Grinding

First thing yesterday morning I was called into the CFO’s office. Shut the door he said as I entered. I sat down and he began to tell me of a conversation he’d had with the CEO the day before.

What’s your opinion of the IT department the CEO had asked. As the CFO cautiously began his answer the CEO jumped in expressing his opinion that one, they were pretty shithouse, and two, most of it was because of the IT Manager and his offside.

None of this was news really. There has long been discontent with the management of the IT department. The CFO certainly shared that view, and I for one have believed that for about 4 months now. I had come to the point where I believed there was other solution but to rebuild. Any patchwork solution was only prolonging the inevitable. And in actual fact the IT manager had very nearly lost his job a month ago, only to receive a last minute reprieve. Now that reprieve had expired.

The CFO told me that it had been decided to sack the two top IT men. He asked my opinion of the likely ramifications. I was a little shocked at the abrupt nature of this, but in principle supported it. I was asked about the interim management of the department: did I have any ideas? It was a loaded question, but I played it with a straight bat. I suggested the previous IT manager could step in temporarily. I was told that was not an option. I told him I didn’t see any other candidates internally. The CFO then told me that the CEO had suggested I could act in that role. I was unsurprised.

I deal a lot with IT, and have been very dissatisfied with the service. I have been vocal in some of my criticisms and active in proposing solutions. Because of my role I am an obvious candidate for the role, though I don’t have the technical background, and it is a step down from my present position.

I was asked if I would be willing to take it on. I found myself being enthused by the challenge. This could be the poison chalice. IT is dysfunctional, it barely manages the support function, is poorly regarded throughout the business, and suffers from bad morale. All this spells opportunity – it’s not necessarily easy, but when things are so bad you can sometimes put some quick runs on the board by getting some basic things right. As it happens I have a few ideas to enhance the function and to give something back to the business.

I accepted with a nod of the head. For 3 months maybe, or until they manage to engage a replacement IT manager, I would be it. I would be doing this in addition to my current role. I’ll be busy but it suits me fine. It’s not something I want to do forever – I’m happier making my mark, turning things around, and moving on.

All this was between the two of us.

In the afternoon I had a scheduled meeting with the IT Manager. Our relationship has been fraught. I think he is incompetent and unimaginative. On a personal level I mistrust him – he is sneaky and two-faced. He plays politics, but badly, and in many ways has been his own worst enemy. On his part I think he has felt threatened by me. I’ve been the one to ask the difficult questions, to the point he sought to avoid me altogether. I shrugged this off for a while, and was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt – prove me wrong. Then it got to the ridiculous, almost juvenile stage where I felt I had to do something.

About 2 months I suggested we catch up for a man-to-man chat over a cup of coffee. In that meeting I explained to him that it was in his power to make things good. I told him my ultimate concern was the smooth running of the business. I said to him that it would be a lot easier if he chose to work with me than against me. I then gave him some advice and offered some solutions to some of the problems they faced. I suggested that I could provide the leverage needed to get some initiatives over the line. All throughout I was measured and calm. He listened meekly and at the end of it thanked me. That was that.

He had called yesterday’s meeting, I had no idea what it was about. Once more we caught up outside the office at a café. We sat down and he asked for my advice. They were under the pump he said, IT was being blamed for all sorts of things and he felt their relationship with the business was in poor shape. He brought up some specific examples. What should I do?

I felt very strange. I think he is a bit of a buffoon, but I felt sad for him. He’s a human being ultimately, he has a family, he is vulnerable. This is the sad reality. I wished I could have been somewhere else, but that was not possible. Instead I answered his questions as honestly as I could, knowing that soon he was for the chopping block. I made suggestions, proposed some solutions, in fact gave him some of my playbook for when I’m in that seat. He thanked me profusely and once more I nodded my head, that’s ok. That was that.

This is how the wheel turns. On a purely professional level the machine grinds on. It is impartial and insensitive. It has one goal, one aim, and sometimes there are victims of that. It’s harsh but necessary.

On the personal level though it is much different. I don’t like the man, I don’t trust him and have little respect for him – but I can’t help but acknowledge his humanity. He has family after all, people he loves and who love him regardless of his competence. Though we are very different I know what it is to be vulnerable and afraid – we all do, we all share that.

I felt pretty ordinary going through the charade yesterday, but it had to be done. The right decision has been made, now to go on.

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