Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Value of Perseverance

We find inspirational connections from many sources.  This week, the riding performance of Andrew Talansky in the Tour de France 2014 was inspirational.  The New York Times covered the story:  Refusing to Quit, American Is Surrounded by Cheers After a Lonely Finish.

Andrew Talansky suffered injuries and setbacks as he and his teammates on Team Garmin-Sharp tried to achieve a podium showing in the Tour de France race.  This wasn't to be, as health issues finally forced Talansky to abandon the race, but only after struggling through and finishing the full 115 miles of Stage 11.

Talansky finished the stage, alone and well behind the peloton.  He finished without any hope of glory or reward at the end, and with considerable doubt that he'd be able to race later stages (in fact, he wasn't and abandoned).  Finishing did not mean his team would be able to win anything; there was no personal or group reward for entering the "pain cave" of an injured cyclist and finishing the stage.

Talansky persevered and endured to gain the experience of a successful struggle.  He finished even as he realized that there was no way to fix the situation.  He finished "just so they know I'm the kind of person who isn't going to give up when something goes wrong." (ESPN)

Talansky got the best advice that anyone could ever receive when struggling and trying make the decision about quitting.  He paused and reviewed his options with Robbie Hunter, the team director.  Hunter told him, "This is a choice only you can make, but take a moment to make sure you make the one you're going to be happy with, make it not out of a place of emotion or anger or fear, but make it out of what you can do, what's possible."  What great advice, and to Talansky's credit, he could hear the advice.

I've never experienced any physical challenge in the category of the Tour de France, but I've experience career and project challenges and hurdles that left me worn out and discouraged.  I've found myself in situations where I questioned my ability to continue, and questioned why I should continue when there was no reward for finishing.  I've considered quitting a project or job because the struggle was wearing me out, emotionally and physically, and I could see no benefit, for me or anyone on the team, on the horizon.  I've worked with teams to develop systems that we knew would never be implemented or used.  I've worked places where our work was not appreciated.

The advice to "do what's possible," coming from within yourself, and not act out of emotion or anger, resonated with me.  We can focus on what we can learn from the struggle.   We can find and appreciate our own individual personal strength. Perhaps the struggle gives us new technical skills or experiences.  Perhaps we can learn a different way we can contribute to a team and see our value and contribution in a new light.  We certainly can develop resilience that helps buffer us from the whims, decision caprice, and rough spots that we are certain to hit in our IT profession.

When I work with new college grads, professional perseverance is something they often need to develop.  All projects in college were designed to be completely done in 15 weeks; projects are rarely worked on after the end of a class.  A student can turn in a project for a C grade, walk away, and never think about that project again.  The professor knew the project path and expected solution when the course started, and the students had to discover the path through the course.  There is a person to go to and find directions. Students are rarely, if ever, given a partially or even totally completed work from someone else and told to fix it and make it work as fast as possible.

When these college grads come to work, they need to transition to projects that might last a year or two, instead of 15 weeks.  All their work needs to achieve an A grade; we cannot give our clients anything less than what they asked for, with high quality.  Work assignments will be given that involve modifying work created by someone else, and the pressure of trying to understand what the other person did, and fitting the current change into something and making it all work without being very pretty in terms of personal creativity standards, is a challenge. We often start projects without a clear understanding of how to get to the high-quality end point.  This all creates a pretty frustrating environment, and new grads may experience the emotion, anger, and fear of failure that drives them to quit.

Learning how to professionally persevere and endure is a valuable skill. Learning how to "do what's possible" for the personal experience of successful struggle is important, if a person is going to find career-long resilience.  We cannot quit every time we have to struggle.  We have financial pressures and families who count on us.  Employers want to hire staff members who will find the strength to persevere.  The personal growth and satisfaction from finding inner strength can contribute to career satisfaction over time.

