What CIOs Can Learn From GM About Eliminating Red Tape

by drjim on November 2, 2011

CIOs Can Learn A Lot From A Car Company That Is Back From The Dead

CIOs Can Learn A Lot From A Car Company That Is Back From The Dead

If there is one thing that CIOs hate it’s red tape – bureaucratic roadblocks that keep the IT department from doing what it is supposed to be doing. The very definition of information technology is that it moves fast and adapts to dynamic situations – exactly what a company’s bureaucratic processes and barriers to success seem to be designed to prevent. What CIOs need is a good role model for how to make this problem go away, it turns out that an American car company may be just the one to provide this…

A Little Bit Of History About General Motors…

General Motors is a really, really big company. General Motors is the world’s largest manufacture of cars – Toyota is a close #2, but GM is still #1. Just like with every other large company, over the years red tape as crept into GM processes and this is now a significant problem.

Today GM has what others have called a “plodding culture”. This was never a good thing, but as a result of the recent global financial crisis it is something that can no longer be tolerated. When the financial crisis hit, GM was forced into bankruptcy. Only now are they starting to emerge from that financial situation. This means that they need to start and deliver on a host of new projects.

Although as CIO your firm may not have recently been in bankruptcy, your IT department and the IT sector as a whole certainly has been on hold for the last 1-2 years due to economic issues. Just like at GM, as we all start to get back to competing with the rest of the world, it is the CIO’s responsibility to remove bureaucratic roadblocks and eliminate any lumbering processes that may be in place.

How GM Is Getting Rid Of Its Red Tape

If we can all agree that this is what needs to be done, then it all comes back to the million-dollar question: what do we need to do to make it happen? The good news for CIOs is that there is no magic involved, the bad news is that it just takes good old-fashioned hard work.

Ultimately what red tape does in any company is to slow things down and prevent new ideas from making it from the front lines where they are born to the upper levels of management where they can be implemented. Despite the importance of information technology, the IT department can face red tape issues just like the rest of the company.

Over at GM what they are doing to eliminate their red tape problem is to put the right managers into the right roles. It’s important that the people that the CIO selects for these types of jobs not be afraid to speak their minds – this is how the existing red tape can be overcome.

These “change agents” within the IT department will have to do what is being done over at GM: go out and be among the front line workers. There will always be too many workers and too few change agents so what the change agents need to do is to act as cheerleaders for the IT workers. They need to encourage them to speak up and overcome the red tape that may be holding them back.

This involves making sure that when a worker identifies a new idea that they speak up and make sure that it gets brought to the attention of senior management. Likewise, when a project clearly becomes obsolete or will no longer serve its original purpose, IT department workers need to be encouraged to speak up and let others know that money, time, and effort is being wasted.

What All Of This Means For You

General Motors is a huge company with a long and checkered history – they’ve done some great stuff, but they’ve also made a lot of mistakes. We who work in the IT sector need to take the time to learn from them how they are working to eliminate the red tape that they have in their organization.

GM has all of the same problems that our companies have. Great ideas at the lower levels in the company have a hard time finding their way up to the decision makers who could decide to implement them. GM has a history of spending time and effort on projects that everyone knew would never see the light of day and they kept doing so because nobody spoke up.

In order to cut through all of their red tape, GM has placed change agents in charge of their new projects. These people have been given the assignment to create new projects that will get GM back on track. These “red tape cutters” are teaching the GM staff how to get their ideas through the red tape so that they can be considered and potentially cause changes to be made.

CIOs need to learn from the work that GM is doing. The importance of information technology is so great for companies that it’s the job of the CIO to make sure that nothing, including red tape, stands in the way of your next IT project.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that CIOs should pick certain people to focus on eliminating red tape?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

In the classic Hollywood movie “All The President’s Men”, the heroes who are trying to unravel the web of corruption are told that they will be able to put the pieces together if they “… follow the money…”. It turns out that even though today’s CIOs are not trying to solve a crime, if they want their career to take off, they would do well to follow this same advice.

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