Leadership

Are you a stick-in-the-mud boss?

A recent survey says that bosses think they provide more of an innovative culture than they really do.

Are you the IT equivalent of Jack Friday? Do you just want to get the job done and forget all those fancy-shmancy ideas your team members are always lobbing at you? You might not think so, but that might be the way your employees see you.

DDI just completed a survey with more than 500 employees (with no direct reports) and more than 500 leaders that look at how leaders are promoting innovation (and how they aren't), what really happened to great ideas, and the perception gaps between employees and leaders in leaders' behaviors.

The long and short of it? The boss is an innovation killer. The survey paints a picture of leaders who are overconfident in their skills at promoting innovation. Less than half of employees think their boss is open to unique ideas and opinions, and one in three say their ideas will be killed by organizational bureaucracy.

The gap between leader perspective and that of employee's opinion of their leaders was marked. In areas where the leaders thought they were successfully innovative, like challenging current viewpoints, there was a 29 percent gap in perspective.

In behaviors like an openness to unique ideas and opinions? A 35 percent gap. Guiding employees to pursue ideas autonomously (32 percent).

The greatest gap between where leaders thought they were successful in and where employees agreed was the leader's willingness to challenge current perspectives (the gap 29% in challenging current perspectives). The research also showed that leaders are lacking in behaviors including an openness to unique ideas and opinions (35% gap), championing the merits of employee-generated ideas to senior management (33%), and guiding employees to pursue ideas autonomously (32% gap).

In general, leaders were confident in their skills across the board, but "employees felt there wasn't really room to challenge the status quo," according to Rich Wellins, Senior Vice President of DDI.

In my opinion, there could be several reasons for this. One, most leaders are reluctant to innovate because of their personalities but also because there is just too much to do. They'll ask for ideas, but when it comes time to pay the piper, they're either preoccupied or just don't want to do what they have to do to help make the idea happen.

However, you have to also consider that some employee ideas suck. And sometimes the employee doesn't have the benefit of knowing certain business reasons and emerging issues that would preclude an idea from working. (When you ask leaders, 38% feel that the greatest barrier to innovation is their employees don't have enough information about the business to offer ideas of value.) So when a leader doesn't follow through on an idea due to one of those reasons but doesn't tell the employee why, the employee is bound to feel bitter and respond negatively to, for example, a survey about innovation.

If you're interested in looking at the survey, here's the link.

So let's hear from the IT leaders out there. Do you consider yourself innovative?

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

35 comments
Kostaghus
Kostaghus

For one thing, CIO are not CEO's and not even CFO's. That meaning they too are a cog in the old gear. A larger one but still a cog. In every organization they have to meet a few basic requirements, the most important of them being: do the most (effects) with the least (of means). IT (with the exception of IT companies per se) is not a thing you can sell to customers. It's a "support function". In this day and age, when money for supporting "cash generating activities" is never enough and cash-in problems are a reality, one can't reasonably expect 'change advocating" bosses to be on the rise. The "get the job donners" that use the least financial means are preferred. I do believe I've made my case.

premiertechnologist
premiertechnologist

What we are talking about -- always talking about -- is the Philip Zimbardo Princeton Prison Experiment with the managers being the guards.

premiertechnologist
premiertechnologist

[b]Creating the Innovation Culture: Leveraging Visionaries, Dissenters and Other Useful Troublemakes in Your Organization[/b] by Frances Horibe is the last word in this discussion (it's good, if you ignore the part about Enron). She covers the seven steps to kill innovation and provides a good path for embracing it. Modern Management, particularly Corporations and Government are blind to possibilities with the "not invented here" mentality. Such Draconian perspectives kill initiatives which are revenue producing and increase the quality of products and services in favor of the short-sighted short-term avarice filled profit / power motives. Perish the thought that products and services could be produced with greater quality for a lower price and forget the idea that anything should be truly "user friendly" when those using the technology will just have to settle for less user hateful.