Talansky continued to race to demonstrate resilience, dedication, and perseverance, to himself and to his team.  It wasn't about the race stage, or even this race, but instead about a career of bicycle racing.  That inspires us to think about our own personal struggles.  It isn't about this project, this year's goals, this particular job - but about our personal ability to respond to life and work challenges over a long career.  Doing what's possible today, in this moment, is a great approach to developing the strength and resilience to continue and succeed with whatever life and a career put in our path.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Brain Dots: Connections for Acting in Change Leadership Roles

Our Educause CIO group had an interesting exchange on change leadership. Khalil Yazdi, CIO in Residence at Internet2 NET+ Services, offered thought-provoking comments.  Excerpts of his statements that jumped out to me were:

Change management is not something you have to or even can do on your own. 

The problems we face individually are near identical (regardless of size or type of institution, ineffective and out-of-date legacy is a mind-numbing, budget busting experience for everyone and actually more acute the larger you are). 

Historically, that (i.e. "change management initiatives") was an exercise that was largely bounded within the institution and while we had much we could learn from one another, at home we were quite on our own.

Of necessity, change management is now a communal task, demanding that we find ways that allows us to speak with amplified (shared) voice to both internal and external constituencies because without it, we will simply not be heard.  

I had to think about this for a while, as it changed my perspective for how I was considering change management.  I had to step back and ask "so what is keeping me (and my organization) from participating in collective change management?"  One the big obstacles is the cost of participation in those communal efforts.

My thought process started with consideration for places where I think change management works for our campus.  Actually, as I reflected on that, I think we do that pretty well in our ERP environment with our ERP community (Banner).  Not great, to be sure, but acceptable and adequate.  One reason is that the community has broad campus representation, not just IT representation.

But then my brain-dots flowed to "what is change management?".  And the next brain-dot was that there is an internal perspective and there is an external perspective.  

Things happen outside our institution that affect and impact what we do; the news on 3/7/14, for example, about Google Classroom may require we think about that option for learning management.  Other things, like Heartbleed, require that we take a set of technical actions.  In neither case was there an opportunity for us to change the course of action by having a communal voice.   

In other settings, where we have elected to be part of a community, we have had greater success in having a communal voice that leads to a technical direction or implementation.  Our relationship in Apereo is one such avenue for us.  We have significant benefits working with that community providing uPortal, uMobile, and CAS initiatives.  Another positive community is the REN-ISAC, which gives us specific security directions and to which we can raise our own voice.  For the community to be successful in change management, we have to be part of the community in advance of, and in anticipation of, change.

Internally, change management is less about a vendor or product direction, and more about getting our internal community on board a change train.  I suspect my success as a CIO as evaluated by my campus constituents is more about measuring my success on the internal change train.  It is about presentation and management skills: delivery, communication, advocacy, negotiation, listening, reacting.  Also, the pace of the action needs to match the pace of change:

 "The rate of change is not going to slow down anytime soon. If anything, competition in most industries will probably speed up even more in the next few decades – John P. Kotter"

So to demonstrate change leadership, each special change diamond needs careful review:
  • Is there a community to which we belong that can help with an action response?  
  • Which path is more cost effective:  communal response or individual response?
  • Which path matches the pace of response to the pace of change in the most effective manner?
  • Is this a change initiative that requires broad campus participation or narrow IT participation?
If I reflect on those questions, I may be able to lead through change pathways most effectively.  Are there other points to the diamond?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Connections: Readings this Week

Putting together the articles and news that caught my eye this week:

Educational news had a couple of interesting stories.

Harvey Mudd College links MOOC development to the university mission. Great perspective for what we should be doing with new delivery modalities:  The Evolving MOOC (EDUCAUSE Review) |

And on the down side, an innovative look at student data collection found too many challenges to continue, despite funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation:  A Student-Data Collector Drops Out (New York Times)

The full economic impact of student debt should be getting more national attention.  A fix is needed, both for the affected individuals and the economy in general:   Paying Off Student Loans Puts a Dent In Wallets, and the Economy (NPR).

In the category of openness:
Companies Back Initiative to Support OpenSSL and Other Open-Source Projects (Bits, New York Times). 
Demonstrating strong leadership, the Linux Foundation has organized the Core Infrastructure Initiative to support open-source projects, and gathered financial support ($100,000 a year each) from Amazon, Cisco, Dell, Facebook, Fujitsu, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, NetApp, Rackspace, Qualcomm and VMWare.  The support of quality, secure open-source technology is fundamental to much of our technology delivery.

