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When ROI Isn’t Enough, Try a Little Y-O-U

Who said fiscal discipline is an effective career enhancer? Not Phil Pavitt; not anymore.

Pavitt is CIO at HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) in the U.K., and he made headlines earlier in the year when he said he was told he’d lose his standing as a key influencer of purchasing and management if he halved his $1.2 billion IT budget. “Surely this is the wrong way round,” he said at the time, and boy did he ever get that right!

Pavitt told that when he first took his job, leading members of the Cabinet Office told him that his budget was so large that he was in the government’s top purchasing club, and would wield tremendous influence on decision-making as a result. But when he asked, “What if I reduce costs by 50%?” they said, “Well, you leave the club.”

“So here I am relieved of my ability to influence government’s ability to purchase if I am clever and do my job,” Pavitt was quoted as saying. “It’s one of the most perverse things I’ve heard.”

Lesson Learned
Pavitt’s tale is all too common, both in government and outside. Most executives are hardwired to respond to spending-related stimuli, and their attention is naturally going to gravitate toward the departments that spend the most. Where, then, is the incentive to be fiscally responsible? Nowhere, that’s where – unless you somehow can change the benchmark from ‘how much’ to ‘how effective.’

One proven route to success in this regard involves positioning your ability to behave responsibly as an advantage to the people above you on the org chart, and thus a boost to their visibility and upward mobility.

In such a case, don’t merely highlight improvements to the bottom line, employee productivity, and overall efficiency; talk about your boss(es) resulting ability to do so much more with so much less than expected. Talk about the praise they’ll receive in the boardroom and perhaps on Wall Street. In short, talk in terms that translate into helping your corporate elders look good to their structural superiors – it’s not ‘sucking up,’ exactly, but rather a manifestation of my old saw that ‘it’s psychology, not technology.’ And there isn’t a thing wrong with using it to stay in the club and do the right thing.

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