Mark McDonald

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Mark P. McDonald
GVP EXP
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

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2013 is the first day of the rest of the year, and the last time to account for the past.

by Mark P. McDonald  |  January 7, 2013  |  1 Comment

Today is the first full working day of the first full working week of 2013.  It’s a time when ‘everything old is new again’. New in the context that it’s a new year, new budget, new beginning.  I believe that an organization’s ability to renew itself, give it a fresh start and move forward is one of the move valuable aspects of a healthy corporate culture.

Organizations that dwell on the past, fixate on what could have happened, or constantly try to fix what happened last year find themselves at a cultural disadvantage.  Too often such living in the past exists in organizations and functions within organizations most in need of change.  You see this in the nature of government regulation and oversight, the cultural hubris of once great firms and the reluctance of leaders and managers to try new things, if of no other reason than the old things did not work out so well.

2013 can easily be a year where CIOs and IT leaders live in the past, concentrate on what others are doing to them, readily recall opportunities denied and feel that the future is outside of their control.  After all IT has muddled through a decade of devaluation, a desert of innovation and a multi-year mantra of doing more with less.

Digital marketing, mobility, apps, analytics, consumerization all drive the popular IT press to push IT over the edge and question its relevance.  While IT pundits are easy to criticize IT, the answers they offer are too often the same old stuff – alignment, governance, relationship building, etc.  Old answers to new questions are rarely satisfactory.  That is the reason this blog started a discussion based on “Are we asking the right questions concerning the future of IT?”  Please follow the link and contribute to the discussion of these questions.

Moving from questions to actions

Asking tough questions is critical to confronting reality and creating actions that move the organization forward.  Defining these actions provides a roadmap for a fresh start we all need to create change rather than to repeat past realities.

Starting fresh does not mean starting blind, in fact carrying the lessons learned from the past into the future not only raises performance but also refines organizational capabilities.   Jotting down what worked, why it worked and what did not and why not is a start.  The result is an Experience Ledger, shown in the figure below, capturing as clearly as possible the prior year.

Notice I said an experience ledger not achievements ledger, because the goal is to tally up what you have learned rather than limiting yourself to those things

Take this ledger into your next IT leadership meeting.  Give yourself at least a half an hour, which will likely turn into an hour to list out and complete the ledger by:

  • Encouraging contributions on both sides, there are things that did not work out.  That is ok provided they are not repeated in the future.
  • Offering support for those willing to come forward and admit the things that did not work out.
  • Don’t assign blame or try to diagnose causality that creates division rather than recognizes reality in order to move forward.
  • Allow things to appear on both sides as sometimes a failure leads to an even bigger success.
  • Adopt multiple views regarding the experiences, put on customer, business peer, IT staff, IT management, CXO, outsourcer and other hats to capture as broad an experience base as possible.
  • Going back to your 2012 plans and commitments, the business cases and decisions to see if you and others really did what they said they were going to do.

Now take a look at the ledger.  A strong ledger reflects entries on both sides.  A ledger that shows only success is a lie.  Sorry to be so blunt.  A ledger reflecting only failure is also a lie.   A ledger with rich experiences on both sides reflects a healthy organization; one where it is better to have 24 wins and 7 loses than to have a perfect record.

An experience ledger becomes a form of reflective reciprocity, a common grounding point that recognizes and honors the past in order to create a desire to more forward into the future.  An honest and unvarnished view of what has happened invigorates an organization proving that leadership is truly leading rather than administering your group.

Now that you have accounted for the past, it is time to take action and form the future.  Keep the ledger handy and use it as input to these plans to avoid repeating past mistakes and to push beyond past successes.  Growth requires getting out there and occasionally finding dead ends, small failures or limited success.  Each is a valuable experience, so long as the organization learns and uses this learning to move onward.

What about repeating past success?  Well that is a strategy for action, but one that is more likely to make this year much like the last and the year before that, etc.  Building on past strengths only works when those strengths expand the organization’s capability, culture and capacity.  Otherwise, building on the past results creates an organization with 20 years of experience based on re-experiencing the same year over and over again.   What a waste of time.

So today is the first day of the rest of 2013 and as the first day its time to account for the past so you can take action in the future.  Actions that lead to new experiences, learning and value rather than recounting the glorious past or recriminating each other for what did not happen.

Having an experience ledger sets the stage for an enlightened strategy, a clean slate based on reality and a growing organization.  It’s a little exercise to close the books on 2012 and get ready for 2013.

All the best for the New Year.

1 Comment »

Category: 2013 Leadership Management Tough Questions     Tags: , , , , , ,

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Ramamoorthy,   January 7, 2013 at 9:25 am

    Very perfectly written about the year that ended and the year that is just born. The birth of a new year is, after all, stock taking and striking a balance as to find out where we or the firm stands at the end of the year. There are so many things revealing in the balance sheet.

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