We have to balance the positive and the negative.  The news about FCC directions against Net Neutrality is very distressing; I'm trying to imagine the impact on delivery of open educational resources.  The open comment period is exploding, as described in the lobbying article in the New York Times:   Lobbying Efforts Intensify After F.C.C. Tries 3rd Time on Net Neutrality

Still thinking about work space. 
Let's add to the books-to-read list.  I noted the mention of Frederick Taylor, the efficiency expert, and I wondered how that leads to cubed office spaces:  The Office Space We Love to Hate (Cubed  A Secret History of the Workplace by Nikil Saval, Doubleday, reviewed in the New York Times).

Frederick Taylor pops up again in this interesting read about the corporate buzzwords that describe our work.  Taylor evidently brought a vocabulary to descriptions used:
"talk about workers in books and boardrooms were accordingly mechanistic, emphasizing accuracy, precision, incentives, and maximized production."  The short slide-quiz a few paragraphs into the article is fun.   The Origins of Office-Speak  (The Atlantic)

How about furniture as a cultural revolution?  This article demonstrates how Herman Miller furniture evoked a time and place in the TV show Mad Men:  The Secret Weapon of Mad Men? Herman Miller.

In the category of "Look at this fun tech stuff," we have fresh stories.
With Farm Robotics, the Cows Decide When It's Milking Time (New York Times).
I love how the cows decided that they wanted to be milked more often than the tradition of twice a day.

How about a an app that comes with an attachment that lets you turn your iPhone into an otoscope?  Health Care Apps Offer Patients an Active Role (New York Times)

So much to read and think about, so little time!

As usual, I like to walk away and let my thoughts develop.  After hiking for a couple hours, I've pulled together a picture.  What I see here are how we create environments that lead to creative endeavors.  The endeavors lead to innovative projects.  Projects that flow with nature succeed.  Other projects hit obstacles related to privacy and security.  But in the end, we want to share, and we want our sharing to be free and open.  

Friday, March 7, 2014

Space as a Resource

I started blogging about eight resources that are needed to create an agile organization.  One of those resources is space, in this case physical space.  Space is a resource to manage, and I wonder how CIOs and other IT leaders learn how to manage space as a resource.

Why do I want to manage space?  First, there's the basic space management issue:  a workspace for each employee.  I remember early in my career, taking a contract analyst position, and the company pulling out the department refrigerator and setting up a table with a computer for my workspace, without even bothering to dust.  This was not a positive experience!  And the time 5 analysts were crammed into a room designed for two; in order to move, one person had to pull his chair in under the desk so the other person could back his chair away from the desk.  These situations do not convey a sense of value to the employee.  We need to do better.

Once we've handled the basics, we need to consider what kind of space contributes the best work environment.  We want to manage workspace to emphasize values. Values to consider are privacy, productivity, security, collaboration, and agility. We've tried offices, cubes with tall partitions, cubes with short partitions, and open hotel space.  

Staff members with highly detailed development tasks want all the quiet and distraction reduction that we can possibly provide.  Front line network and telecom trouble-shooters, who are in and out of the office and want to talk about what is happening, are satisfied with the hotelling concept.

We need more collaborative workspace today than we needed in the past.  We are working together on more projects, and having a room that seats 8 to 12 participants, with a large computer projection system and whiteboards, is very popular.

Some recent articles talk about current ideas in space management.

First, there's an article in Harvard Business Review:  Employees Perform Better When They Can Control Their Space.   Higher levels of satisfaction, innovation, and job performance were associated with employees having choices about when, where, and how to work.  That seems to be key, even with the cubicle culture.  What I would like to do, if I had more space to control, is create a variety of spaces and allow employees to move among those spaces, finding the workspace that best fit the task that the employee was currently working on.

