As a new manager, I was not at all prepared for what happened when September rolled around. Our boss, who had three managers between him and Mr. Ivory Tower, came by to ask for our goals for the next year. Our team's project work was sporadic and secondary to our assigned job description, so I assumed our goals would be simply to "fix production problems ASAP." Instead, I was told our team's goals should speak to the project work.
Trying to make something concrete out of this vague guideline, I asked my boss if I could see his goals and/or the goals senior management had set for the coming year. I was told -- seriously! -- that our manager and other managers on up the food chain all the way to Mr. Ivory Tower would review unit-level goals, then determine the IT organization's goals. We were in store for bottom-up management instead of top-down direction.
I could hardly believe my ears, although in retrospect Mr. Ivory Tower probably had no idea what direction to set for IT. In light of this edict, I had to make up stuff based on what I considered to be promising projects our team could pursue. Then the higher-level managers cherry-picked the best-sounding items from all of the unit-level managers to come up with what they considered to be relevant goals for the IT departments.
The silver lining
The goals process was certainly less than ideal, but I can happily say in my decades-long IT career our team was able to implement enterprise-wide projects rejected as unfeasible by the larger development teams.
One project automated budget planning for all of IT. We had been the first team to use VisiCalc (anyone remember that Excel ancestor?) on a PC for salary planning. The enterprise-wide project leveraged that idea into a mainframe-based system for budgeting everything -- not just salaries.
The automation of the unit roll-ups into departmental budgets prompted Mr. Ivory Tower to request many more tweaks and reiterations of IT budget projections. As a result, we may have finally convinced a non-IT manager that IT projects could truly add value to the business.
But I was so glad when Mr. Ivory Tower retired and the bank hired an actual "CIO in all but name." He was a very capable manager with an IT background; someone who (finally) provided top-down direction. Goals finally started to make sense!
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This story, "Meet Mr. Ivory Tower and the upside-down management chain," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more crazy-but-true stories in the anonymous Off the Record blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.