Slogans Don't Get the Job Done


by Sam Greengard

Wander around a typical company and plant your rear end at a meeting--any meeting will do--and you're likely to hear the words "excellence" and "superior" ricocheting off the walls. It's not difficult to understand why. A steady stream of consultants have convinced organizations--and their IT shops--that anything short of a "best practice" is grounds for trouble, if not total failure.

The result? Business and IT executives increasingly over-commit resources to a portfolio of projects that are too broad. You don't have to be the brightest light bulb in the factory to know that it's impossible to excel at everything. Michael Jordan proved that when he picked up a baseball. Tiger Woods proved that...well...he proved it, too.

As Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei points out: "Companies must understand that they have no choice but to conform to the 'physics' of business. It's...essential to decide where to focus resources. There are always trade offs," she states.

Underlying all this is the fact that IT staffs are increasingly overworked and typically unable to fully engage with any particular initiative--let alone dozens of projects. A 2007 survey conducted by OpTier, a New York-based software solutions firm, found that 75 percent of respondents experience major anxiety on the job--including interrupted meals, nights, and vacations.

The result? According to 43 percent of respondents, business priorities are not explicitly aligned with IT and business managers lack understanding about IT issues. Read more here.

Of course, things have only gotten worse during the current economic malaise. For example, a 2009 IT Job Board survey found that 7.3 percent of respondents now work between 60 and 75 hours average a week and 3.8 percent spend more than 75 hours a week at the office. One-third of IT workers put in extra hours simply because they can't get their job done otherwise. Click here.

Running the hamster wheel faster is no solution. In fact, IT departments desperately need more breathing space in order to think and act strategically. This doesn't happen by generating slogans, creating contests, and recognizing an "employee of the month." It also doesn't occur by introducing even more Six Sigma, Lean, or TQM initiatives and trumpeting best practices ad infinitum.

Instead, CIOs and other top IT executives must fully communicate to business executives the dire circumstances an enterprise faces when IT is spread too thin. They must sell the concept of adequate staffing. They must learn to help executives pick and choose viable projects that provide the greatest returns. And they must, in the end, manage expectations. Simply uttering words like "excellent" or "best practice" doesn't get the job done.