A look into RIM’s Culture?

Blackberry Fail  By jaygrandin on flickrI ran across a great post this morning over on Boy Genius Report titled Open letter to BlackBerry bosses: Senior RIM exec tells all as company crumbles around him.  Its a long letter but very very insightful.

First off there are a lot of lessons to learn from that letter.  A couple of key sentences:

You have many smart employees, many that have great ideas for the future, but unfortunately the culture at RIM does not allow us to speak openly without having to worry about the career-limiting effects.


Rather than constantly mocking iPhone and Android, we should encourage key decision makers across the board to use these products as their primary device for a week or so at a time


The truth is, no one in RIM dares to tell management how bad our tools still are. Even our closest dev partners do their best to say it politely, but they will never bite the hand that feeds them

and lastly

Strategy is often in the things you decide not to do.

Man…I’d like to find the person that wrote that letter and give them a high five.   If I were in a position to do so, I’d also hire that person on the spot.

I really love that last line –  “Strategy is often in the things you decide not to do.”  How powerful is that?

With this letter we get to see some real insight into the inner-workings and culture of RIM. If the allegations are true, there’s some serious culture issues within this company….and it will take some serious change to make any progress in the future.

I used to love my blackberry. I couldn’t imagine owning anything else….until the iPhone came out.  Then…shortly afterward, the Android OS arrived….and I couldn’t imagine continuing to carry a blackberry. I bought the Motorola Droid the first day it was available and have never looked back.

I’ve traded that droid in for an HTC Incredible and love it. I’m tempted to jump into an iPhone I’ve so far resisted the temptations…we’ll see what happens with the next iPhone.

What would it have taken to keep me on the blackberry?  Looking back….a lot. I’d want the simplicity of the Android OS plus the sexy Apple design.    And we all know those are qualities that RIM has had a hard time with.

And…I think the above mentioned letter shines some light on why those changes never came about …and why they will most likely never come.

Image Credit: Blackberry Fail  By jaygrandin on flickr


Culture and the CIO

Did you catch the news earlier this week?   Gene De Libero and I started a new blog titled “CIO Essentials“.  Gene and I have known each other for a few years now and recently collaborated on an article for Cutter IT Journal titled “The Futureproof CIO“.  That collaboration has turned into CIO Essentials (CIOE).

I had the pleasure of writing the first article to be published on CIOE and wanted to share it here for my regular readers/subscribers.  I hope you decide to join Gene and I over at CIOEssentials.com where we’ll be writing more on the topics of business, leadership, technology, and the people technology serves.

Culture and the CIO was first published on CIOEssentials.com on March 1 2010.

What’s the culture of your organization?

Have you built a hard-charging, do anything organization that demands things get done now? Or are you working in an organization that thinks things through, plans them out and takes years to get anything done? Perhaps you’re somewhere between these two extremes.

Personally, I’d rather be closer to the get it done (and get it done right) scenario than planning everything to death, but I’ve seen both types of cultures work. As the CIO, before you can deliver value to your organization, you must understand the culture within your organization.

“When planning for a year, plant corn. When planning for a decade, plant trees. When planning for life, train and educate people.” – Chinese Proverb

Culture and the CIO

What is culture within an organization? Most agree that organizational culture is the shared beliefs, values and norms that are held by the people within an organization.

What are the shared beliefs of your organization? Are you focused on moving quickly to beat your competition? Are you an innovative organization that wants to be at the forefront of the market? Or are you one of those companies that like to plan things to death and take years to get anything done?

Whatever your organizational culture, you’ve got to stay in sync with that culture or you might find yourself out of a job.

Story Time

Patty is a newly hired VP of IT for a mid-sized business in Chicago. Patty’s previous employer was a large, demanding company and Patty really thrived in that type of environment – she essentially grew-up in that hard driving organization.

In her previous role, she expected her staff to be as demanding and driven as she was, and for the most part, they were. Patty had worked her way up the ranks to a Director level role but was itching to move further up the ladder. After some internal review, she quickly found a VP role that seemed like a good fit and after a few months of negotiation, she accepted the position as the top IT person within the organization.

Patty was excited to have to an opportunity to finally run her own shop. After all, she’d been working towards this opportunity her entire career. Patty had finally arrived. She was the head of IT and could implement all the really cool processes and technologies that she’d been hearing about.

Patty brought her driven, hard-charging approach to IT to her new position – and immediately flopped. The culture of her new company was a slow-moving one. The people were methodical and planned things out to the ‘nth’ degree before moving forward with a project. There were committees and task forces for everything and not a single decision was made without going through a few rounds of committee discussions. Change was tough.

The Slow Pace of Progress

Patty railed against the slow pace of progress. She drove her IT staff to ‘pick up the pace’ and drove her managers into a frenzy trying to accomplish everything she wanted to get done as quickly as possible.

Sadly (and predictably), after six months, Patty had accomplished nothing. None of the high-priority projects had been completed and most hadn’t even been started. Patty’s boss, the CFO, pulled her into his office one day and suggested that she reign things in. He shared that the organization had always taken the slow approach and that wasn’t something that was likely to change any time soon.

