The French Approach to IT Management

On interviewing Roy French for this month’s cover story (IT makes a house call), I was struck by his willingness to put himself in the shoes of his users, accompanying Saint Elizabeth Health Care’s dedicated home-care nurses on their rounds in both urban and rural environments.

As Roy put it, these folks are at the ‘sharp end’ of health care, providing chemotherapy to cancer victims in their homes, giving palliative care to dying AIDS patients, and assisting countless others through all manner of physical infirmities. Our hats are off to these amazing individuals, and a tip of the cap to Roy for walking a few miles in their shoes, getting a feel for what their pain points are, and putting his CIO skills to work to make their life a little easier.

Not all groups of users have the specialized IT needs of Saint Elizabeth’s nurses, but all such groups are unique to some degree, and CIOs would do well to take a page from Roy’s book and find out what life is like in the trenches. There’s no better way to connect with users and find out just how well IT is serving them than by walking around and spending a little time with them.

Lots of CIOs are doing this already, but plenty of them aren’t. So let me ask you a question: when was the last time you made a house call on your users? If it’s been more than a year, you’ll be pretty much a stranger to them by now. And there’ll be a lot of people who’ve moved into the neighbourhood that know you only as the dude in the white tower.

Of course ‘management by walking around’ isn’t a new concept. Sam Walton was probably its most famous practitioner, and his business did pretty well. But for all the lip service people have paid it over the years, it is still a greatly underutilized management tool. Why is that the case? To my mind, it’s because many executives simply aren’t comfortable rubbing elbows with the proletariat. Not that they don’t respect them, it’s just that they have a hard time relating to them.

For those of you in this category, you might take another page from Roy French’s IT management book. A few years back, when he was CIO of Aventis Pasteur, he told me he had found a good way of easing stress among the various members of his multi-cultural IT team. It involved pizza, wings, Guinness and Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey.

That’s one way of getting to know your users better. There are plenty of others.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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