What Moving from Good to Great Means for CIOs Who Want to Lead

Author Jim Collins explains why he sees CIOs as quiet leaders, and what challenges they face in their drive to be the best.

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Two of the biggest concerns for most CIOs at any given point in time are usually shrinking budgets and finding the right people. You’ve always said that people trump money every time.

If you look at it through an entrepreneurial lens, environments characterized by limited resources, what becomes very clear is that those who build the better ones understood that every seat on their minibus was too precious. It was a small number of seats in a scary environment while the company was vulnerable. But it was far more important to them to put as much energy as possible into putting the right people in the right seats. If I can only have three seats, all of whom are right people, that’s fine. I’ll get more done with three of the right people than if I were able to double my budget and have six people, three of whom aren’t the right people.

The more uncertain and more dangerous our world, the more important [finding the right people] is. Using that climbing analogy, it’s more important who your partner is on the end of the rope than whether you have the best gear. If you really think about it, what’s really going to help you? People who can adapt to setbacks, adapt to resource constraints, adapt to uncertainty. One company we researched for Good to Great, [steel products maker] Nucor, said the key is we hire five, work them like 10 and pay them like eight.

CIOs are extremely concerned with motivating employees. But you’ve said, in as many words, that motivating people is a waste of time.

Our executives didn’t spend a lot of time motivating people. They really didn’t . They understood that the right people really are self-motivated. The real question is not doing the stupid thing that will de-motivate them. In a way, it’s disrespectful to say I will motivate you. It’s actually saying that you aren’t a very motivated person. The employee is saying, excuse me, what I need is guidance and coaching and development, not motivation.

How does your concept of having the right people in the right seats apply when you are outsourcing work to a third party and have less connection to and control over people issues?

I just don’t know. If it’s a tight partnership, you still have some say in picking the right who’s. How all that changes when you’re outsourcing, I don’t have an empirical data on. I’ll say this: You can subcontract a lot of things, but you should never subcontract your thinking. In Good to Great, we found that the great companies who used consultants did not want answers from their consultants, they wanted data. They didn’t want their consultants to do the thinking for them.

E-mail Senior Editor Stephanie Overby at soverby@cio.com.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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