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Now, before you jump to any conclusions and think I am breaking up with my wife, Carmen, or worse yet, that I have become a Neil Sedaka fan, let me assure you neither of those horrific things is true!

business, leadership, Breaking Up is Hard to DoOver the last several months, I have been struggling with the decision to leave a job that I love and to embark on a journey down a new stretch of river. Yes, I am leaving the role of CIO for Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana to join Bluelock, an Indiana tech company that provides Disaster Recovery-as-a-Service (DRaaS) infrastructure and services, as EVP of Product and Service Development. So, after 35 years of being in Corporate IT, the last 10 of which as CIO, I am switching sides of the desk and joining a firm whose product IS technology.

Now, mind you, I absolutely love Goodwill. I firmly believe in the mission, I love the vision and direction, and will continue to support the organization with my time, talents and treasures as best as I am able. However, as sad as I am to leave this organization, I am just as excited about joining my new organization and pushing off to paddle into the unknown (note the veiled Lewis and Clark reference).

How I came to this decision reminds me a lot of how Carmen and I came to the decision to marry. You see, we had been business colleagues and friends for years. As we each went through our divorces, dating, bad break ups and more dating, more break ups, we started to hang out together more and more. We celebrated the highs of new relationships, shared the laughs of life’s journey and held each other through the tears of another break up.

I can’t tell you how hard we laughed, when a well intentioned Maitre D’ seated us at “our most romantic table”. Oh, my god no! We are just friends! Even our friends got in on the act, saying, “You should date Carmen” or “You should date Jeff”. OH. MY. GOD. NO! We are just friends! We don’t want to ruin our friendship!

A few months later, while sitting on her couch, we looked at each other and asked, “So, when did we start dating?” The rest, as they say is history! A match made in heaven, a match with a foundation of friendship, a match of kindred souls.

I have been joking for a couple of years now that if I ever left Goodwill, I would join Bluelock. Maybe subconsciously I was only half joking. At any rate, early in January this year, the CEO of Bluelock and I met for breakfast. Honest, we were just friends! Actually, we were client/provider. We ended up having a great conversation about business, technology and transforming a startup to steady-state. The conversation went so well, we decided to meet again to continue the conversation.

As the months flew by, we didn’t quite look at each other and ask when we started dating, but the dialogue did shift to “what would it look like if…”, and eventually, to “how do we make this happen?”

As great as the opportunity sounded, I was conflicted. I had spent 25 years of my 35 year career aspiring to be a CIO, now I was going to walk away from it? Not to mention, I would be switching sides of the desk, moving to the dark side, becoming an evil vendor, would my friends and colleagues still return my calls? I had spent the last several years building a network of CIOs and IT leaders (Indy CIO Network), could I still lead that group effectively?

I reached out to my trusted advisers: my wife, my mentors, a couple members of the Indy CIO Network, my executive coach, and my dad. Each and every conversation reinforced what I was thinking and feeling, one by one they helped me answer all of the questions swirling around in my mind. Before my most recent coaching session, my coach (Dr. Dan Miller) came into my office and said, “come on, we’re going to do something different today.” With that, we walked to the corner overlooking the river.

“The city is not there, these sidewalks are not here. The traffic is gone. You are here among the trees looking out over the river. What are you thinking? What are you feeling?” After about 10 minutes, he said, “let’s head back and do our session.”

Before we crossed the street, I stopped and said, “Thank you. Thank you for making me stop and think. It is the first time I have stopped in months.”

Later, in our session, as I described the company and my new role. Dan stopped me and said, “You’ve already decided. Quit fretting and embrace it.”

Just as our friends were right many years ago, he could not have been more right about this.

So, as I wrap up my last few days at a great organization, with fantastic people, I look ahead to joining a great organization, with fantastic people. I am excited about the waters ahead!

 

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No, this is not about some crime new drama (though people say I do look a lot like Mark Harmon…NOT!), this is about socialmicroscope-pictures6 organizations, mass collaboration, big data, the future of work, and some technology thrown in for good measure!

We recently announced a re-organization within Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana. This re-organization included the creation of a new position, Senior Vice President of Corporate Connectivity. When I’m asked what this means, it would be easy to respond, “Well, it means that both Technology Solutions (Information Technology) and Marketing report to the same person.” But that would be a simplistic view of what is, really, a very progressive and complex organizational move.

