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CIO Unplugged 12/27/10

December 27, 2010 Ed Marx 41 Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

Why I Fired and Then Rehired Myself

The capstone of holiday seasons past has been The Plunge: leaping into the icy waters of Lake Erie wearing nothing but swim trunks. Each New Year’s Day, we Cleveland Triathlon Club members gingerly — if not insanely — worked our way across the snow and ice then charged into the lake. Once we reached waist-high water, we crowned our feat with a head-first dive. Like an arctic baptism, the Plunge symbolically washed away the old and welcomed the new.

A few years back, I used this event as the demarcation point for firing and rehiring myself. I plan to do the same as we head into 2011. I think we all should give ourselves the pink slip.

A few years ago, Intel was losing market share and profitability. Consequently, the company floundered. Knowing it was a matter of time before the Board would take mending actions, the leadership (Grove, Moore) discussed a particular phenomenon they’d observed. Nearly every time a company or division installed new leadership or brought in consultants, their outcomes improved.

Their conclusion: the new leader came in energized and with a fresh pair of eyes. Knowing they were being evaluated, he or she took their responsibility more seriously than the former, uninspired leader.

Subsequently, Intel’s old leadership had a brainstorm. Why not fire themselves and come back to the job as the new leaders? They said:

If existing management want to keep their jobs when the basics of the business are undergoing profound change, they must adopt an outsider’s intellectual objectivity.

They fired themselves over a weekend. After shifting markets (from memory chips to microprocessors), Intel became the clear leader in a very competitive market.

At that time, I worked for University Hospital. Although neither the hospital nor IT were in dire circumstances as Intel was, we needed to guard against complacency. I challenged my leaders to follow my example and take time over the holidays to reflect. Pondering how you would approach your position as a new employee is a healthy and worthy assignment.

Look at yourself as a potential candidate for your position. How will you evaluate the talent, change processes, and adjust the service mix? Should you alter your interactions with customers, your personal engagement, or your attitude? Will you embrace ideas you formerly rejected or feared? What strategies and tactics will you deploy to ensure business and clinical convergence with the health system? Do you have the fortitude to remove employees who add no value? Are you stretching the boundaries of innovation? Do you demonstrate courage despite resistance? How will you be a better servant…? The variations are endless.

To survive, you probably won’t need to change anything you’re doing. But to thrive means constantly reinventing yourself and operating differently. As a team, we embraced change, adopted an innovation-oriented culture, and began to walk in the fullness of our authority. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.

Several other UH leaders fired and rehired themselves that New Year’s Day of 2007. The result? We experienced a dramatic shift moving from transactional to transformational services that had a net impact on our business and clinical operations. Our business, quality, and service metrics shot up to new heights. I experienced exponential growth, both personally and professionally.

Since I no longer live by the Great Lakes, I have to find a new point of demarcation. By the time you read this, I will have hang glided over the Swiss Alps (JungFrau). At the moment I leap off the mountain into the alpine chill, I will fire myself as CIO. An internal shakeup. I’ll let the present perceptions of my role plummet to the icy depths.

By the dawn of the New Year, I’ll find innovative eyes to view the future. Only then will I rehire myself.

Are you willing to give yourself the pink slip?

Update 12/30/10

Thank you for the comments, both positive and negative. I really liked the idea about being re-interviewed by your staff in this sort of process…have to incorporate that somehow going forward. Clearly I can’t respond to every comment, but as always, readers are welcome to contact me directly where we could further exchange ideas. Happy New Year!

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

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Currently there are "41 comments" on this Article:

  1. Great and thought provoking—and if you ever have visited Jungfrau (native Swiss) –what an opportunity to re-align your vision! Simply breathtaking

  2. I’m noticing a trend with these “CIO unplugged” write ups.

    They are starting to sound a little self serving and self promoting. Much of the read is ‘old wine in new bottles’ and not sure it offers any profound value over basic common sense principles.

