Results and Relationships: A Message to CIOs

I honestly can’t count the number of meetings I have witnessed where the gap between IT and Business is so wide you could fit a Mack truck through the middle of it. Today, achieving results on a project requires driving relationships not just technology. For many CIOs, mastering the technical aspects and following through on projects isn't a dilemma. Managing organizational change and professional relationships that present risks to a project, is another story.

Often the level of trust between IT and Business (vs. the technical discipline involved) will determine the success of the project. Moreover, the bridge to a successful project requires developing a clear understanding between IT and Business about what should be accomplished, and then helping both disciplines envision the desired result.

As IT professionals, we are invited into the business to act in an advisory role, helping them clarify decisions and reach goals. This sounds good in some in-flight magazine article, but life on an ERP project presents a plethora of daily challenges. Along with milestones from the project plan, we must focus a lot of attention on relationships. The relationships cultivated with stakeholders are as important as the deliverables we hand in at the end of each day. Neglect the relationships, and you will comprise your passport to success. It’s as simple as that. Understand that you job is managing relationships and you will become a trusted advisor and resource for years to come. At the heart of this “advisory-building” process are six simple, yet powerful, personal agreements:

1. Be Impeccable With Your Word.
2. Don’t Take Things Personally.
3. Don’t Make Assumptions.
4. Always Do Your Best.
5. Focus On The Result Of The Behavior, Not Just The Behavior.
6. Rules Without Relationships Lead To Active Or Passive Rebellion.

In the interest of space, and the fact that I have a hot pizza waiting, I’ll focus on the fifth agreement, and attempt to pick up the others next time.

Focus on the result of behaviors, not just the behaviors.

“Don’t look at the behavior, look at the result of the behavior”. As a clinical and organizational psychologist, I’m not sure how many times I have given this advice. It matters not what relationship we are engaged in – a resistant process owner, disgruntled CEO, your children, or even your neighbor that refuses to return the ladder he browed a year ago, it is best to always ask yourself “what are they walking away with, and what am I walking away with?”

We are conditioned to gravitate toward people’s behaviors. This is especially true with ERP implementations and upgrades, as behaviors are often the only tangible “feedback” we can count on. The key is to look past the behaviors to the results of those behaviors. If we consistently focus on the results, and not trying to change the behaviors themselves, we will provide a higher level of value and build stronger relationships with our teams and stakeholders across the enterprise. This concept is based upon a psychological law called unconscious intentionality.

Let me give you an example.

A mother came to me expressing a desire to have her four year old tested for learning disabilities. She feared he was “clothing dyslexic” because he was not able to put his pants on correctly.
“But,” the mother stated, “he really cannot put his pants on right. He always puts them on with the opening in the back. And, when this happens he has a fit, he gets frustrated, angry, and so hurt.”
“Do you think it is possible that he does this on purpose?” I replied.
“No! Not at all! I know you think everything he does is on purpose, but you should see him. How upset he gets when he finds that he didn’t succeed. If you could see him, you’d know I am right. This is very traumatic for him. He just can’t do it right.”
I gently smiled and asked, “Do you think I can convince you that he knows how to put them on right?”
“No! I know what I know, and what I see and deal with every day.”
“Ok, can I ask you a couple of questions?”
“Of course,” stated the mother, bracing herself in a non-trusting position suspecting that I was to throw out some crazy theory that would try to get her to change her mind.
“Let me ask you this first”, I started. “Suppose that your son was really unable to know, he was born blind, and say his pants were half black and half white. Now, let’s say the right way to put them on was with the black on the front. How often would he have the black on the front?”
“I guess 50% – half of the time.”
“Statically, at least 25% of time he should be able to get it right. How many times have you seen your son put his pants on?”
“Many times.”
“Has he ever put them on right?”
“Never.”
“What do you think about that?”
The mother thought about it, “If he really didn’t know, I could expect him to get it right at least some of the time.”
“That’s right. By pure chance he should get them 12-25 out of 50 times.”
Then she got excited, “But, you don’t understand how hard it is for him, how upset he gets.”
I clamed her down, asking, “Describe to me what happens.”
“It just happened this morning. While I was asking him to get dressed the phone rang, it was one of my friends. Before too long I had to get off the phone and run into his room because he was crying and very upset. There he was, with his pants on wrong. I held him and calmed him down, helped him get his pants on right, told him how much he was loved and that it was going to be a good day. Eventually we were able to go about our business.”
“You have a very smart son!” I replied. “It would be dumb for him to get his pants on right. You give him attention and service. Think about it. Your son successfully got you away from your friend and hold of your full attention. He got the tactical stimulation of putting the pants on right. He received hugs, kisses, affirmation, and encouraging words from his mother. You reward him for doing it wrong by giving him all this, and if he did it right, my guess is you would pay no attention. If you want to change the behavior, look beyond the behavior, and change the result. In essence, that’s all we really have control over anyway.”
The mother’s mouth was open in surprise. The logic was overwhelming.

This illustrates unconscious intentionally. The boy did not (most probably) consciously intend to put his pants on backwards, and his trauma was most likely genuine. Nevertheless, by consistently getting it wrong when he should have gotten it right at least some of the time, tells us he intended to do it – whether he was aware of it or not. This is not too dissimilar from what we are faced with on a daily basis with the stakeholders of our projects. Often the worst behaviors we have to deal with are simply forms of resistance that are being consistently rewarded. Be oriented toward results. IT extends beyond an advising role — we are active partners in assisting the business in reaching targeted goals. To not only recommend solutions, but also help implement them; and this often means changing the results of well-established behaviors and patterns. Like the mother above, if we get hooked into only the behavior, we loose our ability to move forward and we become part of the problem, not the solution.

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