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IMHO: The Dangers of Being a Longtime IT Manager or CEO



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“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

—Lord Acton

Unfortunately, in the ordinary course of my working life in IT, I observe corruption on a routine basis. This corruption I encounter—and rail against—isn’t necessarily financial; it is the decay of competence, perspective, responsibility, and account-ability that sets in when IT managers and CEOs have been in power and unchallenged for far too long.

My experience gives me at least three complementary perspectives on this subject. First, I write from the perspective of an IBM employee who retired as a senior systems engineer after more than 21 years during the 1960s and 1970s—the glory years when IBM was the world’s most respected company. Back then IBM treasured its employees and made sure that IBM managers at all levels were competent and fair and had the interests and advancement of each employee as part of their own evaluations. IBM used a comprehensive and effective annual evaluation survey, with each employee rating all levels of IBM management, including corporate management.

IBM also required an annual formal interview of the employee with his manager, followed by a formal interview with his manager’s manager, in which direct questions about managers were asked and frank answers were expected. IBM’s evaluation worked wonders and effectively bounced the one stinker manager I ever had at IBM.

Second, I write from the perspective of an active programming consultant and software developer, still designing and programming after 40 years in IT. I consider this the best job of pay-for-performance, where objectivity, competence, and measurable output determine daily success and where decay, obsolescence, sloth, and incompetence are immediately met with the swinging door. Refreshingly, a programming consultant most often interacts with IT personnel who are on the way up and still learning.

Third, I write from the perspective of marketing my own software to top IT management. It seems to me that some long-term IT managers, who must have been competent and objective IT professionals to become IT managers, have morphed into politicians and kings. They perceive themselves as master negotiators, and they seem to be frozen in time. They dispense jobs, perks, and the company’s money without effective oversight, and they demand loyalty, obedience, and silence from everyone, without reasonable validation or consequence of their decisions.

To avoid the dangers, a long-term manager can do the following:

• Actively pursue a move up to a more challenging job in IT or corporate management.

• Annually, attend COMMON ( or a similar technical conference to understand the current status and direction of your world of corporate computing. Annually, attend an industry conference relevent to your company’s business.

• Annually, attend one of your key enterprise resource planning (ERP), supply chain management (SCM), or customer relationship management (CRM) vendors’ conferences or a conference of a leading vendor with a promising software product.

• Subscribe to and read several leading IT magazines and books relating to your installed hardware and software.

• Annually, send every programmer to at least a one-week technical class or conference.

• Stay current with installed ERP, SCM, or CRM vendor-supplied software, including updates and support.

• Have an open-door policy, solicit and tolerate ideas and interaction with all of your employees, and have annual, meaningful, formal reviews with each employee.

• Look outside your company for validation and guidance on all key technical IT projects.

This second opinion is really essential, enlightening, educational, productive; and it is actually cost-effective.

• Request an outside competent formal review of your entire department and seriously evaluate and act on its conclusions.