    I’m thinking its a forum for those who need to pontificate unprovable principles as a way of casting themselves into the markets.

    Just sayin

  3. @ El Jefe Give the man a break! His mind is on renewal (not a bad thing) and an amazing va-cay.

    I’d say his posts are motivational and inspiring – not self-serving! While this isn’t my favorite of his latest posts (and I think this fire / re-hire program would be better if he allowed his staff to interview him before he is rehired), it’s still thought-provoking. Besides, he’s offered up great advice and good reads recently. Makes me want to work with and be challenged by Mr. Marx!

  4. |If you can’t stay motivated by the threat of someone else firing you (and not rehiring you), I don’t see how firing (and then rehiring) yourself will change anything.

  5. In the course of our lives, it is always appropriate to do self reflection and ask if you’re still “doing it right”. Too many of us think that what we did 10, 20, 30 years ago works well today, when in fact it might not. I like these posts. They give me fodder to make sure I’m still viable and a valued asset.

  6. What a load of tripe! This is why more and more people see executive officers as out-of-touch Emperors without clothes. At a time when millions of people are getting real pink slips, it seems more than a bit inappropriate for executives to stage faux-auto-firings as some kind of refreshing renewal process to further their careers. I would suggest that executives who see such laughable gimmicks as some sort of serious motivational exercise to innovate probably need to be fired for real.

    yeah, just sayin.

  7. “By the time you read this, I will have hang glided over the Swiss Alps (JungFrau). At the moment I leap off the mountain into the alpine chill, I will fire myself as CIO. An internal shakeup. I’ll let the present perceptions of my role plummet to the icy depths.”

    By the time I read this, I will have upchucked into my Wheaties at the nauseating pretentiousness and self-aggrandizing melodrama exhibited in this post. Seriously – does this kind self-absorbed crapola somehow pass as edgy and innovative business thinking in this country?

    If the author wishes to experience the very real terrors of being unemployed in modern America – “staring into the icy abyss”, as he’d probably say – I’m sure that can be arranged. In fact, I’d encourage his employers to ask themselves if they can really afford someone at the helm who is so pompously tone-deaf. (Unfortunately, such tone-deafness seems a prerequisite to joining the American executive class – the faux solidarity of “Undercover Boss” not withstanding).

    The author may equate the pseudo-bravery of pretend firing with the glory of sailing over der Jungfrau… but I’m sure the rank-and-file would prefer he just jump off a cliff.

  8. Wow! When I browsed the comments, I thought I’d see positive comments. Sorry so many here believe tearing down is more important than building up. Though Abraham Lincoln may not have said this, he may have thought it; “When you look for the bad in people, you willl surely find it.”

    When someone shares a thought, why not look for the best intent?

    This post is uplifting and a recommendation for those willling to start afresh.

    Change is challenging. Here’s a novel approach that may me think how I might improve.

  9. @Polly –
    yeah, you’re right – my last comment was over-the-top and way too harsh. I should not be so quick to assign ill intent.

    But I hope you can appreciate that it in these very difficult economic times, using the pink-slip as a prop in a self-improvement exercise could be seen as somewhat insensitive and lacking in self-awareness, even if no overt malice was intended. (After all, there are only about a million other metamorphosis metaphors to use here!). Perhaps the author will meditate on that during his next alpine adventure…

  10. Very interesting piece…thought provoking, but maybe in a different way. I think he should fire himself and not come back. Here’s why.

    If you are doing such a bad job that you feel you need to be fired, then where is your immediate supervisor in this? If you are failing that miserably shouldn’t he /she fire you first? If your boss can’t see that you need to make a radical changes and take action, then maybe you are working for the wrong people and shouldn’t come back!
    Or, maybe firing oneself is a bit ‘over the top’?

  11. You know the petty behavior around here is getting a bit much for my taste. These childish comments made behind anonymous posts by men and women who are supposed to be the executives and role models that our staff are supposed to look up to?