psymmonds
psymmonds

Allow me to do 2 things. First, skip the jargon and, second, play devil's advocate for a moment. Just from a psychological perspective, the status quo (which might also be considered "tried and true") is safe. It's a known quantity. And it's also what got the boss to where he is. So, asking him to change is a big leap and takes him (or her) out of his comfort zone. Also, as the article more or less points out, workers don't always have the benefit of the perspective the boss has. Remember, he has people he has to report to and they probably are less willing to take chances than he is. And there are the politics to consider. That becomes more of a factor the higher you go. You have to choose your battles. So, most are not going to do an in-depth analysis of every idea that comes their way. Ideas will generally fall into 2 categories. They will be easily recognized as beneficial and adopted or they will be quickly dismissed. The ones that will get an in-depth analysis are those that the boss is willing to put some time into and go to bat for, the ones he's willing to fight for. And there just aren't that many of those out there.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

I can remember many years ago when we where working with very limited resources a New Guy fresh out of Uni was given a job of rewriting a subroutine for a engine management system to bring a Turbo Engine off Idle without a Flat Spot in the Acceleration Curve. It was a very minor thing and he proceeded to rewrite the sub in a different language which took 3 times the available Memory of the entire device. When he was confronted with the most obvious problem he response was that it wasn't a Software Issue but a Hardware Issue and we needed to redesign the existing hardware so that we could make use of his code. I've seen way too many examples of kids fresh out of Uni who know it all and can not be corrected, it's [b]Their way or the Highway[/b] no matter what and as they have a [b]Brand New Degree[/b] they believe that they know far more than the [b]Old Fogies[/b] who are doing the work successfully and they should be promoted to a Leadership Role while those who are already there should be demoted till they learn to do things the way of the new staff member. If you want to interview people like that way too many will believe that the company has no interest in Innovation or improving itself but the reality is that it's far easier to rewrite a bit of software than redesign the hardware and it's far cheaper. In the above case the product we sold was already the most expensive bit in most race cars after the engine and this Kid wanted to Quadruple [i]or much likely more[/i] the cost of our product even though it was at that time not possible to make the hardware to his requirements. Back then we used EPROMS to hold the Code that allowed quick and cheap Redesign to suit the power characteristics of different engine types or even different engines from the same maker. There was no alternative to use anything else that would remain Nonvolatile and reliable then. Of course those with long term experience of the business who are asked to offer their opinions are a different story but as there was no qualification of those complaining that their opinions where not accepted I tend to believe that a lot of those complaining are new fresh out of Uni types who [b]Know it All[/b] and can not have their opinions altered. Col

premiertechnologist
premiertechnologist

In the Religion of Management, the modern worship of Corporations and Government, if not the closed private sector, the High Priest Managers are required to make certain the offerings of the masses are undiminished in the service of the money / power god. Any High Priest who defies the tenets of his Faith in Capitalism (including Government Agencies who have adopted the worst of the Corporate Model and implemented it badly), will be put out as an infidel and risk the wrath of all the society gods, perhaps even to the sacrificing his life and that of his family to starvation and homelessness. For it is those of the lower orders, subject to the Priesthood who bring dangerous new ideas to the faith who are those who threaten the whole religion. It may be that some of these lower orders may genuinely have new truth, but must be rejected to maintain the sanctity and stability of the entire Religion, lest other competing Religions have opportunity to proselytize their faithful membership. No, it is the highest clerical orders which must run the Religion, and leave the innovation to the dusty archives of those who are keepers of the Library of All things, to be researched to find what others have left long past to be dusted off and implemented as the tried and true, lest heresy creep in and create havoc amongst the hierarchical ranks of the clergy. The goal has never been the satisfaction and redemption of the attendees and membership of the Church Corporate: The goal is the very survival of the Church Corporate itself and innovation from the bottom threatens that existence.

