What is “professional intimacy”? In its simplest form,
professional intimacy is understanding all of the different competencies and knowledge that define productivity in IT — whether it’s an individual doing his job,
a team of folks, or the intimate understanding of a
manager about the team and how to make it work well.
You’ve talked about “industrial baggage” in IT and
how most IT organizations run on an approach inher-
ited from a bygone era. How do you think IT should
run? The better approach is to actually understand
that it is teams of people with intimate knowledge
in many areas working together that end up creating
value. “Industrial baggage” refers to what used to
matter most — investment in capital equipment and
the processes of the efficiency movement à la Freder-
ick Taylor. Back then, people were incidental. Now,
we’re 65 years into the information economy. What
is most expensive is not the capital equipment, but
innovation. People didn’t invent anything while they
were under stress.
How does this work at Guardian? Guardian runs
consistently in the 90s — usually 94% on time, on
budget [with IT projects], and we have a very tough,
aggressive development agenda. What we’ve created
is an environment I call a collaborative social system.
We build all the core competencies that people need
to do their jobs. We hire good talent, and we make
sure the cohesive environment is one where people
can absolutely excel. That’s the recipe for great IT.
Where do you start? You’ve got to make collaboration
an absolutely core value and a core competency of
the organization. There will be people who do not fit
into the social or work environment you’re creating. I
call them socially corrosive individuals. A team-based
environment with a high degree of socialization is
not suitable for them. You can either design a role for
them or they find someplace else to go work.
It drives me crazy that we spend all day monitoring a $5,000
server, but we have people with 10 years’ experience making $150,000
to $200,000 a year. Are they operating optimally? Does anyone
care? I do. I want them operating at their absolute peak.
the people themselves. The better approach has got to
be an unrelenting focus on people and how to make
Peter Drucker says we must do for knowledge work
what we did for manual work in the 20th century.
I came to understand this having done many IT
Tell me more about that. The most fundamental and
missing ingredient was trust. There was a breakdown
in the social cohesion of the group. Instead of focusing on mistakes, you’ve got to focus on the message
that mistakes are OK, but repeated mistakes are not.
The challenge is how to create an environment
where people are relaxed and trusting.
And how does a lack of trust manifest in IT departments? It manifests in very low rates of IT project
success. Gartner just came out with I T metrics data
from 2010. In the insurance industry, 52% of IT projects are completed on time and 54% are completed
on budget. If you create an environment where you
remove the stressors and where people can relax, you
enhance the degree of cohesion among the team so
they’re freed up to do cognitive work. It’s then that
you get a high degree of delivery. People who are incredibly relaxed get into flow and create an incredible
amount. That’s where the breakthroughs over time
have come from. I think this is absolutely linked to
How do you identify these people? I ask people to
tell me about the last three times they had a conflict
and what they did about it. People are very revealing.
I ask them what they think are the underpinnings
of success in IT. The right people are those who
understand that you need collaboration, mutual trust
and acceptance for others’ ideas and opinions. That
said, I don’t always hire perfectly, because it’s a bit of
an art. But most people want to work in an environment that’s collaborative, because people are social
animals. At their essence, humans do know how to
combine into groups. Most people want to be in an
environment that’s trust-based. It’s a very healthy
And then what, after you hire socially oriented
talent? You have to have an organizational design
that very much encourages or creates an environment
where there is a high degree of collaboration and
teamwork. At Guardian, we have IT embedded in the
business. They’re collaborating in two directions. The
business sees them as on their team, not as IT. They
see the stuff that [IT] people are working on as their
business. At the same time, we have cross-functional
collaboration, so IT is vertically collaborating with
business partners but also collaborating across IT.
Organizational design is incredibly important.