    Really Folks?

    This is supposed to be a place for supporting each other and bringing valuable information to your peers.

    Lately it’s been no more sour grapes from folks who didn’t get a job piling on those who did and general bashing on folks in general.

    You all have better things to do I am sure.

    For those of you bashing Ed’s column, offer up something better yourself or shut up.

    I have read a few of Ed’s columns and not seen eye to eye on issues but I don’t find myself drawn to bash him for his opinions since he is the one taking time out of his busy schedule to provide thought provoking commentary. What have you submitted lately?

    So to refer to Ed’s column you may want to consider firing yourself from participation in this forum next year and please DON’T rehire yourself because we can all do without your childish comments.

    Happy New Year Ed and happy landings!!

  12. please DON’T rehire yourself because we can all do without your childish comments.

    Personally, I find a motivational game where you pretend to fire yourself to be pretty childish, and I’ll bet I’m not alone.

  13. Sorry, but I find Ed’s writings (and his Tweets) to be Narcissistic, not inspirational.

    He lost me at JungFrau. Must he be so boastful and flaunt his wealth under the guise of motivation? Reminds me of all those evangelical ministers who swindle their adoring flocks. I read HISTalk for the industry news; I prefer to get my sermons elsewhere.

    I’m sure his salary and benefits would allow him to permanently fire himself, if he would just give up a swanky vacation. He can stare at the abyss and take a leap of faith in the Rockies. I know it doesn’t have the cachet of Europe, but there’s all kinds of gravity here at home.

    Oooo – I just thought of a song!

    I see my face on the surface
    I look a lot like Narcissus
    A dark abyss of an emptiness
    Standing on the edge of a drowning blue.

    “Hammer and a Nail,” by the Indigo Girls.

  14. We look forward to your contributions with held breath.

    Show up at work and do your job like a professional. Repeat daily. If that isn’t “inspiring” enough for you, find a new job. If you need to be “fired” to do a good job, you probably should be fired for real.

  15. I think if one wants to improve 100%, one should improve 100 things 1%…and in a way, I think that is what Ed is suggesting. As for the peanut gallery, I have this quote from T. Roosevelt:

    “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

  16. My contribution was….. starting this whole thing….whats wrong with calling someone out on self promoting sermons?

    Apparently I, am not alone in that I come here to be better informed on industry news, not preached at by someone who thinks he has particular insight into…well…himself.

    Here’s a revelation for ya….no fancy blah blah drama to flower the message up for ya ….ready? wait for it………wait……………just……….. gitterdone!

    How’s that for efficiency?

    I think I deserve a reward or special recognition for my profound yet simple contribution now….and I didnt have to fire anyone!

  17. The irony of you awarding yourself special recognition for pointing out someone else’s self promoting sermons is just too funny.

    And I think its great that Ed is able to take vacations that are unique and memorable. Envy is ugly.

  18. It’s crazy the amount of responses this blog got. I don’t know Ed at all, but I really think he is doing his best to offer advice that everything can use.

    With that said…these are my feelings…

    Mentioning that you will be hang gliding through the Swiss Alps, from my point of view, is unneccessary to get your point across. It’s like instead of saying “I drove my car to work today”, Ed is saying “I drove my 2011 Lamborghini Reventon to work today.”

    Also, and what struck a nerve in me reading some of the comments, why do people get so upset when there is a little criticism? What makes this site so great is that Mr. Histalk puts comments/links/blogs that will spark all types of opinions. Can’t we argue a little bit, and not be so insensitive about what someone else we will never know or meet said about a post? People need to understand that if you think someone is being self-promoting than it is necessary to comment on it.

    I don’t consider myself someone who “looks for the bad in people” or knows “neither victory nor defeat”, I just think the difference in beliefs and viewpoints is what makes this site (and world) so great.

