By John Miller, Founder and CIO, Real-CIO Consulting

I spent most of my career trying to be responsive to the needs of the users in the companies for which I worked.

When an issue or outage occurred, I would write lengthy emails explaining the situation, the root cause, the remediation steps needed and the timing. I thought I was being helpful and informative. It turns out, I was being annoyingly chatty. Moreover, I was not fostering a level of trust needed between the CIO and my C-Suite partners. That is when I hit on the concept I call “On It/Done.” It is quite simple, but it takes a very long time to earn the right to use. Here is how it works:

ON IT – When an issue comes up, say the phones are down, I would get an email from the CEO (and usually many others) that there was a problem with the phones. I would respond with a two-word reply: “On It.” I gave no explanations and no excuses. Just “On It.” However, those two little words implied two very important messages.

1. I am on it – I am fully aware of the issues. I understand the importance of the problem and I will dedicate all available technical resources to resolve this issue as quickly as possible. And, yes, I understand that your day and your priorities are being impacted by this “anomaly.”

2. You are off it – It is fully on my plate. I am taking complete ownership of this issue and I will not stop until it is resolved. You can take it off your plate and get back to running the company, closing the books, planning, organizing, strategizing and whatever else is needed. Just don’t try to use the phones. I am on it also implies that I do not need to be reminded of the issue every few minutes or that you are still inconvenienced.

Obviously, some issues require that I communicate to the affected users. Sometimes I send out a preemptive email like: The phones in the headquarters building are down (simple – no tech-speak). We will be taking the phone server down at 10:30 a.m. for repairs. I expect phone service to be restored by noon (IT is On It and we are committing to a remediation window). Please use your cell phones for business-critical communications during this time (offer a work-around). Do not miss your noon uptime estimate!

DONE – Eventually, the issue will be resolved. Hopefully, in the timeframe quoted. When this happens, I send my second reply email that simply says “Done.” My “Done” email also implies two important messages.

1. Done means the issue is resolved – The problem was identified and remediated as quickly and completely as possible. Service is restored and I informed all affected parties.

2. Done also means IT completed an analysis of the issue – We corrected the problem, drilled into the root cause and implemented a permanent fix so the problem never happens again or at least provides an early warning
notice so we can be proactive next time. “Done” means you can permanently remove this issue from your memory.

Depending on the issue and severity of the outage, I usually follow up with another email blast to all affected users stating, “Phone service is restored. I apologize for the inconvenience.” I do not go into more details for the same reason I do not need to know the steps you took to adjust the trial balance so you could close the books this month. The books are closed. I am happy. And yes, I do apologize. My job as CIO is to keep EVERYTHING up and running. I own it and I failed.

Here’s the thing; getting to “On it/Done” takes a long time to learn. You need to develop a serious level of trust with the C-Suite. Your executive partners need to trust that all the proper remediation steps were taken, and IT
is ever-vigilant for future occurrences. In a word, IT “learned” from this lesson.

Trust is earned in drips and lost in buckets. This is profoundly true in my “On It/Done” paradigm. If I say, “On It,” I better be on it. And when I say, “Done,” it better be fixed permanently. And I better be fully prepared to answer any question on the details of the issue and the remediation. I am still the owner of all things technology. Yes, it takes hard work and time. Yes, it is worth it.

Real-CIO Consulting is a Professional Services organization founded to provide strategic CIO Consulting Services to companies that cannot justify a full time CIO or IT Department. It provides mentoring services to those looking to enter or advance in their technology careers. Most importantly, it is founded to “Pay IT Forward” for a career that has been so rewarding.