by Julian Goldsmith

The CEO gets too close, time to manage up

Dec 05, 20113 mins
IT Leadership

The abrupt exit of the Thompson Reuters CEO Tom Glocer is a bellwether for all CIOs and the relationships they have with their business bosses.

It raises some interesting questions about the place of the IT lead within modern businesses.

Essentially, the issue is around how IT projects are so critical to the health of the business and who takes the fall when they go wrong.

The Eikon switchover was an overambitious project, probably driven by competition in the financial information market that Glocer felt he needed to take the reins on directly. His imperatives were obviously business-led, however much they stressed the company’s abilities to integrate a new technology into its product set — to destruction.

Big technology transformations can go wrong for the most unexpected reasons, take Heathrow’s ill-deployed Terminal 5 project. But here, the CEO has stepped in and subsequently took the fall for its failure.

Glocer is not a complete technology dunce, but even with the best IT skills in the world, his eye couldn’t have been focused on the ball here, with all of the other concerns in his remit.

As a CEO, was he best placed to take up the cudgels here? In comment on CIO UK, Harvey Nash CEO Albert Ellis says the top dogs have the attention span of a gnat. And he should know. It’s understandable, but not the best qualification for heading up a business-changing IT transformation project.

When your ultimate boss getstoo close to the IT project it’s a bit difficult to tell them to back off your patch. It may have taken you long enough for you to get your non-tech peers interested in what the IT department is doing in the first place.

So, what can you do to manage upwards, when you can see an important IT project being taken over by inappropriate business heads and it’s in danger of diving off a cliff edge, taking the rest of the business with it?

Ellis recommends keeping your ears open (two ears, one mouth – use them in the same proportion) and not startling the CEO with too much information at once and a demand for a decision too quickly.

Blogger Joe Ribaudo gives these pieces of advice, from his MBA course in Suffolk University, Boston USA:

  • Appreciate your boss’s goals and pressures
  • Know their strengths and weaknesses
  • Learn their personal and organizational objectives
  • Adapt to their preferred style of working
  • Know how they like to get information
  • Understand your boss’s personal needs
  • Match their approach to conflict/avoidance

Essentially, he says it’s all about communication, which in the case of Thompson Reuters, doesn’t say much for the company culture.

For a real insight into the company, look out for a forthcoming interview with Thompson Reuters CIO Jane Moran in the next issue of CIO UK, due on your desks around the 20th of this month.