Touchy, Feely Trust Fall Kind of Stuff (well, not really)

“You give loyalty, you’ll get it back. You give love, you’ll get it back.” —Tommy Lasorda

We got a call from our son’s school the other day. It wasn’t because he was winning the Student of the Year award. No, it was one of those dreaded conversations where you hear that your child did something so absurdly ridiculous you go right to, “What in the world was he thinking?!?!” My son is 14 — at that age, I wasn’t exactly joining the Peace Corps or helping Ms. Guthrie get her cat out of the tree. So, I knew I should cut him some slack.

When he got home, we sat him down and calmly asked, “Will you help us understand why you thought it was a good idea to…”
His answer really took us back. I think even the most well-balanced parents trained in Love and Logic would have gone running and screaming from our house. He looked me straight in the face and said, “Because the school’s rules didn’t say I couldn’t.” Really? Why couldn’t he have applied that logic to an action like using his allowance to buy teachers appreciation gifts? I’m pretty sure school rules don’t say anything about not doing that!

This situation got me wondering: is it this line of reasoning that sometimes causes leadership to go wrong? Have you ever heard a leader justify a decision he made with the business equivalent of, “Because the rules didn’t say I couldn’t?” How did it impact the way you felt about the company you worked for? Here’s the deal: every company I’ve ever worked for or been exposed to wants their customers to love them.

And I’ve learned in my executive career that your customers will never love you if your team members don’t love you first.

Admittedly, love is a strong word. In the business world, it’s only earned by invested and involved leaders who treat their team well—especially when something big changes in the workplace. Some leaders think that’s soft and squishy. They proclaim they “don’t have time” to “bring people along” because they need to focus on the “real work.” Maybe that’s the reason Gallup reports almost 70% of the US workforce is not engaged/actively disengaged; maybe that’s the reason 70% of all change initiatives fail. To me, it sounds like soft and squishy might actually be hard and tangible.

But then again, I don’t believe change and innovation is an end-user or team member problem; it’s a leadership opportunity.

While traditional change tactics like communications and training place the burden squarely on the shoulders of the people receiving a big change, (I believe) there are conditions that leaders solely own and influence ... and determine whether success is even possible at an execution level.

Conditions like alignment, where executives are absolutely clear on WHY they are pushing a big change—and communicate that WHY every day to team members. Yes, daily! Conditions like capacity, and ensuring people have the time of day to absorb the new “Thing.” These are just a couple of the head-slapping, intuitive conditions that influence success. Seems obvious, but leaders often ignore them.

It’s been said, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” but in the case of leadership it absolutely does not work that way.

Team members need their leaders available and willing to provide crystal clear clarity to avoid organizational dysfunction and confusion. Speaking of clarity, seems like my son might need more of it. And one thing I need him to know: even a good excuse will never justify bad behavior. Sometimes you do things because you just know it’s right. Some call that soft and squishy. I call that hard and real.

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Chris Laping is Co-Founder & CEO of People Before Things, LLC, a boutique consultancy that helps executive and project leaders prepare people for technology change. He has also written a bestselling book, People Before Things: Change Isn’t an End-User Problem, which explores the role leaders play to pave success in change and transformation. To join the conversation, follow @CIOChris and @pplb4things on Twitter.

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Why CIOs Don’t Become CEOs

“A leader is one that knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” —John C. Maxwell

Last week, I sat down for an afternoon coffee with a seasoned Chief Information Officer (CIO), Jim. (Name changed for the purpose of this blog.) He and I are connected to some of the same people but had never formally met. Over the years, I’ve heard such great things about him, especially how he focuses on team members first. I was anxious for the meeting and grateful for his time—I learned quite a bit in that hour and a half.

One of the things Jim said that really piqued my interest was a passing comment about CIOs becoming CEOs. He said, “I resolved a long time ago that the CIO job would be the pinnacle of my career.” It caught me off guard because, if I’ve ever met a CIO with the presence and experience to run a company, it was Jim. But then he followed up with,

“CEOs so rarely understand the CIO role … how can you ever get promoted if your boss [or Board] doesn’t even know if you’re doing a great job or not?”

It’s no secret that as a CIO I was interested in becoming a CEO. As such, Jim’s revelation really got my attention. We’ve all seen the stats, which clearly state that less than 2% of CIOs become CEOs, while 79% of CIOs have an interest in growing into a larger role. However, I’ve never found a succinct answer for why CIOs rarely breakthrough to the next level. I thought Jim might be onto something.

This conversation reminded me of a CIO conference I attended. There was an audience of well-respected technology leaders representing well-respected companies. Our closing keynote speaker was the President of one of the attending brands. (I guarantee you would know the brand.) His talk was meant to reassure us that the work of IT was vital and, in his case, moving his organization forward. Instead, he bragged to the audience, “My IT guy is here. I don’t know exactly what he does, but I know we’re spending $30 million a year on technology and innovation.” During the Q&A session, one outspoken CIO had the guts to ask, “How can you spend $30 million on anything and not bother yourself with what your ‘IT guy’ is doing?” He wasn’t alone in the crowd with this thought.

When I reflect on that President’s words, two questions come to me. First, in this market, is it professionally and socially acceptable to plead ignorance about technology? I ask because we routinely hear about digital transformation and how it is changing business (inside and out). We also see how the most relevant and quickly growing public companies focus on innovation. If I ask most CEOs, “What’s the biggest challenge(s) in your organization today,” (s)he is readily able to provide a laundry list of improvement opportunities … most of which have some connection to technology. So, why is it acceptable to not know more?

