Monday, August 24, 2015

Hard realities of soft skills of current CXOs

Please call me back after an hour; I will call you back; send me an email and I will revert; remind me to send you the details; the list is quite long, so I will stop here. I am not even listing unanswered emails, requests to call back, text messages, and connects on various professional and personal social media sites. These are a few statements from busy CXOs running from one activity to another, meetings, conferences, review discussions, lunches, business trips, who have no time to catch up with work, forget time for their life !

I am sorry I forgot, I was too busy, my work has been killing me, there was pressure to complete for the board/weekly/monthly … meeting; and then there are those who believe that they are above the rest and don’t need to apologize for their silence. The resultant perceptions are generalized in culture (we are like this only) or end up labeling the person “that’s the way s/he is”. There is no reference or mention of the resultant loss of time or opportunity or the challenges such tardiness creates for the other stakeholder.

The multitude of channels has increased the complexity of staying abreast with the increased interest towards connecting with each other for various purposes; there are also cold calls and messages from interested parties to gain attention. Tools and technologies have also evolved to a stage that they can provide notifications, alerts, and alarms across all kinds of off-person and wearable electronic devices. Despite this interconnected scenario, at least 70% of reverts do not happen (this is based on data I have collated over the last year).

And then there is a minority who always get to meetings on time, call back when they have promised, send you a response when they said they would; they are apologetic if they miss their commitments and make amends as a corrective step. They use Assistants (earlier referred to as Secretary), technology, and plain and simple to-do lists to ensure that they don’t slip on personal integrity. They value their time and give the same respect to others time too. Driven by the clock at times, an appointment turning up late is not tolerated.

What creates these two distinct breeds of professionals ? Before we start analyzing their childhood and the foundation set in their formative years and then blame the past for their current behavior, I would say that internal stimulus is far greater than external stimulus to create any change. External factors like training, mentoring, and coaching do help in triggering internal change which when sustained becomes a habit. The bigger stimulus is failure or an adverse outcome as a result of self-behavior or lack of action arising out of habit (inertia).

When one falls hard, the natural reaction is to blame the other person(s), circumstances, rarely if at all looking in the mirror for the person responsible. It is an uncommon occurrence that a person accepts accountability towards suboptimal or undesired end results; they justify their conduct based on their perception of themselves and excuses based on level of activity that constrained them. It is almost inhuman effort to acknowledge a self-limitation, learning or improvement opportunity that gives the power to change results.

Representative issue, not isolated: A vendor sought inputs on getting through to a CIO; he had emailed, phoned, text messaged, and called her Assistant innumerable times without success; it was as if he was not relevant to her. She was an existing customer and the relationship preceded her elevation to the position. The same request also came from other sources wanting to understand how to get through to her or get her attention/audience. Talking with one of her compatriots it emerged that even internally within the enterprise the situation was no different.

There are no easy answers to change; it happens one step at a time and requires significant effort and active coaching. People who give themselves the freedom to explore the new world gain from the new world of possibilities; they rise from self-imposed mediocrity to taste success. People want to be associated with such individuals who are beacons of qualities that make them worthy of emulation. If you have been in any of the situations above, give yourself a chance, a small chance to make a difference to yourself.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Your company has been acquired, what should you do !

If this is the first time you are involved in one, it is a feeling of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt); what will happen next ? Will the acquirer dictate their will or take rational or unilateral decisions ? Culturally we are so different; how will we work together ? There are so many parallel roles between the two companies, what will happen to the combined team ? What will be the future of my team ? What will happen to me ? They talked about synergies ! If you have been in an acquisition before, you think you know what will happen.

If you are an acquiring company, the feeling is similar to having won a war even if you were not on the field playing an active role and came to know of the event from an internal announcement or the newspapers; by association you believe that you now have the ability to change the destiny of the acquired group. You have already started thinking about the extended team, the tasks that lie ahead in integrating their systems. As the dominant partner you want to get them to your level, irrespective of comparative benefits.