    Also, just sayin…

  19. Interesting feedback. If you (readers) don’t like the symbolic concept of hiring and rehiring yourself then follow the link in this blog and send your ugly comments to those who birthed the idea.

    As someone who is acquainted with the author of CIO Unplugged, I am aware that he has experienced the grief of losing a position and struggling to support a young family. But instead of whining about it, Ed choses to embrace life’s hardships as well as its joys.

    Thought-provoking blog.

  20. Ironic that Marx is villified for taking a holiday vaca. I worked for his tech unit in Cleveland for 5 years and on Thanksgivings he had single and non-american staff over for dinner and opened his home to all for Christmas. Year in and year out. How many of us do this? So he is psyched that instead of jumping in frozen Lake Erie he gets to go play in the alps where I think he is originally from.

  21. Ironic that Marx is villified for taking a holiday vaca.

    He’s not being vilified for going on vacation, he’s being vilified for pretending to fire himself when many others are being fired for real.

  22. Interesting comments. I don’t know Ed personally, but I enjoy most of his blog posts. He seems very open with much of his personal life that he shares in the blog, which shows a certain level trust and vulnerability with his readers.

    Let’s face it, many of us have our own mental mind games we play with ourselves to spur, motivate and discipline us to reach our maximun potential. I’m not sure Ed should be crucified for sharing his – even if some would be offended by the analogy. I’m not even sure that’s the real issue behind some of the more negative comments.

    In his posts, Ed portrays a personal life and leadership style that might be classified as ‘living large’. I think this is the real issue. Some see a life lived on the larger side as passionate and inspiring while others clearly (and as admitted in the comments) see it as swagger. I’m not here to bash those who have been put off by it. I can only say it’s a VERY fine line to “live large without making others feel small”. I think Ed generally does a good job in this difficult area and I say that because I’ve worked for several years with the other kind – the insecure executive who lives ridiculously large and probably enjoys making others feel small in order to self promote. I don’t get that from Ed’s stories, but I can see how some might. As I said, it’s a very fine line.

    I look forward to reading more Unplugged CIO posts in 2011, even if I’m not quite ready to jump the Grand Canyon on a motorcycle or ascend Mt. Everest.

  23. I have felt the same as the majority after reading Ed’s second column, much less the tenth. So much self-aggrandizing swagger. He must be ready for a career change, writing a self help book, or he owns a motivational poster company. I can only take so much “look at me and my great style” bleating. Real leaders don’t need to constantly point out their own virtues.

  24. I agree with Ed’s core idea of leaders trying to look at their business with fresh eyes, but the idea of this virtual firing/rehiring falls way short of the mark. I’ve been in some organisations where the only thing that truly would have benefited anyone would have been to fire the leaders and find some new ones. Even the “shuffle the deck chairs” approach of moving senior execs into different slots does little to help a company when the leaders really do not understand how their own failings are hurting their company and their customers.

    If Ed’s execs REALLY see things with fresh eyes and a refreshed approach after this bit of theatre, wonderful. For many of us, it ends up being “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”.

  25. It’s great.

    Powerful, eye catching title. Story to help tell the theory. Symmetry in life as a strong conclusion. It’s a classic Power presentation.

    He is a humble guy and no where near a high flyer. He was born in Germany. And he has courage to write a blog and hang glide.

    I think it succeeded.

  26. Hi Ed,

    I am still trying to figure out the whole JungFrau thingy? Is it a metaphor for something, or is your prior persona that the company hired (THR) trying to commit suicide as a way of getting rid of your old self – and creating a new you?

    I am sorry, just very confused about that part???

  27. Hi Ctown,

    I don’t have a clue about your first paragraph. I liked the second paragraph very much. I would like to meet Ed if he is as you describe – both humble and a glider dude…

    I am most interested in the glider pilot side as I have been a pilot for many years and have lived where Ed was born…

    Perhaps after a nice lunch we can figure this whole thing out;)

  28. So there are 4 reasons to villify. Using the concept of virtual “fired”, a vaca in the Alps, use of story and narcissism. Lets review.

