How Behavior Can Get in the Way of Management

By Donald Sears  |  Posted 2009-05-28 Print this article Print

There's an old saying: "Fish stinks from the head."

Nowhere does this mean more than in business where companies rely on leadership to captain the ship. But how often do our business and technology leaders look at themselves in the mirror, or better yet, let their teams evaluate them from the perspective of how their behavior affects the functioning of the organization?

CIO Insight has a very thought-provoking article on IT management behavior. The article is based on a study commissioned by the Bay area-based consulting firm Neochange.

The study, which hasn't been published yet, breaks management behavior down into profiles in ranges spanning from the most positive (called "best self") to the most negative (known as "shadow") with other profiles in between. These profiles seek to identify the conscious and unconscious behavior traits of managers and leaders, with a goal of showing companies how they can improve working with each other.

The reason this is interesting is because it's one of these studies where IT teams get to evaluate their leaders honestly and get into some serious psychological profiles that should educate leaders on how they are perceived, and how other groups react to working with a variety of personalities. The study identifies "unconscious motivators" into eight different categories. Take a look at this from the CIOI article and the effect of "shadow" behavior:

Unconscious Motivator No. 1 is all about "doing it right" and continuously improving. That's a noble, lofty goal, but it's largely at odds with ever-changing business priorities and demands, uncertain or conflicting business strategies, and a rise in short-term business focus that rewards speed over quality... this Unconscious Motivator is triggered when mired in legacy system quicksand that limits speed and capability or when other business units criticize or dictate the terms of IT responsiveness--or simply go around the IT shop to get what they want...

When such triggers are increasing and powerful, we can expect IT leaders to be pushed into increasingly higher-intensity Shadow behavior over time. Unfortunately, since Shadow behavior begets Shadow responses, the cycle becomes self-sustaining and detrimental to an organization's performance. The instinctive IT leadership response to being triggered is to become closed, inflexible and defensive--the opposite of what is needed to engender partnerships. And IT management is likely to direct Shadow behavior back into IT, potentially becoming aggressive and blaming of IT peers and resources.

I imagine these profiles could be used for almost any corporate department, but it has a lot of resonance in IT given the high propensity of IT project failure, the need of IT to service the business departments that revenue is derived from and the consistent challenge of companies trying to drive cost out of IT while still launching innovative products (much if which will be managed and run by IT systems and IT personalities).

Taking a step back and identifying what isn't working is not always about the lack of resources or ridiculous expectations, it can very much be about the human element. More from the article:

[I]nternal business dynamics too frequently degenerate into reactive environments and vicious cycles of Shadow behavior arising from a clash of Unconscious Motivators and unchecked triggers. The impacts of behavior on IT-business relationships and results are very real, and more predictable than most IT leaders realize.

How many of your IT managers, CIOs, CTOs and CEOs are operating in shadow mode and how dark is that shadow? |

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