But there is a lot more at stake in the first case as it deals with FUD; for many it is like appearing for a new job interview, a job that you desperately want because it is yours to begin with. You also want to ensure that your team also gets their jobs and don’t become a casualty to synergies between the two enterprises where overlapping roles see one go; it’s rarely the person from the acquirer impacted. The uncertainty is directly proportional to your place in the hierarchy; higher you are, it’s more likely that you will be collateral damage. Consider:

A.     The CIO was a leader in his own right having grown through the ranks over the years; his projects were well regarded and awarded by the industry, one becoming a case study in a premier B-school. He met the CEO and CIO of the big brother, sharing information and providing a view of their journey and success, though on a smaller scale. His confidence and positive approach ensured that he had a role in the new entity even before the integration process actually began. He became a critical part of the integration team. His team was not that fortunate, most did not make the grade.

B.     In another case, from the outside the deal did not appear to make any sense; the companies were fierce competitors in a crowded but growing market. Barring a few differences and branding, they operated in exactly the same space; acquisition added to scale but did not complement each other. When the integration started, both teams knew that the commonness will be a bane for many; but then the technologies even though being the same delivered very different results to the respective companies. The debate continued almost forever and as a result many left for greener pastures.

C.     Just before the announcement became public, the CIO had quit leaving a leadership vacuum at the targeted company. The acquirer known for ruthlessness and sharp business acumen created – what else – FUD within the team. The deal ran into roadblocks dragging for a long time and market rumor continued to fuel doubts on future strategy. When it did get started, heads rolled quickly, especially cruel from the top downwards. Remnants of IT leadership was not seen competent enough to manage the combined entity; they hired from outside !

Is there a magic formula that can help you survive or become the leader for the combined entity ? Or should you start actively seeking opportunities outside immediately after the announcement ? In most cases the tilt of balance is based on criticality of the role in the merged organization; if your exit were to create significant business disruption, then you will be retained for sure. If you are a high professional and add value to the enterprise, stay if the terms are good for you; it would not be difficult for you to find alternatives.

In the rest of the cases and I am not counting the politically savvy who survive in all kinds of situations, put your best foot forward and be prepared for the worst. Have an open conversation with your new manager to understand the new role being offered; warning: it may not be as juicy as your earlier one. If you decide to part ways, whatever happens, don’t burn bridges; it will come back and bite you sooner or later. Help your team as a friend and coach, give them the advice and solace required in difficult times, keep them cohesive.

Finally if you are the decision maker, be candid and kind, it’s a small world after all. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Analyst prediction come true: large enterprise with no CIO

For many years there have been predictions that with changing technology and business landscape, the CIO role will disappear. Triggers were real and imaginary – evolving or disruptive technology, shift in organization dynamics as a result of external environmental and economic factors – everyone loved to bash up the CIO and predicated extinction of the role. The hypothesis became a favorite topic of discussion in every CIO and technology conference; CIOs attempted to defend themselves and then decided to ignore the doomsayers.

The existence of the role can be traced to the turn of the century which demonstrates its recent nature. The first CIOs evolved from engineering and technology foundation which became a perceived disadvantage for many since they lacked the social skills and finesse of other longer tenured CXOs. This did not deter some who with their excellence created business outcomes that the industry recognized; they became the stars which others wanted to emulate; after all who does not want to be successful and showered with adulation ?

Fast forward to current times, yet another buzz and hype has analysts talking about why the CIO should move on to becoming the Chief Digital Officer or become extinct. Micro-specializing the role to a technology or trend seems to be the avenue to create a scare; forgetting the current complexity and nature of the beast being managed to keep the business chugging along, growing the company with stable and mature IT systems acquired over a period of time. CIOs have taken this in their stride by hiring experts from the outside.

Finding greener pastures in lateral moves, some CIOs decided to branch off into Human Resources, Supply Chain, Operations, Corporate Social Responsibility, at times as dual responsibilities. There has also been a handful who made it to the big corner office as the CEO of not just IT companies, but even large enterprises where they had spent time as CIO. The surprise however has been that CIOs from the first batch now crossing over the half way mark – age of 50+ sounds a bit old – beginning to seek an alternative calling in life.
·        I want to be a Coach ! I love interacting with people and helping them be successful; the training that I acquired over the years has prepared me to be a certified Coach & Mentor.
·        I would love to help startups to achieve their growth with better products that someone will buy; most of them have struggled to create a connect with enterprise use cases.
·        My life went by in a whirlwind; I want to catch up with my life and family before it is too late. I want to enjoy my life pursuing my passions for which I had no time in my work life.
·        Having been a CIO for more than 25-30 years, I have been working in automatic mode; the challenges of the role are no longer enough to stimulate me. I want to do something different.
Many of my peers from the industry were getting restless and wanted to get off the treadmill. The lure of fame, power, money, stock options, was not enough to keep them interested in their mundane and at times frustrating roles. Their self-actualization needs were getting starved and for most it was a matter of time or a trigger that made them take the plunge. In almost every case, the first reactions from the industry was: OMG ! What happened ? Did something go wrong ? Why did he leave without any options ?

