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Forrester: No room for cowboy culture in IT

Just like Toby Keith, I should have been a cowboy.

Alas, I went into journalism and never did get the hang of a lasso. If you’re in IT, a new Forrester report says, you should let those cattle drive dreams go as well.

It turns out the cowboy culture is just about the most destructive way a CIO can run an IT shop. The result, Forrester vice president and principal analyst Marc Cecere says, is complete chaos. On the other end of the culture spectrum is a completely IT-centric shop. An isolationist policy that separates IT from the business can lead to over-control and is just as bad as playing Lonesome Dove.

Forrester is urging CIOs to aim somewhere in the middle. Be autonomous without being isolationist, the analysts say. Pay attention to metrics — but not so much that you take the rational thinking element out of IT.

In short: Stop, think.

Culture is important. There are some things money can’t buy, and a comfortable work environment that emphasizes positive, forward thinking is one of them.

So stop, think. Assess whether your employees are happy, whether IT culture in your company jibes properly with other business units. Is the culture in your IT shop promoting the business or is it keeping things status quo? Worse, is it hindering the business?

Should you need an IT attitude adjustment, here are Cecere’s 10 steps:

Consider the context: Determine why you need a culture change. Try to determine what culture will benefit the company overall.

Ask and listen: Talk with your staff and the people who depend on IT. Hold informal conversations or run a survey. Town hall-style meetings might work as well.

Define and demonstrate values: Figure out what values have led to company success, especially if working after a merger.

Define your priorities: Be realistic. You can’t do everything. Determine what positive cultural aspects you want to focus on.

Set a direction to align with values: This one is simple. Take the above values and priorities and get to work.

Match information flow to the desired culture: Target your communication and be sure communication is happening. Determine your audience and message. One CIO told Forrester “If you know information, pass it on.”

Fix metrics and rewards to match direction: This one could take a while but should pay off in the end.

Train your (new) leaders to lead: Forget middle managers. Redefine your staff members as leaders and train them to fulfill that title.

Redefine roles and then reinforce with structure: The most anti-cowboy suggestion here. Determine how your staff members serve the business and make them specialists where possible and necessary.

Underpin – but don’t start – with technology: New technologies – especially collaborative ones – are great. But don’t just use them. Use them to an advantage.

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