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CIO Unplugged 3/9/11

March 9, 2011 News 10 Comments

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

Biggest Blunders

Experience is not always the best teacher. Learning from other people’s experiences is better. Another person’s evaluated experience trumps them all. Unfortunately, I am prone to learning “The Hardway” (DC Talk). Some of the following examples will humor you, but most are serious.

To keep this post short, I focused only on my professional blunders. My personal mistakes would take up too much space.


Hiring too quickly. In an effort to fill a role expediently, I compromised standards. I failed to vet candidates adequately. The person I hired caused pain for everyone. I recall spending more time counseling and repairing damage to a particular senior staff person than accomplishing business. As one known for having the most competent senior team, my credibility took two steps back. As a result, I’m more deliberate today in making sure the fit is solid, even if that means leaving a position unfilled.

Firing too slowly. Way too slowly. I have allowed people to stay, causing more harm than good. I’ve also let others dictate who I keep. When I finally mustered the courage to make the fire, the person was more relieved than I was. I learned that the energy required to salvage the wrong person is best put to use in developing my top performers.


Emphasizing the need for physical security, I had our security analysts make a habit of gathering unsecured, unattended devices. The analyst left behind a card instructing the owner to retrieve their device from my office. Analysts had the green light to confiscate unsecured executive laptops as well. When the CEO came to my office for his … awkward moment, I learned to think about my audiences and make adjustments while still enforcing protocol.

I spent a weekend in Colorado presiding over a management meeting for a successful rock band. We spent time knocking out an internal contract about royalties and responsibilities as well as rules of the road. In an effort to disseminate quickly, I sent the documents from my work e-mail. I inadvertently sent it to my IT department. Embarrassed, I learned not to send personal documents from work.

Dress the part. I did not pick up on the fashion hints offered by my CEO. Finally, the CFO pulled me aside and said, “Ed compared to your predecessor, you have two shortcomings. One is experience (I was 35), which we knew when we promoted you, and that’s not a concern. But the second is … you don’t dress the part.” He handed me a business card for the clothier the exec staff used. Message received, and I revamped my wardrobe. Your clothes and style do speak volumes.

The wrong position. “But it’s the dream job, the one I’ve been waiting for.” I minimized the red flags. I recall vendor executives as well as former employees giving me fair warning, but I dismissed these. As I soon found out, they were right, and I had to deal with the consequences. I made the best of a compromised situation, but in hindsight, I would have listened to wise counsel and proceeded differently.


Walking in authority. I had been promoted internally to CIO, and other employees (including myself) still saw me as the Deputy CIO. This attitude diminished the strategic nature of our division, and I allowed one executive in particular to mistreat my team. Not until a couple of years later did I begin to walk in my authority and confront the situation. I stood up to the schoolyard bullies, and then things changed.

Pay me now or pay me more later. Capital investments are limited, and every division wants some. I placated to politics, which put our technology infrastructure at risk. If I had fought harder to ensure the funding, we would not have faced the crisis that later arose from my error. Given the impact of IT in clinical and business operations, I vow not to fail here again.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it contains the mistakes that came top of mind. Several direct reports, past and present, also added to the list. What about you? What mistakes have you made that would benefit readers so they don’t have to learn the hard way?

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 sitesLinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

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Currently there are "10 comments" on this Article:

  1. I certainly agree with your statement, “Learning from other people’s experiences is better.” However, much like children often disregard the sage advice of their parents, too often we disregard (or fail to remember) the sage advice of our peers. Unfortunately, some things just don’t sink in unless they are personally experienced.

    That said, it’s always good to hear about the experiences of others (as SOME of it will sink in), but it’s even more refreshing to have people who are willing to share those experiences.

    Thanks for sharing, Ed!

  2. Ed, I love the candor and the lessons learned.

    I would suggest that there is a different lesson learned with the confiscation of computers. I don’t think the problem was treating the CEO the same as everyone else. You should treat the CEO the same as everyone else. The lesson is that people are people. Sometimes they leave their device unattended. That will always be the risk. That is why it is important that those devices have reasonable time outs and encrypted drives. If you lose 2 or 3 computers a year to theft, and no data is exposed, that is better than using staff time to piss off your customers.

  3. I recognize some of those situations from back in the early years. I hope I wasn’t the “Hiring too quickly…” example Ed was thinking about. It is nice when people are unashamed and admit mistakes – makes them seem all the more human.

  4. I suspect this writing will be printed and posted in many offices and cubicles (and maybe some restrooms!). I especially appreciate your candor as it’s never easy to admit we messed up! One I would agree with is learning to read the “red flags” better and sooner! And, of course, when you’re sending emails from work and you’re hitting Reply to All, take a second to read the names before you hit Send.
    Good stuff, Ed!

  5. Amen to the firing too slowly! All managers need to learn this lesson. I have inherited far too many staff who should have been fired instead of passed along.

  6. allowed one executive in particular to mistreat my team

    And me, personally as well.

    I really identify with this. Standing up to bullies is essential, esp. where patient safety is the issue.

  7. My biggest blunder was in my first few months in the company, which also happens to be my first job. I was running really late for a meeting (30+ minutes) and didn’t have anyone’s phone numbers to call and notify. So when I arrived to an ended meeting, I learned very quickly to have contact info for anyone you are about to meet with!

  8. Some great lessons here. Some of which we’ve all gone through.
    Here’s a couple:

    Stand up for your team in public, rip them in private. Never blame your players, as leader; take responsibility.

    If you (or your team) screwed up, admit it. Then communicate what you are doing to correct it.

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