The New Yorker published material about the downside of open offices:  The Open Office Trap.
Interruptions in open office spaces can be detrimental to productivity (that's not surprising, really).  But a surprising finding from a 2005 study shows the impact again of control:  "... the ability to control the environment had a significant effect on team cohesion and satisfaction."  Another interesting perspective was that with exposure to many inputs and distractive noises at once, senses become overloaded and we have to work harder to achieve results.  Could this be a reason why we feel so overworked at times?

Finally, The Diane Rehm Show on NPR had a program on designing modern work spaces.  This discussion proposed that perhaps our open office spaces are sacrificing focus for free-flow of ideas.

While I've focused on office and employee workspaces here, I also need to manage datacenter space, whether on premise or in the cloud.  As a leader, I need to identify spaces to house the systems and servers, with adequate space to support quick shifts in direction or new services for the university.   These spaces also require strong environmental and security controls, involving another ken ledge base.   One resource is, a professional association that encompasses aspects of design. 

As a CIO, I am left wondering how I can manage space to create the environment that supports an agile organization.  How can I successfully work with those responsibility for facilities to create the spaces we need?  What is the path for new IT leaders to learn about space management as a resource issue?  That is an interesting question to ponder.   Successful management of space is critical to creating a successful and agile IT organization. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Building the Nimble Team - Retaining Talent

Over the years, we noticed a pattern where really talented, early career hires achieved success in the first 1 to 3 years, and then failed to thrive. It happened probably with less than 10% of hires in that category, but those staff members represented new skills, fresh perspective, and diversity of thinking.   It was not what we wanted to see; we want to retain new hires.  We have been thinking about this challenge and working to improve.

We generally notice the issue with the first technical or project transition. The individual will not successfully navigate to the next project or the next technical knowledge base. This is critical, because a technical career will require the ability to change directions many times over the life of the career. I noticed this blog presenting more of the perspective of the person who didn't succeed. There are perspectives specific to the Microsoft situation, but there are some general pieces I'd like to note.

The author, Ellen Chisa, is very frank about her experience.  She describes that she "put a lot of pressure" on herself to do well. She wanted to be excellent. The problem I see, from my very ancient perspective, is that this excellence demand totally existed in her own head. She didn't take in any information from other people about what excellent was, or even if excellence was something that management wanted to bestow on other people. A big red flag statement to me: "It's strange to feel like you're failing even when you're promoted." So the organization values you, gives you a promotion, but you cannot take in and absorb that success.

Note that she describes a "plummet" that starts when "it was time to move on to something else." She had to learn new things but "For some reason, that didn't happen."  This is the situation we've encountered as managers in our own organization.   As leaders, we need to learn to recognize it early and help people make transitions.

There are actions we should recognize.  A person who expresses fear that they are not succeeding, and does so periodically, even though the supervisor feels that the person is successful and the team respects the person's contributions. A person who becomes emotionally undone at their first failure should be a red-flag. A person who has been successful in their job, but with a change - a technology upgrade, a new project - is suddenly having problems. A person who has trouble starting on a new task. There are different types of initiative. You may see someone who can demonstrate initiative and self-start with something that they are familiar with, but become totally frozen when it is something new.

If you observe those changes, there are definite things we can do.  For one, we can emphasize values along with success and recognize those values in failure.  For example, one value is learning.  We can celebrate what we learned from failed projects.  Thomas Edison once said "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." If we want to encourage staff members to experiment and learn, leaders need to identify what we learned. Discovering what path not to take is very important to long term success. When an employee starts expressing concerns about failing, start emphasizing conversations about what has been learned so far in the effort and how the organization will benefit from that learning.

When an employee expresses the "feeling of failing" even when the employee is meeting all standards of success, we have more personal discussions.  I've found it useful to discuss the unique contributions the individual made to the organization, and how those contributions link to bigger goals and initiatives. This isn't one conversation, in my experience, but a way of working with that individual over time.  It helps to thank the employee for his or her contribution in very specific messages.

