I recently read a blog post from Susan Cramm, author of 8 Things We Hate About IT, titled The Four Types of IT Organizations that Leaders Cultivate. Ms. Cramm opens the post with the following statement, “By default or by design, companies get the IT capability they’ve bought and paid for.” She then describes the four types of organizations: The Butler, The Grinder, The Team Player, and The Entrepreneur. Finally, she closes with the following, “Whichever of these four types of IT that your company has, understand that the current state of the organization reflects many years of conscious or unconscious decisions by senior leadership to cultivate that kind of group.”
The Alignment Dysfunction
After reading this article, I started thinking about what happens when an organization has “bought and paid for” one type of organization (let’s say, The Grinder), but then hires a new leader whose experience, or comfort zone, is based on a different type altogether (The Entrepreneur)? I see two obvious scenarios here. In the first one, the senior leadership team have decided to change the type of IT organization, so they intentionally hire someone with the background of the new type. In the second one, the senior leadership team has no intention of changing their IT type and have just made a really bad hiring decision.
In the first scenario, we can assume that the senior leadership team has committed to goals that require a different type of support from their IT group, and that they understand how to use IT to achieve those goals. As Ms. Cramm points out in her article, it takes years to develop a specific type of IT organization. Following this same logic, it will take years to change over to a different type. The new IT leader will definitely have his work cut out for him, but at least he knows that the senior leadership team is going to support him during the lengthy transition. This is likely an awesome opportunity.
In the second scenario however, we have a very large disconnect between the new IT leader’s comfort zone (Entrepreneur) and the senior leadership team’s expectations (maintaining the status quo as a Grinder). The potential for chaos and dysfunction is extremely high in this situation, and it’s not just isolated to the IT group; this will impact the entire company. The new IT leader comes in with plans of “taking things to the next level” and achieving “top-notch innovation”, but finds that not only is he getting push-back from the senior leadership team, he also quickly realizes that the IT group that he inherited with the job is not really made up of innovative types; they’re Grinders (and happy with that). All of a sudden, he finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place.
This second scenario, unfortunately, was an actual experience of mine, and I must admit that it was rather painful to go through. No, I didn’t play the role of the tragic IT leader, I was a senior staff member. I bought into his vision and tried to help, I really did. But unfortunately, without the cooperation of the senior leadership team, there just wasn’t going to be a happy ending for the IT leader.
So, who should we blame for this situation? The senior leadership team? The IT leader? How about the happy little Grinders? At first blush, it would be really easy to place all of the blame on the senior leadership team, after all, they hired the wrong type of IT leader for their company. However, I’m inclined to think that a good-sized portion of the blame still goes to the IT leader for reasons that I’ll share in a second.
What the senior leadership team was looking for in their CIO search was someone with a really impressive background, someone they could show-off to the investors, hence the entrepreneurial background (yes, I used the word “hence”; get over it). They weren’t expecting him to actually try to innovate anything; at best, they just needed to get more efficiency and effectiveness out of the IT group that they already had. The senior leadership team couldn’t see the value to be gained by utilizing their IT group differently.
Back to the IT leader. I feel strongly that it’s an IT leader’s responsibility to educate and evangelize the value opportunities that are generated by aligning IT projects and processes to business goals. He needs to sell “value” to both the senior leadership team and the IT group. Unfortunately, this IT leader didn’t succeed in this with either group. Now, I will admit that it’s entirely possible that the senior leadership team collectively stuck their fingers in their ears so they wouldn’t have to hear any of it, and that the IT leader can’t be held accountable for their stubborn resistance to change. However, there definitely wasn’t much educating and evangelizing going on within the IT group with regards to business-alignment value propositions.
As with general leadership topics, I will be spending quite a bit of time on this blog discussing business value and alignment. To be sure, there are lots of companies that already treat IT as a valuable contributor to the overall business. I look to those companies for inspiration and to know that it’s possible (and profitable) for businesses to operate this way. However, there are many more companies out there that don’t get it, enough so that there is a fairly good-sized market for Ms. Cramm’s book.
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