Secret CIO: Telling The Truth Is The Best Motivator - InformationWeek

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10/16/2003
06:17 PM
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Secret CIO: Telling The Truth Is The Best Motivator

Forget the leadership books, people want to know what's going on.

Every so often, I get together for lunch with one of my CIO friends to discuss what's going on in the industry and to lament about the latest corporate indignities causing us pain. It's a great catharsis and the comfort food we ingest helps to soothe our battered psyches. This time, Tom was moaning, not about the job, but about his volunteer work as finance-committee chairman of the house of worship he and his wife had been attending for years. Membership was falling and some people were heard complaining that their needs were no longer being met. The resultant decline in dues and contributions was starting to take a serious toll on building maintenance and the ability to fund ongoing programs.

At first, the leadership (Tom included) attributed the decline to demographics--people getting less involved as their children grew up and left home. Tom, however, is no dummy. To his credit, he made some calls to those who had left and learned that more than a few had joined other congregations in the area. Their reason? They told Tom they no longer felt they knew what was going on and that decisions about important matters--changes in the service, adult programs, and child education--were being made for them, without their involvement.

I could see that Tom was really worked up about the situation. "Look, Herb," he said, "there are a few of us that devote a lot of our time to make sure things are done right. These complainers say they don't know what's going on and their opinions aren't considered. If these people want a say in things, they should come out and serve, just as we do. Instead, they just complain and leave, just when we really need their support."

I sat quietly for a moment and then decided that since Tom and I were friends, I'd put in my 2 cents. "Tom," I began, "as far as I know, people are motivated to support their leaders for any of four reasons: 1) they're afraid of the consequences if they don't, like being fired or going to jail; 2) they're being paid to follow and they care primarily about the money; 3) they have a say in the decisions; and 4) they don't, but they're OK with that because they understand how the choices are being made and really believe in the direction. You get OK results with the first two and real commitment with the latter two.

"As far as I can see, your leadership group hasn't given these folks any voice in what's happening and hasn't even communicated to them what you're doing and how you're deciding it. Why are you surprised they're abandoning ship?"

The next half-hour was interesting. At first, Tom said I didn't understand the situation. He reiterated all the work he had done and why his group had to continue to control the decision-making process. I heard that they cared so deeply they couldn't take the chance that people would make worse what was already a serious problem. After a while, though, he got less agitated and finally allowed that while I was still wrong, a few things I said were worth considering. As always, we parted with smiles and a firm handshake.

Tom is a good guy and his heart is in the right place. Next time, I'll tell him that communication--letting people know what's going on, how decisions will be made, who will make them, and based on what criteria--works wonders not only in volunteer organizations but also in the office.

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

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