The book Leading Geeks has other suggestions. Author Paul Glen describes characteristics of information technology work.  He suggests that failure is normal, ambiguity rules, and figuring out what to do can be harder than doing it.  Those early in their career can struggle with these ideas.  After spending time in the classroom, I have some sense of why.  In class, students are often given a defined project to complete in 15 weeks.  If they follow the defined path, they will complete the project successfully, some with more success than others.  Then they come to work and we cannot tell them where to start or what done looks like on many projects.  We have to discover the path and conclusion in a way that we do not in a classroom setting.  There has to be some comfort in just diving in, and finding out two weeks later that there was a better starting point.  If we find a staff member showing signs of inability to start, it helps to pull up a chair and dive in together.

Leaders building nimble organizations need to identify people having these difficulties as early as possible so everything can be done to help and retain that employee.  I think important responses are to talk about all values, including learning and contribution, not just the value of completion success. Also, monitor inexperienced employees as they go through their first transition, whether it is a new technology, a major upgrade, a new project, or a new team assignment.  Talk about their responses to change.  When an employee is demonstrating what looks like a lack of initiative, pull up a chair and question details while getting hands on the keyboard or some similar engaged activity.  Have sincere conversations about contributions and values.  I've found these actions to help.  Please share any ideas you have.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Anchor or Wings?

Is your strategic plan an anchor or a set of wings?  This is a very important question for CIOs to consider if they are trying to be nimble, agile, and responsive to organizational change.

An anchor drags you down, locks you in place, and keeps you from drifting away.  This may be a good thing if your IT team feels overrun by requests, coming from all directions.  After all, our organizations cannot be all things to all people at a moment's notice.  A strategic plan that has broad organizational support can sift out the high priority projects.  A strategic plan provides focus.

But strategic plans are often another dot on a trend line of known items. If you created a five year IT strategic plan in 2009 and are just finishing that plan, your original plan probably did not address the impact of:
  • iPads, introduced in April, 2010
  • Server virtualization (major players introduced products in 2009-2010)
  • Educational model changes like flipped classrooms and MOOCs
That kind of long term planning had its place in the past, but it does not work in today's high speed change environment.  Our educational environments, and specifically our supporting IT organizations, are not in a position to reject game-changers like iPads or flipped classrooms.  Instead, we need to embrace change.

Black swan events, those unpredictable events that change our world, happen. If you hold firm to the multi-year strategic plan in order to control demands on your organization and provide resource alignment, you can become out of touch with technology directions, and miss opportunities to be nimble.
In his book The Black Swan, Nassim Taleb describes black swan events as having three principal characteristics:
  1. The events are truly unpredictable.
  1. Massive impact occurs from these events.
  1. In hindsight, we use trends, narratives, and history to make the randomness of events appear more predictable.
Taleb describes the "triplet of opacity" (p. 8):
  • "the illusion of understanding, or how everyone thinks he knows what is going on in a world that is more complicated (or random) than they realize;
  • the retrospective distortion, or how we can assess matters only after the fact....;
  • the overvaluation of factual information and the handicap of authoritative and learned people..."
We may get pulled into thinking that if we truly follow and better track the trends, and we plan more effectively, our IT organizations can feel less yanked around, less like a flag blowing in a strong wind. We can become enamored and protective of the plan, and closed to the idea of making changes along the way.

But perhaps instead, we should embrace that strong change wind and stop seeking an anchor.  Sailors constantly adjust their sails to changing wind directions and conditions.  Or let's think about the balance of forces needed for flight:  drag, gravity, thrust, and lift.  We just cannot be nimble if we only think about drag and gravity with our strategic plans.  We need to build in the balancing forces of thrust and lift.  We need to make sure that using a strategic plan as a project gate-keeper does not stop us from embracing exciting change.  In a recent NYT article Management Be Nimble, Adam Bryant identified six organizational drivers that are commonly described in cultures emphasizing innovation.  The first item was to create a "simple plan":  "One of a leader’s most important roles is to boil down an organization’s many priorities and strategies into a simple plan, so that employees can remember it, internalize it and act on it. With clear goals and metrics, everyone can pull in the same direction, knowing how their work contributes to those goals."  

