by Michael Schrage

Making IT Work – Think Before You Blog

Feb 15, 20066 mins
IT Leadership

A CIO with a global reputation in the financial services industry—and an ego to match—decided to launch his own internal blog to inspire his team. He thought it would improve communications and boost morale.

The man BlackBerry-blogged from the world’s finest airport lounges, hotels and CIO conferences. For weeks, no thought was left unexpressed. A few thoughts were quite pithy; most were self-indulgent piffle. His camera-phoned photos of mountain views also invited smirks. The CIO’s blog quickly became an in-house IT joke.

Irritated and/or amused employees forwarded their favorite snippets to colleagues and vendors. They weren’t flattering. Worse yet, the firm’s help desk and customer service personnel hated the cheap shots he fired at them in several “flogs”—part flame, part blog.

A few anonymous e-mails were quietly sent the CIO’s way suggesting improvement. A sensitive sort, he interpreted these criticisms as a healthy sign he was hitting a nerve. So instead of cooling off, he turned up the heat. Bemused irritation became unhappy sniping. Barely a month later, his most biting blogs ceased. The posting frequency plummeted from three-a-day to weekly.

What happened? A friend of the CIO, who knew the man was hurting himself enterprisewide, made sure both HR and corporate counsel got a good look at some of the choicer entries. Polite phone calls and e-mail exchanges ensued: “It’s really not a good idea for these things to be so openly posted. Could create legal problems for us. I’m sure you understand.” Bye-bye, blogger.

As netizens well know, blogs and ego can be an intoxicating brew—accent on the “toxic.” Of course, several companies—IBM and Sun Microsystems come to mind—do an excellent job of integrating blogs into their communications infrastructures. Blogs at those companies become healthy platforms for collaboration as well as powerful tools for self-expression.

But should you—the CIO—have a blog? Is it worth the time, effort and risk? Yes. Of course. Every C-level executive who has to manage expectations, strategic direction, morale, uncertainty, risk and people’s time should most certainly be doing a blog. Not doing a blog will become much like not doing e-mail; a willful failure to communicate that sends a message all its own.

In time, C-level blogging will be as prevalent as C-level speeches, telecons and PowerPoint presentations. These blogs may not be done well, but how well they’re done will say volumes about the executives’ style and substance—or lack thereof.

As ostensible leaders of digital innovation within their organizations, CIOs should be at the leading—not bleeding—edge of these emerging media. As C-level business leaders, they should be living examples—and yes, experiments—of using digital tools to become more effective executives. Lead by example. Blogs offer CIOs a relatively fast, easy and cheap way to do just that.

Create Conversation, Not Controversy

But what should I write? That’s precisely the wrong question. The better question is, What do I want people to be talking about—and doing—after reading my blog? Why? Come up with decent answers to that and you’ll have a better than decent blog. You’ll have a blog that creates conversation.

The trick—and it is a trick—is to recognize that business blogs aren’t self-indulgent, self-expressions about what you think is important but interactive invitations to get others to appreciate what you think is important. Blogs are about deciding what kinds of conversations, connections and communications you want to encourage.

Lead by example. Does that mean you want customers and suppliers to have access to your blog? Anyone in the enterprise? Or just your organization? Do you want to invite—and provide space for—comments and contributions? How about anonymous contributions? Will you drag and drop e-mail exchanges into your blog? How about project reviews and status reports? Do you see your blog as a strategic communication tool? Or an interactive opportunity to manage and influence daily operations? If you had to guess, how do you think your blog would evolve over time?

The beauty of these simple questions is that they force C-level executives to think tactically and strategically about both their professional priorities and the attention they want to call to them. That’s just as true for a PowerPoint presentation, the budget spreadsheet and the urgent e-mail queue. They are about how we implement communications for implementing IT.

What makes blogs different? Think link. The clich¿e jour is that blogs are about the future of text and photos, podcasts, and so on. True, but that wildly misses the point: Truly dynamic blogs are about truly dynamic linking. Blogs are about the opportunity to link your insight with someone else’s—and have them link their insight to yours.

Lead by example. Any blogging CIO who doesn’t link to, say, an internal blog discussing customer survey research or a PDF white paper debating outsourcing issues or a vendor’s FAQ response to a query or, yes, even columns in CIO completely misunderstands the power and purpose of the medium.

You may or may not want all your people doing their own blogs. You most surely want all your people aware of what matters and who they should be pinging if they need help, advice or support. Indeed, you probably want your blog to be seen as a hub where employees and suppliers can meet and network on the Web links that you have pointed to.

Whether you—or your enterprise—wants to take a “let a thousand bloggers bloom” approach is up to you. You can be as top-down or as bottom-up as you feel is best for the firm. Asking people in your shop to propose blogging guidelines is an excellent exercise in participatory management and design.

But whether blogs become as prevalent as PowerPoint or not is secondary. The primary issue is, what does your blog say about the kind of leader, manager and communicator you aspire to be? What conversations does your blog create? What kind of linking does your blog facilitate?

Bloggership isn’t leadership per se. But the example of a good blog is an example of good leadership. Why? Because your people will take their cues from your blogging just as they do from your leadership style. Blogging is a skill that can and should be learned by C-level executives in general—and CIOs in particular. Lead by example.