Pet peeves: 5 phrases IT leaders hate

Before you ask "Is that funded?" - review our list of phrases CIOs wish people would stop saying
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In the world of IT, certain terms and phrases have the power to elicit strong reactions from the people who hear them. If you don’t believe me, try shouting the words “business and IT alignment,” “shadow IT,” or “keeping the lights on” into a roomful of CIOs. While all three have been widely used and meaningful at one point in time, nowadays, most CIOs would groan, laugh, or quickly change the subject if they heard these phrases.

[ What really bugs IT leaders on LinkedIn? Mind your manners: Read 6 LinkedIn etiquette mistakes IT leaders hate. ]

Some phrases, however, prove more personal. These are the things that CIOs hear often throughout their work day that, while seemingly innocent, just get under their skin. We asked five CIOs to share their personal pet peeve phrase in IT – and why it makes them cringe. If you work with CIOs, listen up.

“Is that funded?”

Pam Parisian, CIO, AT&T: “I’m committed to eradicating ‘Is that funded?’ as a standard response to business ideas. That mindset is a symptom of the traditional approach to project funding, and it stifles innovation and momentum. We’ve started to fund value streams rather than projects within my organization. So instead of making a business case for funding at each incremental step of a project, our Scaled Agile teams have the latitude to solve problems and meet metrics within financial guardrails. We set goals based on business outcomes – increasing accessory attach rates or decreasing customer churn, for instance – and allocate a fixed budget for a specific period of time. 

This empowers our technology and business experts to move faster, more efficiently, and produce better results. They can ideate, iterate, fail fast, and find a solution. Typical project funding is hard to forecast and requires multiple budget approvals to complete a single project. Decentralizing budgetary decisions by moving them closer to solutions enables rapid decision-making to fund initiatives that deliver the most value based on roadmaps and backlog. It gives teams fiduciary responsibility to make progress toward achieving results rather than merely tracking project scope. It also reduces overhead. 

We’re planning to increase this approach to funding next year based on the results we’re achieving.”

“IT is a support organization”

Greg Ericson, CIO, Essilor: “My private pet peeve phrase is the phrase ‘IT is a support organization.’ IT uniquely supports all executive board members and it is a key aspect of what we do. However, from a leadership perspective, we bring a business lens on what’s possible, a perspective to shape solutions that delight our customers and consumers."

“We already tried that”

Don Anderson, CIO, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston: "A big pet peeve of mine is when someone brings up an incident that happened 10, 15, even 20 years ago as an excuse for why we shouldn’t try something in IT. They’ll say, 'We already tried it, and it failed.' I’ll usually counter with the argument that 20 years ago, 85 percent of my IT organization were kids or not yet even born. It’s not a valid excuse to not try again."

“Call us if you need us”

Pamela Arora, CIO, Children's Health: “If I had to pick one, I’d say my biggest pet peeve is a ‘call us if you need us’ mentality. In my view, IT professionals, leaders, and IT tools are there to support. I believe we should take a proactive approach by asking what the organization needs, how we can help, and then working to provide the tools needed to deliver on the organization’s mission and goals. 

I often talk about the ‘path to the patient.’ In many cases, people may not see how technology contributes to patient care, but we can show a direct path to the patient impact through the use of technology, and that’s one of the things I’m most proud of as a CIO and leader at Children’s Health.” 

“That’s a good question”

Mike Kelly, CIO, Red Hat: “One of my biggest pet peeves is when I ask a question and the immediate reply is, ‘That’s a really good question.’  Then my inner voice says, ‘Of course it is – I try not to ask bad ones!’ 

In IT specifically, I just hate long-winded answers. To quote the great Mark Twain, ‘If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter.’  I appreciate precision and brevity more than anything."

[  IT leaders, do you want to give your team a greater sense of urgency? Get our free resource: Fast Start Guide: Creating a sense of urgency, with John Kotter. ]

Carla Rudder is a community manager and program manager for The Enterprisers Project. She enjoys bringing new authors into the community and helping them craft articles that showcase their voice and deliver novel, actionable insights for readers.  

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