wolfshades
wolfshades

Many folk have great ideas and wonder why they're not implemented. Part of the reason involves that last line: the need for communication. There is a corresponding need - on the part of all parties involved in assessing innovative ideas - to educate themselves (ourselves) on the structure of the organization: the way it works, how it's funded, and what its priorities are. Some ideas, while they may save in one area, actually increases costs - monetary as well as an increase in labour - elsewhere. Other ideas can't be acted upon because the initial investment is too large, or will provide only a short-term solution, because of long-term organizational goals that will make the status quo obsolete anyway. It's just too easy to give the opinion that management is not receptive to innovative ideas, or won't act on them. I distrust the simplicity of these findings. (No, I'm not a manager, just an long-term older IT worker)

minstrelmike
minstrelmike

Any time you have a bureaucracy, innovation is stifled. If you have to ask for permission, then the person you ask can either say yes or no. The more people/layers you have to ask permission from, the more likely the program will get shut down. A Yes means you get to go to the next level and ask. Any NO means you're done. Run the model yourself and assume you get Yes half the time. Half the projects get thru the first layer. Only 1/8th make it thru the third layer. How many layers you got? Run it yourself and assume you get Yes 90% of the time (an 'innovative organization') but have 10 or 15 layers of approvals. Most projects get shut down. Simple math against simple procedures demonstrate this easily.

JSilasHarbour
JSilasHarbour

The previous blog entry, in my opinion, addresses some of the issues that contribute to the perception gap described in this entry. If an employee understands the business and is thinking like they actually own it, they will have a deeper (although still possibly incorrect) understanding of what the core values are and what the end goals of the business are. Once they know that, it is easier to see what is broken and why, or what is inefficient and why, or what could benefit from "the next big thing" and why. Or, more important, why not. Not every new idea is a good idea. Sometimes innovation is not innovative - sometimes it is just the sizzle when all we really want is a big bite of the steak...

codepoke
codepoke

I've never had a manager resist intelligent change within his purview. Where I see common frustration, though, is when employees ask the manager to change things well outside of their authority. "There's too much paperwork," or "Waterfall stinks, we need to be using Agile," or "CVS stinks as a source code repository," are all complaints I've heard, and complaintd about which no manager can do anything. I hear too few people willing to shut up about CVS, waterfall, and change tickets and talk about how they can use the toolset they're allowed to effect real, profitable change. I've never heard a manager reject the people who do talk about changing the things they're allowed to change.

neilson
neilson

Sometimes all the boss wants is, "Stay on target. Stay on target." Guy in charge of the Cobol compiler complained constantly that work should be fun, not for profit. One day he just up and quit. The following day he tried to unquit, but was refused. Boss had been waiting for a chance to get rid of him. Nice guy, but not cut out for hacking Cobol, I guess.

Cynyster
Cynyster

I am discovering the biggest killer of innovation are those with the "Price Tag" mentality. Meaning those that only seem to value things based on the bill of sale. Not the over-all costs which include training, employee time consumption, implementation time and costs, downtime and related costs. Managers that are lacking in this understand will find it near impossible to have any innovation. Even if they did manage to recognize it if they saw it.

jsargent
jsargent

Very often a manager has learnt to be resistive from his previous managers or from examples in the same organization that are successful in climbing up the ladder.

wolfgangs
wolfgangs

I am an IT Manager, and the most senior IT person in my current (and previous) company, so I think I can speak for many of us. By and large IT is considered by most non-IT people some kind of voodoo or black magic. And most people are afraid of what they don't understand. Top execs and directors are no exception to that. I was lucky enough to have had one boss, who admitted to that and we focused our relationship on the non-technical side, which worked brilliantly, because he took the time to discuss questions of innovation, risk, benefits and expense. With other superiors I have had less luck, and often the lack of understanding results in situations where there is also no will to spend any time on these discussions, which just aggravates the situation. And when that happens, I find myself in an almost impossible situation. On the one hand I have all these ideas coming out of the team, some of which are great and others are not so great, but still good (and yes, there are some stinkers, too). On the other hand I have a boss who only sees IT as an expense, and does not even want to enter into a conversation about possible benefits of new business systems or major revamps. It's no surprise that my team gets disappointed. However, I can tell you, that doesn't even come close to the frustrations I have to deal with myself. You could, of course, argue that this is also my fault, that I should be able to translate the techno-babble into business cases. And I presume that's partially true. But as always, it takes two to tango.