Perhaps, then, it is our ability to lead through synthesizing ideas and breaking down complex plans. Those actions give us the thrust and lift needed to be nimble.  We need to be willing to change plans and directions, and do so quickly.  On our campus, we are experimenting with an evergreen three-year technology plan.  We will always be in year one of a three year plan; we will have the flexibility each year to visit our issues.  We see this working more like New Media Consortium's Horizon Report.  We will have to work to build ongoing technology connectedness, making sure projects come to completion, but we need to make sure we balance with action and lift - those things that provide a quick change in direction.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Sensitivity as an Organizational Resource

When reviewing articles about organizational nimbleness and agility, two factors that consistently emerge as positive response mechanisms are:
  • quick response to strategic opportunities, and 
  • integrating the customer voice.  
That means as CIO leaders, we need to develop staff members who recognize, inform on, and utilize strategic opportunities.  We need to identify and encourage staff members who discover and listen to the customer voice.  The most valuable team members are those who can see opportunities, hear what our constituents want, and connect the dots to build organizations that are ready to contribute to achieving university goals.  I call this ability "professional sensitivity."

The definition of sensitivity includes things like "an awareness and understanding of the feelings of other people" and "the capacity of an organ or organism to respond to stimulation."   Another reference suggest a definition of "readily or excessively affected by external agencies or influences."   These attributes can be a positive resource in an organization.  Teams that are sensitive to the feelings of people using technology are often more service oriented; we know, for example, that an important skill for service desk staff is empathy for the caller.  IT staff members that recognize new external trends early and quickly, like the impact of iPad introduction in educational environments, are more successful contributors.  If we combine the concepts of professional empathy, responding to stimulation, and readily affected by external agencies, we can see that this professional sensitivity is a positive asset in an IT organization.  An IT organization that is going to be agile in supporting the university must demonstrate professional sensitivity.

I'm sorry to use the phrase, but have you worked with someone with a reputation for being a workplace zombie?  Someone who just goes through the day and doesn't seem to know what is going on around them?  They may be able to contribute technically, but they are so unaware of what is going on around them that you have to constantly connect dots and describe rationale.  What they produce might work technically, but you find yourself asking "why in the world did you do it that way?" because the solution doesn't connect.  They make suggestions that seem out of touch with current workplace reality. 

To make sure we develop staff that demonstrate professional sensitivity, we can focus on three areas of skill development:  analytics, awareness, and negotiation.

Educause describes analytics as the tools, techniques, and solutions "used in a higher education environment to analyze various collected data points to gain insight and make informed decisions about complex issues." Educause presents a lot of material to support organizational development of an analytics culture.  For IT organizations, we can look at meaningful data collection within our organizations.  Also, participation in national surveys such the Educause Core Data Service survey and The Campus Computing Project survey, is important.  Encouraging staff members to analyze and comparing results of those surveys to their own environment is important.  Time is needed to develop skills that recognize data patterns and trends, and such analysis is often improved by group review and discussion. IT organizations that are fully analyzing and utilizing trends are better prepared to jump on new IT projects in effective and positive ways.

Awareness is observing what is happening around you; it seems so obvious.  But are all your IT staff reading a variety of news sources?  Are they participating in communities?  I remember having a staff member who was really struggling in producing quality work.  The work was done, but it didn't meet requirements.  I finally asked the staff member to write a self-evaluation describing each step he had taken; I was stunned when I read it.  The entire self-analysis was "I thought about this, then I did that, then I tested this."  In the entire self-analysis, there wasn't a single point when the employee had involved anything or anyone else outside himself.  There was no source of diversity of thought, including no involvement of the diverse backgrounds of fellow team members. Strong awareness skills develop when staff members can take those external sources and recognize patterns.  A good example of awareness that I've written about before is Bill Cunningham and his On the Street series in the New York Times. Intense observation adds greater perspective to analytics and trend analysis; observation and awareness can be current and forward-looking, while anaytics, with its data focus, can be looking backward and using a trend line.  A trend line would not have told us about the iPad impact, but observation and awareness does inform us.

