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Ready, Aim, Fire!

Ready, Aim, Fire!

Want to boost your reputation as IT manager or leader? Want to send an unambiguous signal throughout your organization about what values you really stand for? Then have the integrity to fire the right person and explain &#8212 coolly, clearly and crisply &#8212 why you did it

Having the courage to fire the right person at the right time can be the most cost-effective way to improve an IT implementation.

Whether in America, Europe or Asia, I'mconstantly approached by IT managers and executives seeking free advice about a common problem. The query goes something like this: "Michael, we really need to improve the quality and credibility of our IT implementations. Unfortunately, we have neither the money nor the resources to make the kind of investment we think is necessary. So, with that in mind, could you please suggest the least expensive way for us to give our implementations a boost?"

In fact, I've given this question a lot of thought. I've found an answer that I know works. The most cost-effective way to dramatically improve your IT organization's implementation of a new system, app or upgrade is to make sure you fire the right person. Nothing boosts morale or heightens concentration quite like the public firing of an individual who everyone knows is a persistent obstacle to discipline, collaboration, quality and ethics during an implementation. That these individuals have been able to flourish in your organization is a reproof to all your posturing about IT excellence and professionalism.

Want to boost your reputation as IT manager or leader? Want to send an unambiguous signal throughout your organization about what values you really stand for? Want to achieve that without launching bold and expensive IT productivity initiatives? Then have the integrity to fire the right person and explain — coolly, clearly and crisply — why you did it.

This advice is neither heartless nor cruel. It represents the soul of respectful pragmatism. Whenever I offer this advice, I know within milliseconds whether the IT executive seeking my counsel is genuinely serious or a gutless poseur. Actions always speak louder than words. Always.

Virtually every executive I've given this advice to immediately knows exactly what I mean and exactly who in their organization I'm talking about. What's fascinating - albeit pathetic - is the array of excuses they use to justify their non-decision: "We'll be sued; she's our best coder; he knows our legacy system better than anyone; my boss likes her; the client likes him; he would be too difficult to replace." And so on.

Please! There's always a "good" reason to keep them on. The problem, of course, is that the good reason never quite outweighs the ongoing damage these individuals inflict. I personally think that one of the worst organizational aspects of the wholesale retrenchments during the post-bubble era was that it undermined the critical managerial importance of the strategic firing. The excellent were indiscriminately terminated along with the incompetent. That was - and is - a tragedy.

Which is all the more reason why, now more than ever, IT organizations can't afford to fire the wrong people. I'm not talking about doing the Jack Welch/GE shtick, "culling the bottom 10 percent of your workforce" every year. I'm talking about the courage to act upon the reality that employers know which co-worker consistently undermines their ability to hit implementation deadlines on time, on budget and on spec. These people aren't fools. They look to their leaders to lighten unnecessary and destructive burdens. They need your help. You need to neutralize or remove their internal obstacles to success.

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