Sunday, February 27, 2011

Learning from Peers

Last week I attended CUCCIO, which is the world's worst acronym (sounds like an Italian dessert). It actually stands for the Canadian University Council of CIOs and it is essentially a meeting of university Chief Information Officers from across Canada.

I find this meeting of peers useful on many levels. We all have similar roles in similar organizations so we have similar problems. The single most obvious benefit of these meetings is learning how others solve common challenges. We share processes, ideas, and even software. Problems are always much easier to solve when you hear how someone else fixed the same issue.

A less obvious but equally important benefit is the feeling that you are not alone. When others share common challenges you can commiserate. We're all empathetic to each others' situations. Although one might think of the cliché "misery loves company," I don't think it really captures the flavour of these meetings. Despite the challenges there is a prevailing feeling of optimism. With such a large support group you can't help but feel that collectively no matter what the problem, you can solve it.

Ultimately, these meeting are like comfort food for a manager's soul. We inevitably are all re-assured that we are not alone. Other folks have similar management challenges and opportunities. However, I'm not advocating a pack mentality because we could all end up making the same mistake. We need to disagree, challenge, cajole, and be intensely critical of each other. Out of disputes arise better ideas and faster solutions.

I may not go to a meeting of peers with all the solutions. But the discussions, camaraderie, and sharing removes irrational pressures that we sometimes feel when we are moving into uncharted territory. And I always emerge with new ideas and a renewed confidence born from being challenged and being challenging.


Friday, February 11, 2011

'The Best'

For the past few years the vision of the department I manage is to be the best Canadian university information systems department. Simple, clear, and ambitious. It is a vision that sets the bar high.

When we first published this vision, feedback was positive. But we consistently heard one concern: how do you measure 'the best'. There are some basic metrics we use. Examples include external rankings for specific areas of our business, awards from appropriate groups, and benchmarks against similar organizations.

These metrics are useful in charting progress, however none of them will ever conclusively indicate our ranking in our business. Individually and collectively, none of them will ever prove we are 'the best'. And I'm quite happy with that.

If we ever officially became the 'the best', then bad behaviors would begin to creep into our culture. We would become complacent, over confident, and we would lose our desire to continuously improve.  The goal of a lofty vision is that it is always just slightly out of reach. A goal just beyond your fingertips is an eternal incentive. In our case it is an incentive to continuously get better all the time.

I don't really want to be 'the best', but I do want to always be trying to be 'the best'.