Finally, professional sensitivity requires strong negotiation skills.  Negotiation skills involve empathy and a strong appreciation for another person's position.  We need to navigate decision processes by finding paths that allow everyone to win.  By being empathic, and finding win-win scenarios, we avoid wasting time on unimportant details and disagreements over direction.  This allows us to be nimble, moving in positive directions with speed.  Negotiation requires that we are successful in persuading others to appreciate our position as well.  An interesting recent article talks about how we need to think about our persuasion skills, for example, "When trying to persuade, a study says, stop at three claims." (The Power of Three)

Developing professional sensitivity as an organizational resource, something that we bring forward and utilize in projects, is an action a CIO or IT leader can do.  By investing in developing this resource, the result is that the IT organization improves its ability to be agile and nimble in change-disruptive environments. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Adaptability and Initiative Capacity as Resources

Earlier I suggested a model for leaders to use to assess agility and nimbleness in their IT organizations. To create the IT organizations that contribute to our higher education organizations in a time of significant change, we need to be fast to react, implement, and change in our technical environments. As a CIO, I cannot just say "think faster" and "respond quicker" and "change faster."  I need to identify and build the resources to enable that sort of nimbleness.  I suggested these resources needed to be identified and enhanced:  time, human capital, funding, space, knowledge, sensitivity, initiative capacity, and adaptability.  Some resources are easier to understand, like funding and human capital.  Other resources, like adaptability and initiative capacity, are harder to assess and develop.

As an IT leader, have you ever encountered that staff member who was enamored and protective of an IT system that had outlived its usefulness?  I have encountered this several times in my career. The first was a highly talented employee who believed that all MVS terminals should be under his control, even when the automotive employer wanted to distribute controls to speed growth. Then there were the developers who believed in continuing with full system development, even after the university decided that unmodified package implementation was the preferred direction. There were other developers later who insisted that only mainframe technologies were worthwhile and client-server had no future. There were talented staff members who simply could not adapt to changing technology frontiers.

Also, there have been moments when I've approached a team about what should have been an exciting new project, only to be greeted by silence and heavy sighs.  Fortunately, this has been rare, but it is very difficult when a high functioning, highly talented team lacks enthusiasm for a new project.  It seems to happen most when the normal cycles of project start, peak, fade are lost in a swamp of never-ending work.  When teams are stuck in the Star Wars scene where the characters are just trying to get on top of the trash pile, another exciting new project is just one more thing on a pile of stuff that is over-whelming.

As the CIO, I need to make sure that I take actions to develop adaptability and initiative capacity in the organization.  How do I do that?

Encourage staff members to develop personally, so that their identity is not wrapped up in one system or project.  Don't allow staff members to become so personally identified with a system or project that they cannot let it go without suffering abandonment and personal identity issues.   Encourage staff members to develop a full career, with a variety of tasks and projects.  We cannot just assume they understand that a project on which they spent hundreds of hours and achieved personal accolades will fade and die some day.  We need to help our staff members see that trajectory, and reaffirm their career value and contribution even when a system is eventually discontinued.

Reward change acceptance, even if it is just acknowledgement during reviews or public presentations.  Provide greater acknowledgement to those who lead change efforts.  And reward staff members who close down older systems and environments.  Recognition cannot just go to the start-up of something new, but it also needs to go to those who take on the important work of closing down and letting go of the old.

Assess the capacity for a team to engage in a project.  They may not have the energy or enthusiasm for a really needed project.  Can you rework teams to provide fresh energy?  I find adding student employees, for whom a project is new, can reinvigorate a team that is growing weary.  Timing a project can be key; capacity for a new project may not be there in December, but the same group may welcome it in May if there's a slow down in day-to-day tasks.  Perhaps some effort needs to be put into clearing the deck and finishing some projects, then allowing for a bit of a gap to breathe and think, to create mental and energy capacity to engage in some new critical endeavor.  We build in a day to pause at the end of December, as an organization, and I'm looking for ways to bring pauses into the year.

As a CIO, it is important to recognize that you may have the people, the time, the money, and the knowledge to engage in a project, but still not have adaptable staff with the initiative capacity to take on the work.  We need to make sure we assess and develop those resources as well.