    1. Here is the source of the virtual fire, not Marx but Grove as the post points out. This was a HBR case study and found in numerous sources like this http://www.managersrealm.com/2007/05/andy_grove_only_the_paranoid_survive_-_2.html.
    2. Nobody complains that Marx jumps in a frozen lake to mark a special occasion (we actually had to drill a hole in the ice today to reach the water) but if he wants to take time off and jump off the Alps, that is a problem? Where do you draw the line? Would it be okay for him to have backpacked in Candad? Geez, sounds like Cleveland politics….
    3. CTown trotter is right. The use of story helps to make a point memorable and is transparent.
    4. I looked back over the last few posts…Marx talks about tossing his cookies in a gas chamber, weeping over dropping his child off at college, what hardware and software he uses, getting braces (now that is bragging rights!), how the death of his Mom fueled his fire and why he wants to remain fit to be an effective leader and keep up with the wife and kids. I can’t make the narcisstic connection.

  29. Ed — Much thanks for taking the time to share your insights. I personally found it thought provoking and a powerful metaphor for those w/ open minds. My CEO once worked for Andy Grove while serving as a GM at Intel. He has firsthand experience on how impactful the idea of firing yourself can be as a company or individual contemplates change. Healthcare today is at the precipice of historic evolution, much like Intel found itself in the late 90’s. Grove himself is quoted as saying “If I hadn’t taken this step, there very well may not have been an Intel today”.

    The fact is, this crazy notion, which you reference in your writing was the brain-child of Mr. Grove’s. As a former ‘Time-Person of the Year’ and leader of arguably one of the most successful companies in recent history, he framed the “firing” concept as follows: He was telling himself and everybody else in the company that they would now have to look through fresh eyes on where they were going, and not be held back by the past. What he was doing was getting his mind cleared so that he could look at the situation from a new perspective and from there be able to make the right decisions. Ultimately, Andy’s creative idea, which has surprisingly stirred such toasty debate from the other blog readers, was simple and carries zero debate. . . to be successful a business leader and company must always question what they’re doing and why. Period. The “firing” idea is just one approach towards this exercise. Might work for some and might not work for others. It’s simply up to the individual.

    As Cicero once said “To each his own”. I am a new found fan of TED which holds as their mission: ‘spreading ideas’. Thank you for taking the Intel idea and eloquently wrapping it w/ your own experience for the simple purpose of spreading an idea. Bravo.

    Finally, the legendary Warren Buffett decided when he was a young man to not pay attention to what other people thought of him in the decisions he made, as he knew no matter what he did there’s always someone out there that would disagree with him. Think in terms of all those weekend quarterbacks that love to dissect and discuss how their favorite sports teams performed, and how the coaches were brilliant or failed. This is a game that many observers of business also like to play, and we need to understand this is simply part of the process.

    Cheers. Happy 2011.

  30. All this anger is a vexation to the spirit. Ed isn’t the reason any of these commenters are unhappy and taking out personal frustrations on someone (honestly, I believe) sharing ideas for making one’s professional life better in a professional forum seems ill-conceived and misplaced. Don’t read if you don’t like but spewing conceptual sewage over public spaces is uncivilized and unprofessional (showing your ass is the phrase that comes to mind.) As far as hang-gliding in the Alps, to each his own (I’d prefer slowly smoking a fatty on a Carribean beach myself, but maybe that’s why Ed is where he is and I’m where I am, and maybe we can all profit from taking a look in that mirror.)
    Thanks for sharing your ideas Ed. Please keep them coming.

  31. Hi Herbalist,

    I don’t often comment here, but this cloumn was interesting. I think we should rather celebrate our freedom to comment – that is truly American…

    When you write Blogs and express opinions you take your chances. They are all valid.