I really need to work on my elevator speech! So, then, what does it mean to have both Marketing and IT report to the SVP of Corporate Connectivity? Why would we do this? What are we going to accomplish? What is Corporate Connectivity anyway?

Corporate Connectivity is the confluence (“Confluence” is a very carefully chosen word to describe this convergence. The science of fluid dynamics finds that when rivers come together at a confluence, the resulting power of the water downstream is not additive; rather, it’s compounded exponentially) of Networks, Communication and Collaboration, Information and Systems (ahem, N.C.I.S.; after all, I have been an IT guy for 30 years; everything can be boiled down to an acronym). Over the next several posts we will explore each of these streams and what impact they will have on our company.

Next up: N – Networks

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

Let me start off by saying, I hate the term “Vendor Relationship Management”. Like the old adage, if you have to spend time “managing and motivating” an employee, you probably have the wrong employee; I would extend that to vendors as well. I want fewer vendors and more partners. 

Webster’s defines a partnership as:

A relationship resembling a legal partnership and usually involving close cooperation between parties having specified joint rights and responsibilities. 

To me, that means several things. First of all “joint rights and responsibilities”, in other words both parties need to have skin in the game. If I am taking all the risk, there is no partnership. Second, it means fair contracts. If a contract has a clause prohibiting me from hiring their staff, it should extend to cover my staff as well. (I could talk forever about fair contracts, I have certainly seen some pretty one-side tomes) Third, it means, take some time to invest in the relationship. Get to know me, get to know my company. As an example, don’t try to sell me services that my company provides (yes that happens more often than you would believe). Some of my best business relationships didn’t turn into a “sale” for years, but have since become very fruitful for the companies involved. (thanks Jeff, Eric, Julie…) Finally, it means flexibility, to again offer a paraphrase “stuff happens”. When “stuff happens” be willing to talk through all options, not just rely on the T’s and C’s. During the economic crisis of 2008, 2009 I had the opportunity to work with several vendors to try to re-work the our deal to provide my company some relief. One firm, flatly refused to discuss options, even though I offered to extend the terms of the contract several years. Another firm, brought their senior executives to our offices, sat down with us, and worked through several scenarios that proved to be wins for both firms. Fast forward to 2012, I am now at a different company, guess which vendor I am doing business with at this organization?

That brings me to the second key: transparency. Defined as:

Characterized by visibility or accessibility of information. 

What does this mean in a business relationship? It means both parties being open and honest about all aspects of the relationship, pricing, budgets, profit margins, goals, objectives, everything. Be honest about your services. If it is not in your wheel house, you will gain much more credibility by admitting that than you will by trying to “fake it till you make it”. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Awhile back I had a vendor calling on me trying to get his foot in the door. Coincidentally, I had a need at the time for a resource with a very specific skill set. “Of course, we have someone. They are one of the tops in the field. They will be a little expensive, but worth it.” I thought I would give them a shot. Only later did I learn, the resource didn’t actually work for them, they sub-contracted them from another company, marked up the rate and put them on my project. To make matters worse, the resource actually came from another firm with whom I do business. One of these firms was invited to our partner summit, one has not been back in my office since.

The third key is trust. Trust is:

Assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something. 

Trust is probably the hardest of the three, very difficult to gain, very easy to lose. One way to earn my trust is to tell me when I am wrong. Believe it or not, the customer is not always right, especially when that customer is me! I rely very heavily on the expertise of my partners. If I am getting ready to do something you know darn well I should not, TELL ME! Along the same lines, tell me what I need to hear, not what you think I want to hear. We had a vendor a few years ago responsible for large software upgrade. We asked time and time again, if our hardware was OK. We were assured it was. Low and behold a year later, our hardware was end of life and we had to upgrade again. I truly believe the vendor was trying to save us money on the original project, but trust me, I would rather do one upgrade than two. Another quick way to earn my trust is to advise me down a path that saves me time, effort, or money even when it impacts your bottom line; even when it leads to another vendor or solution. Again, it is an investment in the long term.

By now you are asking WIIFM – What’s in it for me?  What does all this get you (other than a ticked off sales manager when you don’t hit your quota)? It gets you a seat at the table as a trusted adviser. It gets you full transparency into roadmaps and budgets. And, it gets you a relationship with someone who wants fewer vendors and more partners.