Monday, July 29, 2013

My Boss Changed

She joined a company, she liked the person who interviewed her and described the role, she build relationships and was comfortable with him, she like her team and they like her back, she start working on the agenda she wanted to drive, she build relationships within the company and gained acceptance with her peers as well as layers of the company, she was settling down into the zone and everything appeared to be going great. And then her boss changed; could be a peer getting elevated or a new hire, it doesn't matter.

Her castle suddenly appeared to be like a pack of cards precariously balanced which could come down collapsing at the slightest hint. The new person had a new agenda, a new style, a new set of ideas and notions on how your department should function, a new direction, and a new set of KPIs. Almost everything she painstakingly built now appears to require change. She looked around to find that for most of the organization there was no issue with the new scenario, it’s just her and a few.

Her meetings with the new boss were a discussion in stretching the boundaries and defining the new ropes; she was pushed into new corners and suddenly everything that was working was being labelled as needs improvement. Her old boss sympathized with her but leaves her to fend for herself. He had only broken the news to her a few days before the organization change announcement saying that it was for the larger good of the company. She felt like the sky was falling but maintained her composure.

She was a star performer, which is why she were hired; the company needed a strong leader to drive change and she delivered to promise and more, her credibility preceded her joining and she ensured that it held good against all measures. She contemplated a change and banished the thought quickly; she was a fighter and a survivor, she also had a lot happening and many initiatives riding on her shoulders. The situation required a different approach that eluded her. So she started spreading into her network to seek help.

Everyone told her that she needs to understand the personality and drivers of her new boss and then work towards adapting to them. Like she manages her team, she also needs to manage upwards. After all, the new person too is a professional and has a pedigree because of which he has been hired. There may be challenges, there will be opportunities too; it is up to her to decide how she want to use them. She was disheartened, her professional pride had been hurt; she had attempted steps with limited success.

Organization changes have a way of upsetting the best of plans; at times these are internal, they could also be driven by external, environmental and industry factors. Leaders have to adapt to the situation and change strategies and plans; it is foolhardy to stay emotionally attached to them. Do not take it as a personal or professional affront; it impacts your ability to succeed. Appealing to your previous boss may project you as a weak individual. If you can’t change your fate, change your attitude.

I have observed many good CIOs unable to accept and start believing that their winning formula is being challenged. Some take the drastic step of leaving the organization to find greener pastures elsewhere. The escapist route may bring short-term personal victory, but it gets you back to the starting point where you have to build credibility all over again. Those who are smart build relationships to overcome the situation and recreate success. I believe that the choices are driven by personal values.

Don’t drift, make a choice !

Monday, July 22, 2013

When to quit

His leaving came as a surprise to everyone; he was going great and was synonymous with the company and the industry for a long time. It was like he was destined to be in that position tailor made for him. He reveled in this and loved the attention and adulation it bought. The industry acknowledged his leadership and mentoring of the minnows to help improve their well being. So when leading media and press announced his exit, it was totally unexpected and unanticipated news.

Speculation had it that he had fallen out of favor with the board; some said that he had become complacent and thus was fired. Internal politics resultant out of management shift was another rumored reason for downfall. Another said that industry challenges and cost cutting measures resulted in high profile exits; after all another CXO had recently left the company under mysterious circumstances. There was no dearth of good and vile reasons; no one however asked the CIO lest they rub a wrong chord.

Joining them at the cusp of growth and globalization the CIO had spent a long innings in the chosen company and industry. He invested significant effort which bore fruit for the company leapfrogging it and strengthening their leadership position. He created a high performance and empowered team who created success with ease. Not that the journey was a bed of roses, thorns were a plenty which he slowly weeded out and won the confidence of the enterprise and industry with his willingness to lend a helping hand.

Industry bodies and associations depended on him for thought leadership and his ability to get people together. He improved the level of participation from across companies bringing out the best to discuss and debate solutions to generic and specific issues. Awards and accolades were conferred upon him with invitations to share his strategic, pragmatic and practical views globally. It was almost like a fairy tale in which everyone lived happily ever after. That is why the news appeared improbable.

Tentative in my approach, I decided to uncover the mystery that had many in the industry wondering. I called upon the CIO and popped the question forthwith. Is everything okay ? What happened ? Why did you leave ? Was there a problem ? Where are you going ? Who is taking over ? You were doing so well ! He patiently listened to me and waited for my questions to stop which did bring me to a pause. Smiling, he then started to explain his position and the raison-de-etre behind his steps.

My journey has been great; the industry adopted me and gave me an opportunity to create new benchmarks in customer service. I took on the leadership role with help of my CEO and support from within and outside the company. Challenging conventional wisdom and fast tracking some leading initiatives gave me the requisite platform. My vendors embraced some of the new ideas and committed resources to experiment and explore. Many case studies later I was the spokesperson for what IT could do.