Second, if a CEO is disconnected from the job of the CIO, what’s the likelihood that technology-enabled change has half a chance of succeeding in his/her organization? CIOs rarely push change that originates solely in his/her office. Rather, it’s more common for some new innovation to solve a pain point or seize an opportunity that originates in other, non-IT functions. To rally people in the organization for a change, the CEO has to offer and reinforce a compelling WHY that connects team members to purpose. If (s)he doesn’t, why would team members believe the work is important?

We all know CEOs must be highly effective at identifying opportunities to improve an organization. I’m just saying that in most cases, those opportunities need to be solved with some combination of people, process, AND technology—in concert. And when a solution requires an organization to change, it’s critical the CEO takes accountability with the other leaders to enable and activate people for that change. And this most certainly requires a high level of collaboration with the CIO.

In 2016, you’d probably never hear a CEO proclaim that the CFO’s job was a mystery or that good money was being invested by the function of Finance with unknown outcomes driven by misunderstood activities. That would be viewed as categorically irresponsible. Rather, CEOs regularly collaborate with CFOs to ensure the financial health of the company.

It just makes sense to do the same with a CIO given that technology is such a large part of day-to-day operations and touches almost every single team member and process in the organization.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying all CIOs are ready to become a CEO. The expectations of good leadership for CIOs are the same as any other executive leader. You have to be transformative across functions and have a bias for action. Most importantly, you have do the people-related groundwork that’s required to build followership. If you can’t do that, the CEO position shouldn’t be the goal. But a final consideration for CEOs: identifying those attributes in CIOs doesn’t require you to be an engineering savant or how to write code. Therefore, it’s probably not okay to not know what your IT guy is doing or if they’re doing a good job.

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Chris Laping is Co-Founder & CEO of People Before Things, LLC, a boutique consultancy that helps executive and project leaders prepare people for technology change. He has also written a bestselling book, People Before Things: Change Isn’t an End-User Problem, which explores the role leaders play to pave success in change and transformation. To join the conversation, follow @CIOChris and @pplb4things on Twitter.

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Dirty, Little Secret

“The waste of plenty is the resource of scarcity.” —Thomas Love Peacock

I’ve got a dirty, little secret I want to share … something I’ve been carrying around for a while. Don’t get uncomfortable; it isn’t a confession and doesn’t involve any deep, dark transgressions in Vegas. But before I make a confession, I need to properly set this up.

Have you ever seen the UPS commercial from the early 2000’s about a startup company that went live with their new e-commerce site? It’s pretty funny. Viewers are taken into a small, simple office space where a group of young entrepreneurs are excited to be selling their new product on the web. They surround a computer monitor, push a go-live button, and eagerly watch the counter tracking online visitors. When it registers the first few visits, the entrepreneurs cheer and give each other high-fives. However, soon after, all hell breaks loose as the slow-paced, incremental visits become hundreds … and then thousands—all in a matter of about two seconds. Quickly, the cheers taper; the business newbies go from pure excitement to sheer panic. The gravity of scale sets in.

The UPS commercial exits stage left … and in enters my dirty, little secret. Are you ready? Growth isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.

As my partner and I began our journey to launch a new company and write a book, we were eager to share our ideas with anyone who would listen. Most people graciously absorbed the plethora of information we threw their way and offered instant feedback. A few proclaimed they would buy the book and might even be willing to sign us up for some work. Almost all of them, however, asked, “But how’s that going to scale?”

Here’s what I’ve learned in both life and work: when people operate from a place of abundance, it doesn’t always result in GREATNESS. In fact, I’ve found that when motivated people have scarce resources and need to be scrappier about the decisions they make, they tend to be more focused and invested. As I watched the March Madness basketball tournament the last few weeks, I was reminded of this. After all, most of the human interest stories told on the pre-game shows focused on someone who beat the odds, grew up in tough circumstances, and worked hard to achieve something great.

I think the same is often true in the business world. Leaders like to be part of great turnaround stories. It’s the stuff resumes are built on. Taking a company from worst to first is a big deal—especially for shareholders and team members. And why are turnarounds so great? Because the associated leaders typically have little to work with. They usually start with little cash and resource and therefore are forced to make smart and disciplined decisions, ones that result in massive business outcomes.

This is where the dirty, little secret becomes a big deal. When organizations or individuals achieve GREATNESS, they don’t always operate with the same values, effort, and control needed to stay successful.
Growth and scale can become all-consuming, and when this happens, investments are often scrutinized less. Even worse, leaders often commit their people’s time to non-essential elements of the business, which leaves those team members feeling like they aren’t making a difference. Said differently, the discipline of committing cash and people to the vital few gets traded in for the undisciplined pursuit of the trivial many. When that happens, it’s game over.

So for now and for our business … we choose scrappy and disciplined!

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Chris Laping is Co-Founder & CEO of People Before Things, LLC, a boutique consultancy that helps executive and project leaders prepare people for technology change. He has also written a bestselling book, People Before Things: Change Isn’t an End-User Problem, which explores the role leaders play to pave success in change and transformation. To join the conversation, follow @CIOChris and @pplb4things on Twitter.

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