leaders, followers, and laggards; and then a small group emerged over a period of time, the inept or gas-baggers or politicos, they had different names.

After a lull for long, the company had invested significantly in IT to catch up with the industry; spread over a couple of years the action jumpstarted their journey. IT and business teams worked together enjoying the momentum and associated benefits. Then again they went into slumber as if IT did not matter beyond what had already been implemented. The industry continued to make good progress; observers and vendors wondered what triggered the pause which extended for long. Not getting any clear answers they shifted focus elsewhere.

Time passed by and nothing seemed to matter for a while; strides made by competition and altered expectations from customers began to pinch with slowly declining growth rates and pressure on profitability. Parts of the business began to rue the inaction on part of IT to address their needs; no new ideas were evaluated or contributed since the departure of the earlier CIO. The crescendo of voices soon reached a level that merited and received the attention of the Management who decided to deep dive and find the reasons.

It was an interesting discussion between a Board member with an appreciation of technology, the CIO and the IT leadership team. He sought details about existing systems deployed, their use and effectiveness, the roadmap, new technology landscape impacting the industry, evaluations done, and benchmarking data with the industry. All fair questions, par for course for any reasonable person and CIO to be able to answer with ease, especially if he has been in the role for more than a couple of years.

We have been busy stabilizing the ERP system and managing the change requests from the business; there is no discipline on master data which keeps troubling all of us with multiple requests for change; the connectivity issues have made deployment of new solutions difficult; two key resources left in the last one year which has impacted progress on a few initiatives; business is not willing to deploy the new solution we took for marketing after the new marketing head joined; the stream of excuses flowed gushingly.

Interestingly the discussion side-stepped questions asked by the BM which he pointed out at the end of the meeting to the visibly squirming team. The CIO was granted resources sought to complete the tasks at hand and create the strategy and plan before the next meeting which was mutually agreed to. To the BM the lack of depth and ability was evident but he wanted to give the team time to absolve themselves; he did not want to base his actions only on first impressions and thus extended the rope a bit.

We deployed a new solution which business loves and we are scaling up; the team lead has been chosen to speak at a global conference. I have been busy getting bugs resolved in the core system with the vendor; I have escalated to the headquarters and they are working on this new set of bugs we have discovered. We have changed vendors on one front while we are shutting down the project that business did not want anymore. HR has not been able to provide the resources we want for some of the new projects.

The team joined the chorus which was abruptly stopped by the BM realizing that he shall again be starved of the confidence he sought in the team. The organization will have to take some tough calls. The above is just one manifestation of ineffective leadership demonstrated by an experienced IT professional who gained the role by accident and patronage, not necessarily by merit. Lacking the skills required for the CIO role, he could not maintain the fa├žade for long, the competency levels could not hold up the scrutiny.

Click for Gas-baggers and Politicos 

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