The journey through the recession and upswing cemented the business technology relationship to create new benchmarks. Moving from projects to impacting business outcomes was a great feeling for everyone. This partnership grew from strength to strength; for me the question was what next ? My team was on autopilot and I was on a roll, at the same time a bit restless. That is when opportunity came knocking on my door. It was once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create again from ground up; in today’s world that is a rarity.

I liked what I heard and decided to take the plunge. Leaving on a high is a great feeling when everyone is asking WHY; I did not want to be where people start asking WHY NOT. Everyone remembers champions at their high points of achievements and move on to the next winner as soon as you start faltering. I took my call and decided to take the plunge while setting into motion a process to ensure that all the effort of the teams did not go waste post my exit. I am enjoying the new role and the industry has rallied around this quickly.

Hmm, what a story, I hope I can do the same someday. Should you leave when the going is good or should you build upon past success ? I believe that this is a personal call depending on your risk appetite and the way you see your career progressing. Whether you are a creator or good at sustenance with incremental innovation will determine your calling. There is no one answer that works for everyone. It is for you to find the right opportunity or make opportunities where you are.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Honeymoon period

I met up with a CIO who had taken up a new assignment with a new company in a different sector from his previous industry; he had just completed a little over three months in the new role. The company was known to be a market leader in the industry with highly adaptable market driven IT systems. The company was growing quickly and it was also a known fact that their IT needed revival and renewal. My friend the CIO was excited about the opportunity despite butterflies in the stomach.

Three months had brought some success and quick wins; he had faced a few uphill tasks too where success eluded his team. We started chatting about his journey thus far, his joys, setbacks, challenges, plans, opportunities, cultural fit, politics, whatever; everyone was not aligned to the vision and agenda consistently though there were only a couple of detractors who believed that in the transformation the risk outweighed the benefits; change will be disruptive agreed everyone unanimously.

He described his journey with vigor and excitement in animated tones; initial days were great with all the CXOs helping him understand the business, the challenges and opportunities, the history and way forward. His team gave him a warm welcome and fervently looked up to him to provide the much needed leadership. Down the line as he traversed the organizations width and depth, he found that there was a strong culture and pride which kept people together. He was happy to join such a company.

Within a month he had enough data to form a sketch of the company landscape and a roadmap of the journey that would demonstrate the efficacy of his understanding of the enterprise. He ran it by his team and then selectively some of the CXOs; he incorporated the feedback into his finding and tuned the plan to what the organization could take in its stride without being overtly disruptive. He also received more than adequate time to detail the plan and its execution.

In the previous week to our meeting, he had received endorsement of his strategy and plan including the long-term funding. So the excitement was understandable and shared by his team; from being in the laggards’ quadrant of IT adoption, they were on the journey to the one marked followers and he hoped to get into the “early adopters” block within two years. He also had freedom to hire his team to execute the plan; he had started connecting to his contacts to explore. Sounds too good to be true ?

What I have described is what is normally referred to as the “Honeymoon period” in any new company and assignment. Generally the length of the term varies from 30 to 90 days in which the person has it easy while learning the ropes and boundaries. This is when the individual defines the flex s/he has to assert and where s/he has to back off. Learning about the culture, people, process and politics helps in creating relationships that aid or deter the journey. Questions are not frowned at as you are learning.

A shortened honeymoon based on understanding of the priorities and result oriented actions, able to capture the proverbial low hanging fruits, builds credibility and sets a strong foundation. My friend had more or less done that with his experience, rigor and quick understanding; he made the best of the time to create a foundation and set expectations with all stakeholders. While there were a few indifferent CXOs and some sections risk averse, his confidence withdrew the negativity and insecurity.

Honeymoons however do not last forever; they are usually to set expectations. They are getting shorter with engagements prior to joining in and expectations of hitting the ground running. Gone are the days of settling into a new company and role; information availability and competitive pressures now do not provide the latitude of the past. I believe that irrespective of hierarchy and position (more so when you are towards the top of the pyramid), patience levels are low, performance benchmarks are high.

Are you up to it ?

Monday, July 08, 2013

That rogue app

We need IT support and expertise to scale up the application; there are a few enhancements and some bugs that need to be fixed. For us it has worked well for the last year and we believe that it can deliver similar benefits to other parts of the company. You know the efficiency it has given us has helped meet our targets and we now measure favorably on most KPIs. Can you organize for the resources at the earliest ? Thus started a discovery of an application that had gone business critical !

The company had engaged a big name consulting firm to help in a business transformation. The project had been announced with big fanfare and branding that had everyone excited with the potential outcomes. The initiative took off quickly with key process identification and definition of measurement criteria. Review meetings began with the realization to promise while dashboards sprung up all over the place. These charged up everyone and the movement spread quickly.

Everyone applauded the effort which was cascaded to a few sites with the same level of success thereby ensuring that the model was robust and scalable. The consultants had created a working spreadsheet model that automated the critical process chain and helped improve the decision making. It worked well for the select set of users who proudly displayed the results to anyone and everyone who wanted to know more about their success. People moved on to other things and soon this was forgotten.

