Daily Archives: March 5, 2011

Executives have selective memory

Senior managers of your company often have what you might call “selective memory“. In other words, they remember what they want to remember.

This can be a real problem if you aren’t careful. You have to manage their expectations and if they expect something to happen that won’t, , , your performance will be graded less than satisfactory.

Let me give you an example:

I joined a company as their new CIO. This company was in poor shape and needed to be turned around, , , in all areas of the company, not just in IT.

In the IT area, we were spending 7.2% of revenue in an industry where my CEO and I both knew we should spend somewhere between 2-3 % in a normal situation. After conducting my assessment, I gave him a recommendation that would cause us to spend over 9%, , , maybe as much as 10% of revenue for a period of 4 to 6 months.

The reason was to fix some serious IT issues and to position us to acquire  other companies, , , quickly. For us to acquire other companies meant we needed to be prepared to assimilate these companies into our own. If your IT organization isn’t working well, , , it’s going to slow you down and become a ball and chain around your neck, , , a very challenging issue.

Spending more money in the short run is not exactly what your CEO wants to hear. And guess what, , , he is quite likely going to want to forget some of what you say as time goes by.

In the meeting, I told him what we needed to do and what the cost should look like, , , and it meant IT expenses would increase a bit for a period of time. Once we stabilized some things and began to come out of the “turnaround” phase, IT expense as a percentage of revenue was expected to fall to a 2-3% of revenue level over time, , , where a normal IT operation should be in this industry.

I drew him a picture of what to expect and named it the “Bubble Effect”.

I wanted this image etched into his memory banks. You see, even though he heard what was going to happen, agreed to it, even supported my recommendation, , , it’s painful when he starts seeing the Profit and Loss Statement (P&L Reports) every month with more and more IT expenses.

Truly painful.

Before long, he might even forget the initiative we started to get the IT situation turned around quickly. All he will think is that “IT appears to be out of control, , , we are simply spending too much.”

Realizing senior managers can have selective memory, I managed to find a way to show my CEO this Bubble Effect graph just before he received his monthly P&L Reports, , , and I did this for three straight months. The third time he told me, “I know you are reminding me and understand why you are spending more money, , , but let’s hurry up and get this thing done so we can move forward.”

Sometimes a senior manager chooses to have selective memory, , , other times they genuinely forget things that were said or agreed to. It’s good practice to document commitments and find an easy way to remind your senior managers in situations of importance, , , it will save you the trouble of explaining yourself all over again.