They had set a good teams in place, working in harmony aligned to optimized processes that ensured minimal disruption with their departure. Everything continued to work as before though in a few company’s new initiatives and discussions around technology led disruption fell silent. The wheels of the enterprise continued to move on their own until the momentum began to slow down in the absence of the energy that the CIO brought to the table. Many companies decided to continue the journey while leaving the position vacant.

What will be the short and long-term impact of this decision ? None of the analysts, academicians, or the opinionated have ever attempted to answer this question. If the CIO has thought it through, s/he would have prepared the next line to scale up to fill the void; that limits the impact to short-term. Enterprises with checkered history of IT use and adoption have attempted to park the role with another CXO with a view that leadership in IT is unimportant. This is where I believe the adverse effects will be felt for a long time. 

Monday, August 03, 2015

What do you do when post negotiation the offer is declined ?

Business teams wanted the solution badly as it gave them a capability that none of the competitors had. So they worked with the CIO to conduct a thorough analysis of the options available along with validation from an independent IT consultant who had no bias towards any solution provider. The final conclusion was no different from what the business had intuitively arrived at on their own. The excitement was palpable and everyone waited for the budgets to be defined and approved to get started with what would be a project of a lifetime.

The business head along worked along with the CIO to prepare a business case for implementation that was put forward for review by the Executive Management. Discussions turned into debate and ended with clarifications sought from the team on choice of technology and associated investment. Patiently the CIO, vendor, and the business head addressed all open issues to be given an approval of a much reduced budget to get started with. It was a stretch and a difficult ask; everyone knew that but decided to give it a shot.

The negotiation started in earnest with local vendor team who threw up their hands escalating to the regional office; the regional limit did not allow for the expectation from the customer. The local team did not give up as it was a high profile customer and the CIO had brought significant transformation; they knew if they won the business it would be a high visibility win. The defined scope was large and by virtue of this the order value even at a high discount would be worth the effort. So the negotiation was pushed to the global headquarters to manage.

Head of Global Sales arrived at the customer office to close the deal. He was hopeful that he should be able to close in a couple of days. Back and forth it went tugging from one end to the other each waiting for the other to bend, none willing to yield ground. He realized that the customer knew their position and were willing to wait it out to get what they wanted. In a typical world it was a huge discount which they had not done for a long time now. The war of wills had the business head pushing for closure citing business value loss with the delay.

With the Purchase head reporting to the CFO who was unwilling to come down from his high stance it appeared that there was no way out. The CIO was cognizant of the fact that there was business value to be captured which was well articulated and presented by the business head. He called the vendor CEO giving them an opening to break the deadlock and suggested the same to the CFO. The customer and vendor accepted the solution and everyone sighed with relief and shook hands bringing to an end the long drawn battle.

Everyone shook hands and the approval process was to complete in the next few weeks to get the Purchase Order released. Timelines were agreed to on the start of the project, resources were to be allotted from the global talent pool. Life unfortunately does not always play fair. With a twist in the story, in the elapsed time dynamics had changed; the Company had just finished the annual budgeting cycle and the project was about to spill over to the next year. The Executive Committee suggested a review of pending projects.

Left hand unaware of what right hand was doing ? Or did the project become a victim of circumstances ? Was it communication gap between the Executive Committee and the stakeholders ? The Business head was present in the meetings that discussed the company’s results and priorities. Or was it just a case of lackadaisical attitude from the Finance and Purchase team that left the Vendor, Business and IT high and dry ? Can Internal politics drive the investment agenda ? So what caused the project to be abandoned after the long drawn negotiation ?

The vendor did not know how to react to the situation which had taken huge time, effort and resources that now came to a naught. They received curt messages from the Company on the deferment; the vendor CEO reached out to his ally the business head and the CIO. Reality was indeed perplexing and to some extent juvenile with one person’s ego becoming larger than life. Vendors abandoned their quest for business from the company rather than be subject to similar treatment arbitrarily that lacked basic professionalism.

The company is slowly rolling back into the past !