This slow-and-steady approach had proven to be the success factor for them. He went on to explain that, while they weren’t the industry leader, they were extremely profitable. It was their organizational culture that was the driving factor behind that success.

Patty countered with her standard argument that the organization moved too slow and that she couldn’t get anything done at that pace. She couldn’t fund any of the projects that she’d made a priority. All projects were well-vetted before being funded because every project that was funded took money away from other parts of the business.


While there are actually a few points that can be made with this story, the one I want to highlight is the cultural issues apparent.

Patty didn’t understand the role of organizational culture within the company. She didn’t understand that culture exists for a reason and that the culture is made up of the values and belief systems of the people within the organization.

Patty thought she was railing against the snail’s pace of progress, but she was actually telling every single person within that company that they were wrong. Nobody likes to be told that they’re wrong, but telling an entire organization that they way they’ve done business for years is wrong is a career suicide mission. It can be difficult to recover once you’ve alienated enough people within the organization.

Patty never recovered. She was shown the door withing a few months of her meeting with the CFO. The reason for her dismissal? She didn’t fit the ‘culture’ of the organization.

Focus on Culture

Whether you’re looking to move another organization or you’ve moved into a new role at your current company, you’ve got to consider the organizational culture while considering how you’ll reach your objectives. You can’t be successful as a fast-moving IT manager if your team’s spent the last 20 years moving slowly.

Keep organizational culture in mind while planning out your next project, job or strategic plan.

Culture and the CIO was first published on CIOEssentials.com on March 1 2010.

The Future of IT and the CIO – The New CIO Series

The New CIO is a weekly article about the challenges facing today’s CIO as well as what can be done to prepare for future challenges.

A few months ago, I aksed a question on LinkedIn about the role of the CIO (read the original question & responses):

Will the CIO role change in the next 5 years? If so, how…and why?

Quite a few folks responded with some excellent points. I’ve been ruminating on this question (and the answers) and finally realized that I may have asked the wrong question.   Why?  Because organizations want to be more nimble. Users want to be able to do more with the IT assets.  The ‘cloud’ is growing rapidly.

I think the better question to ask is:

How will IT’s role change in the next 5 years? Can current IT groups and CIO’s provide the value that organizations need?

Find the answer to how IT will change in the coming years and the CIO’s role will be clearer.

The Future of IT

I’m not an expert nor am I a ‘futurist’.  That said, I’m going to make a few wild guesses here on the future if IT.

The big IT group of today goes away.  No longer will we see large IT groups with tons of Developers, Project Managers, Network Security, Database Administrators, IT Operations, Desktop support, etc etc.  The IT group will splinter into much smaller groups more closely aligned with the organization.

Instead, I think we’ll see IT Groups split into multiple smaller groups.  There will still need to be desktop support and database administrators and all the other things that fall within IT operations.   That said, why wouldn’t IT operations move into other ‘operations’ areas.   Is IT operations really that much different than facilities management?  They both have to keep things running don’t they? Should IT to be split into an operational team and project team and have them report into different reporting structures.

Most of the real activity will happen around the business analysts and project management teams.   Will we see the CIO migrate into a Chief Project Officer and manage all aspects of business analysis, projects and technology strategy?  Will the IT operations team be managed just like any other part of an organizations facilities are?

Conjecture and Hyperbole

While the statements above are just wild conjecture during a bought of stream of consciousness writing, I think there are some good things to think about there.  Have you taken a second to think about the future of IT and the role of the CIO in your organization?

The New CIO will need to step back and revisit the IT group to see if the organization is delivering the value it should deliver to the organization. Should IT operations be your focus or should it be on analyzing the business requirements for new IT projects?  Should you continue to pour money into legacy systems or make a clean break and move to more agile systems?

Many of you may not agree with me…but that’s the whole point of this post.  Is the Future of IT and that of the CIO certain?  Do we know that we have a valuable place in the future of organizations in our current form?

The New CIO has to look five to ten years down the road to see where you and your IT staff will be.  If you can’t see a clear picture of yourself and your team helping the organization, perhaps you need to start working to defog that future.

Join me next week for another article in The New CIO series.

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a sense of urgency

John P. Kotter, author of “Leading Change” and “Our Iceberg is Melting” is set to release a new book titled “a sense of urgency” (release date September 3 2008).  I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy to review….and for the most part, I’m glad I read it.

The basic thesis of the book is that organization’s have a heard time “creating” the ‘right’ sense of urgency in order to ensure organizational change occurs. NOTE: My regular readers may remember me complaining about the term ‘creating a sense of urgency‘ in a previous post (see here and here)….I still don’t like the term ‘create’ but am coming to grips with it. 🙂

The author presents the following three key issues to consider during organizational change initiatives.

  1. Urgency – The sense of urgency must be ‘high enough’ before beginning any change efforts.
  2. Complacency – organizations become complacent and ignore the need to change.
  3. False sense of urgency – could also be described as ‘urgency directed at the wrong things’.

According to the author issues #2 and #3 above are the key issues keeping organizations from implementing and retaining the ‘right’ changes.

