People aren’t Robots

Frederick Taylor in 1913 got it wrong.  Management is not a science. It is an art. Franklin Terry (of GE) in 1916 got it right. Employees aren’t just numbers (as in “We need twelve Netsuite gurus, and six SalesForce gurus.”). They have health issues; personal finance issues, children’s education issues, etc. – and, as Terry stated just one year short of a hundred years ago, wise employers will help their employees with all those issues.

The days of considering employees as pseudo robots whose every action must be measured and ranked are over, gone, done with. As more and more jobs-for-humans are replaced by honest-to-goodness robots, those who manage those who fill the still numerous (and growing, not shrinking) jobs-for-humans, must look beyond Taylor’s “if it moves, measure it” mindset and consider their employees in a far more comprehensive and humanistic manner.

The vast majority of people are trustworthy. They want to do a good job. They want to be thanked. Treating them as though none of this is true because of the shortcomings of a very, very few is beyond dumb. It is very, very expensive!

Well treated employees are better motivated, work harder, are more creative, more innovative. In short, they are your most valuable assets.

Read the book “Born to be Good” by Dacher Keltner for a ton of solid research that supports all of what I have just said.

A few years ago, a new CIO took over a large IT shop whose Employee Satisfaction rank was way at the bottom … 1/3rd that of the average of the rest of the company.  He got rid of a bunch of needless contractors and consultants and gave all the interesting and challenging projects to his employees – all of whom rose to the occasion! Morale skyrocketed and within six months people were asking to join the “IT Team.” That team developed and implemented two mission critical and, as it proved, competitive advantage projects far faster and for far less money than expected. The CEO, the CFO, and the EVP for Sales & Marketing were a bunch of Happy Campers … and the CIO gave all the credit to “his extraordinary team” – a team his predecessor had publicly reviled as incompetent.

Where one CIO saw incompetence, his successor saw a diamond in the rough, just lacking a small bit of polishing to shine – as it soon did. He treated his team as warm, flesh and blood, human beings. He challenged them to do their best – and they did exactly that. He was notoriously vague about schedules and budgets but became a good friend of the CFO. He poured time and money where it counted – and followed a “Do it once and do it right” policy that annoyed some peers who wanted frills … but was much appreciated by the Board of Directors.

He didn’t measure robots; he managed human beings.

CIOs & Competitive Advantage

The absolute central “mission critical” task for today’s CIOs is that of providing enduring Competitive Advantage for their companies. Making sure the ERP system works or the Accounts Payable system or the Payroll system or, heaven forbid, the email system works with tolerable reliability … none of these count, and they haven’t counted much for several decades. Yes, they all must work but they are all “routine” in nature and offer few opportunities for competitive differentiation.

Using technology – in all its forms – to enhance the customer experience by easier ordering, faster delivery, guaranteed availability, etc. – has been the name of the game since American Airline’s SABRE system in the 1970s through Schwab’s industry-changing, internet-based brokerage system in the 1990s right up to now with Kroger’s guaranteed super-fast check-out times in all of its stores.

The roles of CIOs who “get it” has not changed since Day One. It has, for almost sixty years, been cast in concrete as “Delivering Competitive Advantage” as discovered by Max Hopper at American Airlines (lates 1970s) or Dawn Lepore at Charles Schwab (mid 1990s) or Carl Wilson at Marriott (~2005) or Filippo Passerini at P&G (2012) or Chris Hjelm at Kroger (2013) or Patty Morrison at Cardinal Health (2014) or Rebecca Rhoads at Raytheon (2015).