How to Fight Your Dumb CIO

Wednesday Sep 3rd 2008 by Steve Andriole
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Arrogant CIOs and self-serving IT managers are everywhere. Here’s an employee’s field guide to defeating them by any means necessary.

Stupid executives. Deranged CEOs. Greedy managers. They’re everywhere. How many personal agendas can we take?

We all know what I’m talking about. It would be acceptable if this were just about mediocrity versus excellence, but it’s about much more than that. It’s about evil, self-serving mediocrity (or outright evil, self-serving incompetence).

It’s about what the military tries to avoid at all cost: stupid, arrogant officers.

Implicitly this means that it’s okay to be “stupid” and okay to be “arrogant,” but that the combination of the two is deadly and, in the military, can actually get people killed.

In the technology trenches, people don’t get killed – though sometimes they lose their jobs – but they do get marginalized, discarded and disrespected – for all the wrong reasons.

When this happens what should you do?

Some suggest it is best to just keep your mouth shut, bide your time, and hope that the idiot gets promoted, fired or hit by a truck. But others suggest that you attack the bastards.

How might that work? Your first weapon is evidence. If the boss says that you should outsource technology to Mumbai or the Philippines without a business case, then you should build that business case against it and present it to the boss as often as you can. Of course he or she may dismiss it, but the effort will establish you as an evidence-based annoyance and, because of the dismissal, release you to undermine your boss.

This can be accomplished in several ways. You can anonymously release the business case to your boss’s boss. You can build support for the case with your colleagues. You can use the vendors that stand to lose if the outsourcing occurs to bang on your boss and your boss’ bosses. You can turn the issue into a tough political campaign.

Am I kidding? Not at all. You have only two choices when stupid technology decisions are made. You can (1) ignore the decisions or (2) you can push back.

Candidly, most of us ignore the stupid decisions in favor of covering our own asses, protecting our jobs, and avoiding confrontation. But the push back doesn’t have to be confrontational; it can be clandestine and manipulative. Look at the roles that “surrogates” play in the current presidential election campaign: we can learn from these cretins.

I have seen some unbelievable things in my career, things I wish I had attacked – in every way possible – at the time.

Some years ago I watched a CIO/CFO relationship turn on fishing lures and trips: decisions that made no sense were wrapped in new fishing rods and reels. The approach worked because the CFO had a limited knowledge of technology and loved fishing in exotic places. (Like you, I have seen similar strategies work with wine, golf and football.)

I listened incredulously when a global CIO of an enormous company told me that if all I could save him was $250,000,000 a year (yes, the number is correct) he wasn’t interested because of the political fights that the path to savings would trigger.

I’ve watched start-up CEOs buy enterprise database and ERP licenses from Oracle, IBM and SAP (for their ten employees) and I’ve seen venture capitalist after venture capitalist ruin solid technology companies with their “wisdom” about what the technology offerings of the companies should look like.

I give myself a solid “C” for my reactions to these kinds of events. I left one of the above companies, refused to consult to another and worked the halls for anyone who would listen with yet another. But I always drew a line in the sand that was, ultimately, self-serving.

I left one company for a better company; walked away from a consulting gig that would have been incredibly frustrating and borderline fraudulent; and stopped well short of mining or barb-wiring the halls – instead doing my “dirty work” over fancy, comfortable breakfasts, lunches and dinners (that the company paid for).

So what am I suggesting?

Guerilla warfare. I’m recommending that we attack stupid, greedy, deranged executives with every weapon we can find.

Frontal attacks as well as rear action strategies are equally effective. If the culture is openly punitive, then frontal attacks may be too dangerous. So attack from the rear: undermine the stupidity, discredit the source and end-run the decision-makers.

Elevate the debate (does the Board of Directors know what’s going on?). Do what it takes to shine a very bright light on stupidity, arrogance and personal greed.

Some of you will see this as treason, demeaning and cynical. But the fact is that really stupid decisions can actually threaten the survival of a company. Hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars are often at stake.

Should we keep our mouths shut? Or should we fight fire with fire? Is it about the individuals – you, me and the idiots – or the company and the jobs, products and services it provides? You decide.

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