Undercover CIO is an idea I hope each of you will consider. Actually, undercover CIO is more than an idea, it’s a management approach for CIO’s to use in their daily routine to increase their visibility into their IT organizations. It’s a little bit of a twist on the tried and true approach of trust but verify aimed at getting to the real IT organization your staff is keeping you from seeing.
What you don’t know they won’t tell you
Let’s face it, people are just not inclined to tell their boss or their bosses boss the truth unless it serves their own purposes – and maybe not even then.
In fact, many junior IT managers and staff are perfectly happy to let senior IT managers and the CIO have a completely false understanding of how things really operate or don’t operate. Too many times I have seen IT staff and IT managers let something a CIO says about how a process works or the current state of things go uncorrected.
I don’t care what you say about building a culture of transparency, people are not going to volunteer that they stopped following an important process months ago, that they made a bad hiring decision, that they are not confident in their solutions, or any other truth that puts them in a bad light even if it is important.
CIO’s must develop a management approach that allows them to see through the opacity their people create and see around the barriers that get erected. Ideally, you would take a week and become an undercover CIO in your own organization like the TV show Undercover Boss.
As an undercover CIO you might spend a day working on your help desk taking calls from your customers. You would then spend a day in deskside support services working level 2 support in the field and doing add, move, change work at a remote site.
You would spend a day working IT operations and shadowing your production control operators and NOC staff and attending your morning operations meeting. You would train with a developer or system administrator on updating web content or allocating storage to a growing application.
Unfortunately, the likelihood of being able to pull off a week as an undercover CIO just isn’t realistic so you will need to use other methods to connect with what is really going on in your IT department and the services you provide..
Secret shopper is a well tested approach to gaining insights into any service organizations. For CIO’s, you can use a secret shopper to assess your help desk, service desk, and even your third party service providers.
As CIO, you can of course be your own secret shopper to assess many of your IT services. But you may find using an experienced secret shopper service provider will take a more objective approach to the task and produce a meaningful summary of their findings usually in a shorter period of time.
CIO’s should also consider using a third party to provide an embedded CIO in their organization. In this approach, you hire a third party firm to provide you with an experienced CIO or CIO advisor to work inside your organization in a non-manager capacity.
One easy avenue is to place an experienced IT executive into a role as a project manager because it is not out of the ordinary to bring in outside project managers and project managers are exposed to every aspect of an IT organization.
But most important is that a project manager or other similar roles will mean your staff let their guard down and expose the true nature of what is going on, how they feel about their job, your customers, and your leadership.
One of the most powerful things you can do is to personally make callbacks with your customers. For this to be effective you have to commit to a regular schedule of making callbacks to a specific number customers.
Set up a dedicated time, say Tuesday mornings, and call 5 users that contacted your help desk in the last day or so. Alternatively, consider calling everyone that gave a below average rating in their customer service follow-up. If this has some appeal to you, consider reading The Ultimate Question 2.0 which describes a solid process used by several companies.
Notice the Non-Obvious
There is no substitute for being present. But your physical presence in the IT department areas or attending process meetings is not enough. You have to notice the non-obvious signs for the things you should be aware of.
I am not talking about old school “management by walking around”. I am talking about systematically and regularly touring and inspecting your areas and attending all of the standing meetings of your department while actively noticing the non-obvious.
Look in your data center, wiring closets, PC repair shop, and test labs. Go spend time in your training labs and work from remote offices. Frequently attend the change advisory board meeting and daily stand-up meetings for operations and any projects.
Just resist talking or getting engaged since you are there to observe. Of course you need to recognize that your presence will change the dynamic in the room and people’s behaviors. That’s the point.
As you walk around your office areas, do it during the day, in the early morning, and later in the afternoon. Come in at night and on weekends if you have a 24×7 onsite presence and talk with your overnight and off-hours staff.
Walk around frequently and with a degree of randomness. Notice things like new employees offices or cubes that have not been personalized as a sign they may not yet be committed. Just don’t make this about people’s seat time.
Pay attention to every detail and work hard to view your spaces through the eyes of your customers and your peers so you can see what they see. This has to become your habit. And if you are not eating your own dog food, start.