Blog: Prepare Three Envelopes -- Joke or CIO Standard Practice?

Blog: Prepare Three Envelopes -- Joke or CIO Standard Practice?

Maybe you remember the business joke -- a new executive is presented with 3 numbered envelopes by the outgoing exec to help him deal with any problem he couldn't solve.

The first (opened after 6 months of increasing difficulty) said 'Blame your predecessor'. The second (which he opened a year later after things again began to deteriorate) said 'Reorganize' and the third (which he opened six months and many problems later) said 'Prepare three envelopes'. Ha, ha. It's a joke, right? Unfortunately I think many execs, including many CIOs, thought it was actual advice.

What made me think of it? I just slogged through reading yet another interview with a CIO of a very large organization. He observed that when he arrived (18 months previous), IT was viewed as a necessary evil, a utility, and an inhibitor of business results. Morale was crummy, service was poor, and (ironically), the business was becoming increasingly dependent on technology. Envelope one -- blame your predecessor.

So 18 months into the job, what's he gonna do? You guessed it. He is pleased with his progress -- as evidenced by his new organization structure. I won't bore you with the structure, which will (of course) help improve relationship with business units and make IT more effective. Envelope two -- Reorganize.

But unless (none noted by him in the interview) he has a boatload of starting metrics, some recent actual project results that have a positive and well-communicated business outcome, and can demonstrate in some clear and crisp way how his new organization structure is contributing to improved relationships and improved service and project delivery, what do you think he's going to be thinking about in another six months to a year, when business frustration with IT has had another couple of quarters to fester? Or more to the point, what's his boss going to be thinking about? Maybe he should -- Prepare three envelopes.

Instead of this joke-like scenario, new CIOs (especially in large and IT-troubled firms) should refrain from being interviewed until they have produced. They should keep their mouths shut about the previous administration lest they begin to look uncomfortably like the last exec, and they should walk in on day one and collect all the baseline metrics they can find, and find the project to quickly deliver that will most improve the business of the enterprise. And they should measure, report on improvements, and build from there, including tracking return-on-investment, business perception, and staff morale.

Maybe instead of mirroring that old joke, new CIOs should focus on another tried and true cliche: actions speak louder than words.

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