The CIO had no inkling of the spreadsheet becoming mission critical to the unit and the slow virulent spread of the solution. It did not cross the business teams’ mind to move on to an integrated and scalable formal application that would integrate with the data sources rather than continue taking data dump and manipulating to get to where they wanted. No one challenged the process as it slowly crept on until the data size became unwieldy and a few locations wanted to tweak the model.

That is when the CIO was approached to rescue the situation. They wanted a technical resource to help fix and deploy the solution. It was a precarious situation for the CIO whether to push back or fall in line and support the business critical application. There was pressure from the stakeholders and some CXOs to support the solution. The easy way out was to let go; after all, the project did have visibility and everyone knew about it, so why make an issue. But that would have set a precedent !

My friend was not known to be politically correct and ready to take a stand on principles; for him that was the only way to do things. And that’s what he did; he asked the team to submit the documentation of the system based on which the team would determine whether the program could be supported or redevelopment was the way out. He went on to deplore the situation with the CXO responsible and instructed his team to follow his diktat. Reconciliatory moves to find a compromise were brushed aside brusquely.

This was not a typical case of rogue or shadow IT that ignored the IT function or the CIO intentionally. It was never expected to become a business critical solution to be deployed across locations. Every function uses spreadsheet to address simple data capture, analysis or sometimes address tasks that conventional solutions are unable to fulfill. Quick and dirty spreadsheet or other out-of-the-box solutions are typical to any company today. They crystallize the need which IT is able to qualify and address.

I do not believe that there is a singular way to address this situation. All approaches are correct in the context of the situation and the reality of the involved stakeholders. It is important to address this tactfully without burning bridges. My friend knew the boundaries in which he could push back and where he needed to take a step back. Post acknowledgement of the issue, he asked the team to support the scale-up of the application in an integrated framework that had everyone move ahead.

What would you do in such a situation ?

Monday, July 01, 2013

Introvert, Extrovert, Braggart

The CIOs represented first among equals; CIOs who had been consistently effective in creating an example for others to follow. This bunch of score and some more could have filled a museum with the accolades they had collectively received. They had gathered to listen to the wisdom of a few learned men. Their collective expertise could have solved many business and technology problems across industries. To a fly on the wall, their interactions provided interesting insights into human behaviour.

They threw a range of technical questions at the speakers and some challenging cases which needed fair experience to resolve. They kept the chatter on through and post the session into the break and the beginning of the next one; the banter never ceased. It is not that they all were good friends or acquaintances or that they were from the same company or industry or shared interests; if at all they had probably met before in another similar forum or maybe not.

Careful observation revealed that within the group some voices were loud and incessant, some broke the monologues with their insights only to be interrupted by the dominance of the need for a few to be heard; or was it to hear their own voices over the others ? Their compulsive need to speak was amazing and unnerving and rather irritating after some time. “I have been there done that and know it all; I have seen all situations, even surreal ones that you cannot imagine. It makes me a winner !”

Bright eyed and confident of their ability and success, another part of the group participated with moderation; it is not that they were in any way lesser to the other group, but did not share the need to speak at every opportunity and sometimes force their way into a conversation. They made sense when they spoke, had questions that made sense (at least most of the time and more often than the first group for whom the sounds of their voices is the only thing that mattered). They were tolerable in comparison.

And then eyes fell on a group who rarely if at all opened their mouth. Through the conversations their contributions were restricted to non-verbal cues, an occasional attempt to get in sideways and then falling silent again. After a few attempts they would go back to fiddling with their smartphones only to awaken intermittently when a point was made where they had an opinion. Unfortunately their views if any will rarely be known to the masses. Their stories, travails and achievements will sound paler when compared to others.

I would hazard a guess that this dynamics manifests itself in every gathering of learned men and women across cultures, geographies and age groups. The participants even when chosen randomly will in relative degrees form similar alignments with a few dominating the proceedings while others defer to them. Spokespersons even when there is no consensus on the view or what is being said come from the first lot.  A person in one group may move a few notches in another or demonstrate antonymous behaviour.

Everyone likes and wants to win; some talk about it even when their achievements may have been lesser than others. Their forceful presentations create a momentum that takes them through. On the other hand a few winners rarely get noticed until someone takes up their cause. Which is a desirable stand and which is despicable ? Should you not brag about your skills and goals attained because if you don’t no one would know. In today’s world how does one project self to get what is rightfully due ?

There is an old Indian saying “the peacock danced in the forest; who saw it ?” No one likes a braggart though everyone acknowledges success. Our conditioning refrains us from being the peacock with resplendent plume; show some restrain unless you are in the showbiz or have a career in politics. I think that if you are indeed endowed with the qualities that differentiate you from the herd go ahead and tell the world about it. There is a difference between modesty, being an introvert and humility. Know the difference and decide where you stand.