    Everything you do in life has a consequence. Sorry your spirit is now vexed – make plans to spend time on that beach…I am certain you will get over it;)

  32. It’s curious that many of the posts defending Ed’s sermon also criticize the people who didn’t care for his blog post. It’s as if nobody is allowed a counter-opinion unless it’s sugar-coated.

    In any case, I wouldn’t comment again unless there was a remark made in my general direction. TexasCIO “called me out” for my contribution.

    I would say that if any of you have visited a US Hospital in the past couple of decades, chances are pretty high that your data was processed by software I wrote. If I check into a hospital and the person finds out about my employment, they ask what I worked on. If they like it, they tell me why. If they don’t, I find out why and work to improve it. If it’s competitor’s software, I ask what they like and don’t like. This is all rewarding, and reinforces my career choice. I don’t need to fire myself to remember. I just need to think about my customers, and ultimately about the patients. They demand quality and respect.

    Since my company lays off and outsources on an annual basis, it’s possible they’ll make that choice for me, although I hope they won’t.

    I’d list my extracurricular industry activities and contributions too, but I prefer to protect my own privacy to some extent. In any event, TexasCIO was holding his breath, and I don’t think he/she (and others) realize that many people who read HISTalk do contribute something creative every day, but because they’re not Tweeting or blogging exhaustively, they’re just a bunch of complaining slackers. HINT: They also enjoy HISTalk in its original, pragmatic format.

    The reason I don’t care for Ed’s blogs is that they all read like a self-imposed therapy session. The man is a CIO, and as an IT professional, when I read HISTalk I want to read about navigating the increasing complexity of Health Care IT. I expect that a CIO would show leadership in *IT*. I’d like to read about IT victories, no matter how small. What problem specifically did you solve? How did it help patient care?

    When reading HISTalk, I am not interested in lists of self-help books, jumping off cliffs, self-firing and rehiring games, and a potpourri of other soul-searching and self-affirmation exercises. There are other places to get that info, or one can just hire a “personal brand coach.” They seem to be proliferating around the corporate world like so many copies of that insipid “Who Moved My Cheese?” did some years ago.

    If other people like to read this Reality TV styled narrative, well okay. I’ll just scroll down past the “CIO Unravelled” blog, and look for news, updates, best practices, new ideas, interviews, Inga, and the occasional HISTalk gems as Weird News Andy and rants from Mr. H (because, hey, it’s his site, and they’re on topic for us trench dwellers). I hope that this all continues.

    Flame away y’all.

  33. Hi Nemesis,

    Actually, I liked your synopsis. You touched on many valid points… I was actually interested in hearing more about Ed’s gliding stories as you can see in my above comments. Everyone has pointed out what they like and don’t like about Ed’s Blogs…I’ll bet his is really giving thought to all these comments and I bet he will do some “fine tuning.”

    In the end, we all report to someone, and that someone probably is also looking at these links that are easliy sent via email.

    Cheers always,

    Don Lyons

  34. I think it’s easy to throw out negative comments about Ed’s blog. But I challange you to leave your ivory towers and ask yourself if you are really delivering to the customer day in and day out. I bet not because you are afraid to hear the truth, I have seen Ed in action and would challange most to be as sincere in their approach as he. He has delivered, have you? From the comments I read it sounds like a bunch of bull from some folks who probally could use a course in Dale Carnagie. Grow up and learn.

  35. Ok, perhaps my last comment to wrap up my thoughts.

    After asking Ed about his hang gliding he took the time and wrote me a very nice and I might add, personal note. Leadership is about personal relationship with people and transforming organizations…so, I bet he is effective though I have never really met him.

    I’ll be up at Taos Ski Valley with my company gang over the Presidents Day weekend. Why don’t all of you meet us up there and dinner will be on me….

    I would put money on the idea that we would have a great time, and see eye to eye on many burning issues on our desks.

    Maybe Ed will bring his glider;)

    Best,

    Don







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