chris.leeworthy
chris.leeworthy

Having recently changed roles from one side of the debate to the other I have to say it's a difficult balancing act for the manager. While innovation can bring great advantages it has to be properly risk assesed. If you're going to introduce a new technology will your team have the skill set to support it in future (particularly if the initial advocate/developer of the project leaves)? In terms of immediate costs can your department, or the project budget afford the time for the learning curve that inevitably comes with adoption of a new technology? Are the advantages gained by the new approach significant enough to warrant the investment? Issues like this need to be carefully considered I like to think I give new ideas a fair hearing but I sometimes have to give people the news that we won't use a new tech even if it's 'better' because the risks and costs outweigh the benefits and I fully understand that from the point of view of the person suggesting the change they will find it frustrating.

gorman.mi
gorman.mi

It can often be a case of IT managers just not trusting their staff to know what they are talking about. Paradoxically, in IT shops where males are in the majority (which IT shop have you seen where this is not the case?) If a female staff memeber pipes up with an idea, it is listened to more readily by Male managers, especially she happens to fit certain physical stereo-types. O.K call me cynical if you like. Like a lot of issues concerned with IT depts, it is a mixture of Ego and arrogance.

sanjoz
sanjoz

All leaders can manage but not all Mangers can lead. The activity of management is to keep the 'business' ticking over by smooth execution of day to day activities. A good manager will remove any obstacles from his/her teams path in the pursuit of a fixed goal/aim. A leader on the other hand is someone that can inspire and motivate a team. Has the know how to stretch his/her team members ideas and mould them to the strategic company objectives, usually without taking credit. True leaders can accomplish this with or without a job title. The ability to truely lead a team is not very commonplace and in my experience, most managers are usually not equipped to lead, they are normally trained and educated to manage. Leadership skills is what some people choose to equip themselves with. I was fortunate to have once had a true leader as a mentor, and if in my pursuit of management I can lead half as well as he did, I think my team will feel their ideas are worthy were merited and they will be motivated to create and innovate.

JasonATCITD
JasonATCITD

In most cases, employees' perception of the effectiveness of management will never match the perception of management itself. That's what separates management from line staff. Having worked in the public and private sector as an IT Manager for 20 years, I know what I need to do to keep my boss happy, which doesn't always mean the same thing as keeping my employees happy. I look out for what is best for the organization and its shareholders, the reputation of executive management, and the operational budget. Most employees don't consider those things, nor do they fully understand the ramifications of implementing an idea that could jeopardize them.

KindredRanger
KindredRanger

Innovation is challenging the status quo. It's the culture of the company that determines if innovation is the mechanism for improvements or budgetary. Apple and Google are innovators and those companies care about budgets, but need to innovate at cost. A bank or IT department needs to innovate, but with in the constraints of the business. The trick to IT leadership is finding the innovations that relate to the business and increase profits and not cost savings. For example, Dave Ramsey, innovates his IT team on the web development and social spaces. But takes a strategic stance on corporate building upgrades that increase capability, but don't add significant benefit to the business.

blarman
blarman

It is hard to get a manager to buck the status quo and advocate for change. And if you don't have a manager who is willing to promote the ideas and push for them (and fund them) they are DOA. You also have to have a manager who knows enough about the technology to see why a particular change would be good. I've seen way too many IT departments run by Finance types that have no clue how to write a simple "Hello, World" program or create a table in a database that still end up in charge of the IT department. These are the quintessential sticks-in-the-mud because they don't even recognize the quicksand they are standing in.

DLeh
DLeh

Employees, even budget minded ones, go up against the money issue all the time. The boss has his budget, and spending it on an underling's idea is often met with big resistance.

