Yes – I can connect the unlikely subjects in this blog’s title.  But bear with me a few sentences to set the context.

I recently posted on my time in Portland, Oregon, and my love for the city.  I also mentioned the anomalous ‘street people’ scene.  Portland is so squeaky clean and seemingly well-run, and yet it seems to tolerate a thriving street person scene – some bordering on aggressive pan handling.  I personally never felt threatened by this, but it was strange that these misfits are so tolerated.

From Portand’s Streets…

A recent Portland Tribune front page article asked, “Would Rudy Giuliani Put Up With This?” under a picture of a lavishly tattooed street person sitting in front of a rather blunt epithet I won’t quote on this blog.  The article recounted the history behind the remarkable street and crime clean-up that took place under Rudy’s watch.  The article said:

Then, in 1994, Police Chief William Bratton and Mayor Rudy Giuliani, within a matter of months instituted Draconian measures that changed the (New York) street culture in ways that remain in place today.”

The article goes on to recount:

Bratton, who initially led the transit police, first cracked down on subway turnstile jumpers and panhandlers – arresting them.  In the process, they found that many of those arrested had outstanding warrants for more serious crimes.  Making quality-of-life arrests on the subway reversed the momentum of declining ridership… and created a momentum that allowed law-abiding New Yorkers to reclaim public transportation.”

…to IT Meetings

So, what’s the connection to well-managed IT organizations?  I’ve noticed over years of consulting that well-run IT organizations pay attention to the apparently small things – such as the discipline around scheduling and running meetings.  Meetings start and end on time, have pre-published agendas, published results, with action items and assignments.  They make sure meetings are necessary and productive, and that the right people (and only, the right people) are there.

Yes, I know we all tend to complain about “too many meetings.”  But the reality is, for knowledge workers (yes, that’s us) meetings are an important part of our work.

IT Leaders Model the Culture They Want

IT cultures are set from the top.  When the CIO and the IT leadership team pay attention to meeting discipline – modeling excellent behaviors, and calling out sloppy meeting behaviors – just like turnstile jumping, people pay attention, discipline increases, and everyone benefits.  On the other hand, when turnstile jumpers are tolerated – i.e., sloppy meetings are taken as ok, then discipline around all sorts of behaviors degrades, and IT performance drops.  I guess there’s an analogy with ‘quality of life crime.’  Being late for a meeting is not a ‘crime’.  But in terms of its impact on organizational cohesion and performance, it’s a ‘quality of organizational life crime.’  So is a lack of clear roles and accountabilities.  So is an ‘entitlement culture’ where poor performers are tolerated.

Like a well-run ship (sorry, too many analogies here!) a well run IT organization is disciplined at the most fundamental level.  It’s a manifestation of mutual respect and collective accountability.  When I turn up late for a meeting at which I’m needed and expected, I am disrespecting my colleagues.  The ones that show up at the appointed time sit there twiddling their thumbs.  It’s as if the message I want to send is, “My time is so valuable I couldn’t be here on time – and all your time is so worthless, it’s no problem if y’all sit there waiting for me.”

And, of course, late meetings beget late meetings – these things escalate.  I’m always bemused and angered when a plane is late “Due to a late arrival of the inbound flight” like that’s a valid excuse.  As an Atlantan, most of my flying over the years has been on Delta.  Each time they announce this excuse, it’s as if they are denying any culpability in the late flight.  “It wasn’t our fault – it was the damn inbound flight you should blame!”  Or, “The ground crew is not all here yet!”  So, I wonder, who was responsible for the late inbound flight?  Yep – Delta!

Enough ranting.  You get the point.  If you want to do a ‘quick and dirty’ IT Capability Maturity assessment, look no further than at how well you run IT meetings – including starting and ending on time.  As goes the meeting discipline, so goes the IT capability performance – and the credibility you have with and value perceived by your business partners!

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