Secret CIO: Do Your Own Job Or I'll Promote You - InformationWeek

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10/7/2005
05:20 PM
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Secret CIO: Do Your Own Job Or I'll Promote You

Alvin was a blowhard. He did his job, but avoided personal responsibility. His greatest skill was in impressing the uninitiated with his exaggerated sense of self-importance. Regardless of how little his contribution to a project, to hear him tell it, success was due almost entirely to him. Any failures were because others didn't heed his warnings. So, when Alvin left our group by successfully applying for a financial-analyst position in one of our smaller business units, no one was sorry to see him go. My reaction was to wonder about the candidate pool if someone would hire him after reading his performance reviews.

About six months later, we were working with Alvin's new group on integrating them into the latest version of our enterprise-resource-planning system. The division president, George, a good businessman and a nice person, wanted some modifications. The changes were neither simple nor straightforward, as they involved policy as well as technology, but the benefits made them worthwhile.

I attended the final plan presentation along with George and his management team. Alvin also was there, having been invited by his new boss. About 20 minutes into the meeting, I began to wonder whether Alvin could let one slide go by without interrupting to point out an irrelevant concern. I could see George becoming uncomfortable. He knew and trusted the project manager. Finally, he suggested to Alvin that he hold his questions to the end so that we could finish.

Later that afternoon, I called Alvin and asked him to stop by my office. After seeing him in action, George had told me he wondered why Alvin had been hired into his group. If Alvin continued to behave as he did in the meeting, he would be cutting his throat in his new division, an achievement that would, no doubt, bring joy to his old comrades in IT, who now disliked him even more than before.

At first, the conversation didn't go well. I shared my fear that he was hurting the project and his own reputation by unproductive nitpicking and belittling the team. He retorted that he was providing his expertise, which had never really been appreciated in the IT group. He said he intended to continue and wanted to be named the liaison between the division and the project.

"Alvin," I said, "This project must be a success. So, if you insist on lobbying to be the user liaison, I'm going to go you one better and promote you to overall project director. Then, when you have alienated everyone and the implementation is in trouble and your reputation is in tatters, I'll have you removed for incompetence. Your alternative, because you don't know enough about George's business to help the division or your former colleagues in IT, is to stop agitating and concentrate on the job for which you were hired."

"Being project director is fine with me," he responded. "I can do the job, and then I'll get the credit I deserve."

"It's tough being out on the point on a project," I said quietly. "You've always avoided being there. Just how likely are you to make this project work when the team already can't stand you?"

Alvin just stared at me and said in a shaky voice that I wouldn't risk the project by setting him up for failure. I responded, "Maybe I think your present behavior is a bigger risk to the project. Do you want to take the chance on your career to find out?"

The project was successful. Alvin focused on his financial-analysis job and, from all accounts, now spends less time blowing his own horn. As George told me over lunch one day, the change of scenery seems to have lowered his desire for self-glorification.

Herbert W. Lovelace shares his experiences as CIO of a multibillion-dollar international company (changing most names, including his own, to protect the guilty). Send him E-mail at [email protected].


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Herbert Lovelace's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about Herbert Lovelace, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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