Kostaghus
Kostaghus

As a rule, it's a bad thing to let a worker choose his tools. He'll always go for the most expensive and for those he wished he had but never afforded. I know that from a 30 years experience in maintenance of machinery and equipment. And it's important to always keep the perspective and understand that it's important to direct resources to "support" but the most important is having enough resources directed to the core business. Which, normally is NOT IT.

Kostaghus
Kostaghus

The boss ALWAYS wants you to "stay on target". SOMETIMES though, if you don't he'll MAKE YOU the target... And targets DO get shot at, you know?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I always though so. I miss that I haven't touched it in almost twenty years. I don't think we've had a compiler on line for four or five years.

Kostaghus
Kostaghus

... and there's a price tag on everything. Your job included! And mine too! There will always be someone to accept the requirements of "upper management" and create less of an "IT fuss". So... it should not come as a surprise they might be preferred. Especially if, as I said above, they are "get the job donners" and not "artisans of IT change" and of "business model revamping". Who the hell needs that?!?

Kostaghus
Kostaghus

The point is: if it works, why fix it?!? "Big bosses" have a lot on their hands with sales, customers, supply and distribution chains, financial issues to approach IT's desires for change. Let alone major business model revamps! This COSTS MONEY! Which, in this time and age, they either don't have or they've already tagged for the core business (IT being just support).

RMSx32767
RMSx32767

I believe too frequently IT promotes that image, convinced folk outside of IT are too daft to understand technical issues. Each tech group should have at least one or two persons capable of discussing technical issues in laymen terms. I have also had the sad experience of a boss who was not even remotely technically competent. He frequently argued, set policy that created more work, said "no problem" to technical requests he did not understand, etc. Unfortunately he was convinced the only person smarter than himself was his boss.

tbmay
tbmay

Being completely honest about it, too many IT workers don't care about anything but their little world. Lots of bad attitudes, etc. This doesn't help sell a good idea on leadership. Other times.....unfortunately.....leaders don't want ideas from their underlings at all. All good ideas MUST come from me. This even contributes to the dynamic in my first paragraph. Which came first...chicken or egg?

blarman
blarman

I haven't met too many IT workers in my 15+ years that aren't logical. They just want to know how the decision was made. If you can show them the risk analysis that says something is too risky for the time being, you can go a long ways toward maintaining respect with that person while still doing your due diligence.

sboverie
sboverie

A good Grace Hopper (helped create COBOL) quote is "You manage things, you lead people."

blarman
blarman

Management and Leadership are two different traits - one is not inclusive of the other. Managers compare a task to a list of resources and assign resources to the tasks. They may assign completion dates and they should track progress. Leadership, on the other hand, is all about vision - seeing where you want to go. The critical differentiator about leadership is how well a leader can articulate the vision to others and get them on board. But it says nothing about their capabilities to organize resources.

blarman
blarman

In most of the cases where I have seen this, the employees are at a severe disadvantage in knowing why certain decisions were made. Communication - and most importantly the lack thereof - is critical to Analytical personalities which commonly provide the bulk of IT services. In the places where I have seen a lack in faith in the IT manager, it was where the IT manager never bothered to explain why certain major decisions were made to the staff, undermining the manager's credibility and trust in the eyes of the staff. I realize that there are some things where you can't discuss details, but the simple act of having the discussion goes a long way towards establishing bridges and loyalty.

sanjoz
sanjoz

Agreed, I should have said in my experience, a leader normally has the qualities of a manger, I certainly have not experienced a leader that does not have good management skills, (not to say they don't exist), I have however, experienced many managers that are not leaders. I do hope that my note earlier differentiated between the two skill sets. Thanks for the response :)

blarman
blarman

I have met managers who are not leaders and vice-versa, and unfortunately their longevity with the company had propelled them up the corporate ladder. They are frustrating to work for: either they have to wait for the President of the company to tell them what to do (manager not leader), or they have no idea how to actually get anything done (leader not manager). What are even worse are those who aren't leaders and who pretend to be managers. They agree that something should change, but aren't willing to support any ideas of underlings. They want to retain the status quo because the idea of change is too much for them to handle or would take something out of their realm of comfort/control.

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