Go long on style & short on tech babble

Go long on style & short on tech babble

“If you are not ahead, you could get killed. You see someone come ahead of you and, before you realise it, they took away your game. It’s a matter of controlling your destiny.”

Those are the words of Gary Reiner, CIO at General Electric under CEO Jack Welch, the quintessential industrial leader of the late 20th century. Reiner was applying Welch’s learnings to the role of CIO. Reiner successfully implemented GE’s quality assurance scheme, Six Sigma, which Welch — in the GE Way Fieldbook — says was inspired by similar schemes at Motorola and Allied Signal.

It is a Jack Welch axiom, incidentally, that you proudly and unashamedly steal ideas in preference to discovering your own. Why? They are likely to be better than your own because someone else has gone to the trouble of testing and proving them first.

When Six Sigma was launched, Welch said it would represent the biggest opportunity for growth, increased profitability and individual employee satisfaction in the history of GE.

The company now represents the world’s single largest pool of wealth, in everything from jet turbines and lightbulbs to broadcasting and financial services.

In this feature we look at how New Zealand CIOs view applied leadership. Jack Welch-style, there may be some ideas here worth stealing.

James Burnett

The helm is being pushed too far toward the passive

CIOs are overreacting to the issue of business predominance and becoming too passive in the process, insists James Burnett of Fidelity Life Assurance in Auckland. “We have to find a middle way. In the mainframe era the mould was set in which IT led the business. Now we have gone hard over to the other side and IT slavishly follows every whim of the business. Surely there is a middle way here? I believe that when it comes to leadership, IT sets the pace by showing the business what can be done.”

Burnett says there is another widespread misconception — that the business is brilliant at explaining what it does. “This is wrong. I believe the business is just as good and just as bad as IT in doing things like business plans. This is why CIOs must take coffee with the business people, mix with them whenever they can. It’s the best way to find out what the business has in mind.”

Burnett is worried about the whole assumption question. “You want to lead? You must do it a practical level. Get it out of the abstract. Do smoke-and-mirrors demonstrations to show what can be done. Seeing is believing. Does the business really know about email, business-to-business, e-commerce? I doubt it. So lead them. Help get their heads around it.“

The IT sector must demonstrate its leadership by bringing management’s attention to trends and how they can be used. The fall in network costs is one such trend, he points out.

Then there is leadership to be demonstrated in research. “The business has heard about thin clients and web browsers. But now let’s have the IT department out there leading with the data, showing what it means in terms of applications and people. IT must lead by being there with early indicators, early warnings.”

Andre Snoxall


Leadership, murmurs Andre Snoxall, is a HAG, a big Hairy, Audacious Goal. It must be big and it must be hairy and it must be audacious so that it will loom large in the minds of those who must accomplish it, he believes.

Capital Coast Health’s director of information planning and management believes too many missions/visions/goals are too vague, abstract or vaporous to be grasped and therefore envisioned as something to be worked toward.

Also, they tend be too wordy for anyone to remember, even those charged with implementing it. The ideal HAG should be assimilable in one sentence.

“Then you have to have your sub-goals, the steps on the way to the HAG, very clearly defined so that people can buy into it.” Also, there must be measurement, and this again is so much more achievable if objectives are spelled out in human terms.

For example, Snoxall stresses, “you might say that such-and-such is the objective, and the reason is that it will help toward reducing admissions for diabetes, which in turn will free up resources that will thus become available to treat other afflictions”.

The underpinning issue is that everything everyone does must be aligned to the overall objective — the HAG.

People need to know why they are doing things. “It’s no different from any sector — mining, for example. People need to have an objective so that they can align what they are doing to it.”

Also, the old retribution/punishment model for those who do not perform has disappeared. “The leader must understand why someone is not delivering. They must ask themselves, ‘Am I at fault here?’ It goes back to strategic thinking. You can no longer have people reeling from month to month. The issue is here and now: What are we doing to improve health care outcomes? If we cannot enunciate our objectives, then we have a problem.”

The leader must always be asking the question, “What have you contributed?”

“Then there’s planning. This is simplified in IT, where trends are visible because of the sector’s short history. Everything is quantifiable. The mysteries have gone.”

Especially, Snoxall believes, the issue of leadership is about the leader making decisions and being seen to make them. “Instead of looking to the Big Five, you are seeing leaders in our sector looking to themselves and being seen as trusting their own experience rather than that of other people who, in fact, are unlikely to have anything near their practical experience. In our sector you are going to see leaders being a lot more confident in their own judgement. Because of this, others will have confidence in them too.”

On the issue of seeing the big picture, Snoxall is forthright: “Certainly. In the past two years I have visited 40 hospitals other than my own. I need to see first-hand what is going on. I need to draw from my own experience.”

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