Many organizations have become complacent with their current position in their industry.  This complacency lulls the people and organization into thinking that their previous successes will allow them to remain leaders in their industry.

In contrast to complacency, false sense of urgency occurs when an organization recognizes that they need to change but don’t really understand what or how to change.  Because of this, most organizations ‘create’ change initiatives by forcing change, which does nothing but create a flurry of activity.  This flurry of activity is quite impressive…but it is energy expended on the ‘wrong’ change.

The author suggests that when an organization has a true sense of urgency, the leaders of the organization will demand change now with real progress made every day.  He suggests that leaders ‘win the hearts and minds’ of their staff.  He argues that presenting information and data to your staff is all well and good but information by itself will not embed the proper sense of urgency within the organization.  In order to install the ‘right amount of urgency’, you must present a logical case for change as part of an overall strategy to engage the hearts and emotions of the people within the organization.

The author provides some information on how to capture the hearts and minds of an organization, but doesn’t go into too much detail or provide in-depth analysis of why these methods work.  I like this fact because there’s never really a ‘right way’ of winning people over and I believe the author understands that.

I will say there is one minor aspect to this book that I didn’t like…the fact that the author uses words like ‘right change’, ‘wrong change’ and ‘proper sense of urgency’ without describing how to determine what these words really mean.

That being said, I liked the book overall.  It is an easy read and full of helpful information. If you have an interest in organizational change, I’d recommend this book.  It is an excellent primer for anyone interested in learning how to instill the proper sense of urgency by winning over the hearts and minds of your organization.

NOTE: This book was provided by the publisher as an advanced review copy.

Reasons for Resisting Change

Peter Vajda has a great post over on Slow Leadership titled “Why People Resist Change” that is well worth the time to read.

Peter argues that the reasons people resist change is that they are ‘told’ to change….rather than being ‘asked’ to change.   He writes:

What’s the most common process for introducing change in our organizations? We hold a meeting. Tell people why the change is necessary and give our reasons for the change, the expected benefits and tell them be prepared to do it our way. Then, we become angry and frustrated as all heck when we experience their subsequent resistance and lack of buy-in. Usually, little or no change happens in the long run.

Now…in most instances, the management team have done their homework and really believe that the changes that they trying to implement are the best things for the organization…but they do a poor job of engaging their employees in creating these changes.  This ‘telling’ approach makes employees feel as if management doesn’t really care about them.  Again, Peter writes:

If those in charge take a ‘telling’ approach towards change, in essence they are saying to employees: “We really don’t appreciate you; we really don’t want to include you. You have to change, like it or not.” That’s the perception and we all know perception is reality — especially in workplace situations when change is the issue.

Think about the last time you were told that change was coming.  Were you in complete agreement that it was the right change and it was necessary?   If you are like most people, you might agree that change needs to occur but you aren’t sure that ‘this’ change is necessary or that the implementation of the change is quite right.

What would happen if you were involved from day one in the decision making process?  Peter suggests that:

If you would take the time — and be honest and sincere in your efforts — you could ask people for ideas and be assured they will come up with most of the solutions required for them to do their best, both for themselves and for the good of their team and organization…

….What would it be like if leaders engaged employees in the change process by inviting them to join in the decision-making and problem-solving leading up to the change?

Most organizations can’t involve every single employee in change initiatives but a good cross-section of employees would be better than nothing.  Ask employees what they think about the current environment and what needs to change…most times, they’ll come up with some excellent ideas for change that may have been missed by management alone.   Lastly,  engaging employees in creating change initiatives will normally bring about the proper sense of urgency and ownership required for the change(s) to be successful.

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Note to Self: Think before publishing

I was reminded this past weekend by Bruce Henry that I sometimes push “publish” much too quickly on a blog post.

Go read my post titled “Leadership and Organizational Change” and specifically Bruce’s comment.  Bruce called me out on some of my comments in my post….and rightfully so.

I still stand behind the overall message of the post that good leadership and organizational culture shouldn’t need to ‘create a sense of urgency’ for change to occur….but I think I needed to expand on my thoughts.  The word ‘create’ is what makes me a bit squeamish about this because it makes me feel as though you should ‘conjure up’ some reason for urgency.  A good leader should have already instilled a sense of urgency in their group….perhaps the authors of the book could have used ‘instill a sense of urgency’.  If they had used that terminology, I probably wouldn’t be writhing this post (or the previous one!).

In addition, I made a few comments about leaders not needing to have political acumen and the ability to be persuasive…which are false.  As a leader you must have these skills.   But again, in the context of the book I was reading at the time, it felt a little ‘off’ to me when the authors talked about using politics to ‘win battles’ and ‘convince others’ that you are rights.

Bruce – Thanks for calling me on the carpet and making me think!

BTW – Every reader of this blog should go check out Bruce’s blog…he’s got some great stuff there.  While you are at it, check out Bruce’s company LiquidPlanner…maker of one of the most interesting and exciting project management tools I’ve seen in a long time.  I had the pleasure of having Bruce give me a demo of the tool a few months ago and was extremely excited about what I saw.

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