Recently, there have been a spate of articles in Time Magazine, Fast Company, and other popular publications discussing the same topic: the mental health of management. Time reported that one out of eight employees who exit their jobs in these challenging economic times are doing so because of the mistreatment they have received at the hands of their supervisor, manager, or boss. Fast Company went a bit further to offer a Cosmopolitan-like quiz, setting up a list of criteria for evaluating the psychopathic tendencies of the boss. At the conclusion, the reader can assess whether his or her boss is a psychopath or sociopath. Numerous case studies are provided.
While I’m not much of a believer in mental health assessment via pop quiz, it’s interesting that we are talking so much about the psycho-social health dynamics in the workplace these days. Based on my client visits over the past few months, I’ve concluded that there’s no corporate environment more stressful, or whose staff is more depressed and fatigued, than the IT department of the contemporary business.
One big issue is lack of leadership. A revolving door seems to have been installed in the entrance to the CIO’s office in most firms, reflecting the frequency with which the job changes hands (about every 12 to 17 months).
There are many explanations for the phenomenon I call “CIO churn,” but one that keeps cropping up is the generally negative predisposition of front-office management and boards of directors toward anything IT. CIOs don’t like it much when IT is constantly berated as an overhead expense, especially when this view is accompanied by downright verbal abuse. So, they resign.
The job of the CIO is to bridge the gap between the front-office (senior management) and the back-office (IT operations). He or she must articulate the vision and business value of IT initiatives to management, while translating business requirements into terms and language the tech mavens in the back-office understand and can implement.
If you think it’s a thankless job to try to rationalize capital expenditures and budget priorities to the technological “Flashing Twelves” in the boardroom—folks who lack even the modicum of tech know-how required to program the clocks on their VCRs—then, just try to deliver what management thinks they need when you are short-handed and budgetary belts have been tightened to the point of oxygen deprivation. Under the circumstances, it’s no wonder CIO churn is so pronounced.
Vendors know the blush is off the IT rose. That’s why, according to one senior guy for a tech vendor I spoke with in Portugal a few weeks ago, his sales teams are being instructed not to mention technology or products during account visits.
According to my friend, senior managers don’t want technology; they want business solutions to business problems. Successful vendors understand this and have their account managers talk business with the front-office, while their systems engineers hang out in the back-office with the rest of the geeks. Later, the two groups come together outside the client site and compare notes about management requirements, IT capabilities, and sacred cows. From that meeting, they construct a plan of action.
The vendor presents its strategy to the front-office and ends up, more often than not, presenting its own business solution to management. In effect, they usurp the role of the CIO altogether.
In addition to nagging questions about the lack of leadership and vision, IT mavens are plagued by a generalized anxiety about their own security. The frequent change-ups at the CIO position are unnerving because they destroy any relationships that have been built and any hope of mentorship. Moreover, the antagonism of the front-office toward IT is unnerving because it portends an imminent outsourcing solution, which does away completely with most IT positions.
Perhaps we should be less concerned with the “psychopathic” attributes of bosses than with the mental health of the IT workplace and its rank and file practitioners. The situation there isn’t going unnoticed by young folk entering college, as is evidenced by a sharp decline in enrollments in technical courses of study. If this situation is left unchecked, the long-term consequences for U.S. companies are huge.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates underscored this point recently when he pointed out that lucrative development positions in Redmond are going unfilled. If Microsoft is having trouble finding staff, how soon will this become a problem for all of corporate America?