Does A CIO Run A Democracy?

Should a CIO allow workers to vote?
Should a CIO allow workers to vote?

Image Credit: Amy Woodward

Ah, the burdens of leadership rest heavily on your shoulders. As the person with the CIO job, it’s your responsibility to collect all of the available data, process it, and then make the best decisions that you can. With a little luck, your decisions will be the right ones most of the time based on the importance of information technology. However, maybe there’s a different way to go about doing things. In most IT departments, you are the king – what you say is what gets done. A different approach is to open things up and create more of a democracy and allow your staff to vote on key initiatives and changes. Do you think that this would make things better or more confusing?

What Should People Be Voting On?

The idea of providing workers with a say in how a company is run has been around for a long time. At firms that have a partner system, the partners get a vote when it comes time to select a new leader. At firms that have unionized workers, the workers get to vote on both pay issues and work arrangements. However, with the arrival of the Internet, as the person with the CIO job well knows it has now become much easier to collect votes from all of your workers.

Using online voting tools you can ask for workers input on just about any issue. This serves to provide workers with the feeling that they are the ones who are running their workplace. One of the biggest advantages that CIOs can realize from doing this is that giving your employees a voice in such items as holiday parties and hiring decisions causes them to feel more loyalty towards your company. There are limits to everything and even at firms that are open to a more democratic process, things like promotions and raises are still not open to a group vote.

Allowing your workers to vote on issues is generally seen as good, but there are issues that you need to be aware of. One of the biggest of these is what is called “voter fatigue”. This occurs when workers are being asked to vote on too many things too often. A task like picking the right names for a set of conference rooms can require a lot of different decisions and this can end up taking up too much of your workers time. They quickly lose interest and don’t want to participate in the voting process.

How A Democracy Changes What A CIO Does

There are firms where the question of who will be the firm’s next CIO is put up for a vote. However, it is more likely that issues such as what snacks to provide in the break room are what you are going to be asking for worker input on. As the CIO, you need to understand that once you allow your workers to start to vote on workplace issues, this is going to have an impact on how you go about doing your job.

What we are talking about here is the fact that before you allowed voting to enter into your workplace, you were in charge and everyone had to do what you told them to. This all changes once you give people the power to vote. You are going to have to find a way to become comfortable giving up some of your decision making authority. How much authority you are willing to give up depends on you. Your role is going to have to change from being a decision maker to instead being the person who provides the resources and information that your people will need in order to make their decisions.

One of the most valuable areas where allowing workers to vote can add value is when it comes to making hiring decisions. As the CIO you only have so much time to spend with each candidate and so you will always have imperfect information. If you allow a candidate to work at your firm for a while and then ask your workers to vote on whether or not you should hire the candidate. Those votes will represent both more and better information than you had.

What All Of This Means For You

As your company’s CIO, it is your job to make decisions and to tell your IT department what you want them to do. However, there is a change that is starting to sweep through IT departments. The arrival of democracy is being ushered in via the arrival of Internet based voting tools.

Allowing your workers to vote on decisions that are going to affect their workplace has the ability to cause them to feel more loyalty towards the company. You do need to be careful to not ask workers to spend too much time voting because they can start to experience what is called “voter fatigue”. As a CIO you need to adjust to this new world where you are permitting your workers to vote. You’ll need to be willing to give up some control and become more of an information provider. The real value of allowing workers to vote can be seen when you are hiring new workers. The input that you get from your staff can result in better hiring decisions.

Opening the doors to democracy in the workplace has a number of both advantages and risks. If retaining your workers is important than this can be a good thing to do. You need to make sure that it does not become a distraction that interferes with the work that needs to be getting done. Consider giving your workers a vote in how you run the workplace and you just might get reelected!

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

Question For You: How many times a week do you think that you should ask your staff to vote on an issue?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

If you’ve had the opportunity to pick up just about any IT trade journal lately you have undoubtedly seen an article or two talking about this new thing called the “Internet of things”. What the authors are talking about is the simple fact that because we are currently Internet enabling so many different devices from refrigerators to cars to washing machines, very soon the majority of users on the Internet will no longer be live humans, but rather machines talking to machines. Clearly this is going to change things, but how and what does it mean for CIOs?