Be a King, Not a Joker

Be a King, Not a Joker

Stop measuring performance and get something done.

On a table in my office sits a wooden block inscribed with the words: "Well done is better than well said." It serves as a reminder to me, my staff and all who enter that governance and leadership are not synonymous. There is too much focus today on IT governance - the reporting, quantifying and measuring of the IT organization's output - and not enough on IT leadership. The confusion between the two is dangerous because it leads to an ineffective IT organization and a focus on the wrong things.

Rather than use governance to create accountability for results, CIOs employ it defensively, to apologize for and justify the existence of IT. The focus on governance is a trap: a downward spiral of decreased productivity, declining quality and distrust among business partners. Delivering results is the antidote. This column examines how CIOs can extricate themselves from the governance trap and enhance the value of IT.

Why CIOs Get Trapped in Governance

Time and again I have witnessed technology executives fall into the governance trap by issuing reports when business units express dissatisfaction. I know one IT executive whose project was not going well because the business unit had not clearly communicated its requirements. Instead of sitting down with business unit members to establish new requirements, this IT executive's solution was to justify IT's output with reports about the business unit's failure to articulate its requirements.

Meanwhile, an outside vendor established an informal relationship with the business unit and worked with them to change the application. The business problem was ultimately solved by the vendor focused on delivering results while the internal IT team wasted valuable time trying to justify its work. The company ultimately hired the leader of the vendor team.

It's easy to understand how we get to this point. The barrage of articles and a cottage industry of conferences that claim to make CIOs better leaders espouse increased governance in the form of productivity measures. This proliferation of formulas and methodologies for governance are being marketed to bridge the communication gap between CIOs and their business unit counterparts. We have gone from counting lines of code to measuring unit cost and man-hours. These tools provide an inward focus on the IT organization, rather than what it delivers.

Unfortunately, as CIOs try to achieve better results, they increase the reporting burden on their employees (which in turn leads to a decrease in productivity). Business units respond by imposing additional governance requirements, resulting in the downward spiral. The CIO winds up starting every budget meeting with an apology for spending money, followed by a presentation using measurements that someone has deemed appropriate for helping the businesspeople understand IT better. This subordinate existence eventually affects the quality of output from IT. IT managers start to feel that their work is not appreciated and that their superiors are either ineffective or not valued as highly as other business unit senior managers.

Output measurements don't really matter if the CEO and other senior managers don't believe the CIO is delivering results. If the chief marketing executive isn't confident that the IT group delivers technology when needed, reports on man-hours per project won't change his mind. Good governance supports accountability, discipline and strategic thinking, but it depends on the quality, not quantity, of information that is available.

Because CIOs have custodial responsibility for the technology of the organization, they must behave that way. Evaluations of the technology organization should be based on how many innovative products and services IT brings to the organization. An insightful leader does not use governance as a crutch to prove his worth - doing so only serves to train his business unit counterparts to expect ancillary reports, rather than to have meaningful discussions about IT's role within the business.

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