May 14, 2014
I remember reading somewhere that the average CIO’s tenure was only 1.5 years. This isn’t exactly a long time for someone to enjoy their time in the sun and, if that figure is true, then I guess sun time for the average corporate IT visionary is about as pleasurable as it is for an ant under a magnifying glass. Think about it. If your time on a job has to include a decimal point then people must start hating you sometime between new employee orientation and your first trip to the rest room. Although I’m not sure why someone would take a job that has less job security than a hazardous waste handler or bomb squad member, I think that most CIO’s are nice people—I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I’ve missed everyone of them that I’ve worked with, but I do have a little trouble remembering all their names—and that it’s probably time for companies to find some new senior executive to kick around. Bearing that in mind, imagine my surprise when I heard the news that the folks who run Target feel the exact same way.
For those of you who don’t remember, the note that 10 million Target Yuletide shoppers received in January wasn’t to tell them about their exciting after Christmas sales, but rather, to inform them that their credit card information had been lost due one of the largest cyber attacks in history. Naturally, since no one likes to open up their next credit card statement to find that they’ve purchased someone in Paducah a new 52” flat screen, folks were a little upset—and wishing they’d shopped at Walmart. In response, Target requested that CEO Gregg Steinhafel officially declare his intention to “Pursue other business opportunities” in writing. Yeah, they’d already fired the CIO—c’mon I’m as sympathetic as the next guy, but having your system hacked to the tune of 10 million user records is the equivalent of your CFO investing your company’s funds in an effort to help some deposed African prince get his money out of the country—but the point here is that someone even higher up the C suite food chain also received the proverbial “lead handshake”.
Personally, I find this enlightened stance by Target to be refreshing and I’m sure the CIO community does as well. Why should the guy (or gal) responsible for the company’s IT services be the only one with the sword of Damocles hanging over their head? Since CIO’s oversee domains with one heck of a lot of moving parts than other C- counterparts, Target’s recognition that anyone can make a mistake—and have to pay dearly for it—reflects a more egalitarian view of upper management. Shared reward, shared pain I always say. Honestly, how fair has it been that a CMO can come up with a marketing strategy that kicks off a civil war with the sales department and still maintain their employment, while the CIO was only one kicked power cord away from extinction? Perhaps Target’s actions are the beginning of a new “buck stops here” mode of operation.
Along with providing some sense of added security to today’s beleaguered CIO’s, I think this “cut off things off at the head” strategy can have some broad based appeal. First, it places accountability for large IT mishaps right at the top of the organization, and I think all employees like it when everyone has some skin in the game. Second, I don’t think that we can underestimate the socio-political aspects of placing some corporate “fat cat’s” head on the chopping block. It shows solidarity with the masses, and probably gives even more people a chance to become—albeit briefly—members of the coveted 1% club. Don’t we all agree that when business and Marxist ideology mix, it’s a win-win for everyone? Can I get a “Down with the man” from all my Occupy readers out there?
Obviously, it’s a little early to see if Target’s actions offer only a temporary CIO respite or are the beginning of a long-term trend. In an occupation where disaster lurks behind every corner, it’s time to give CIO’s a well-deserved break by establishing a new flow chart for assigning corporate blame. In a world of ever increasing data transfer and processing requirements, I say that it is long past time that we identify a new scapegoat, and I applaud Target for demonstrating that the floor under every C-level executive should come complete with a trap door.