Why Executives Should Never Drink the Kool-Aid

Don't drink the KoolaidPhoto by Belle Hunt on Unsplash

Warm weather may evoke childhood memories of happy days, outdoor play, and pitchers of refreshing Kool-Aid. But nostalgia aside, based on what we hear from 451 Alliance members, maybe executives should never be allowed to drink the Kool-Aid.

We’ve heard IT professionals use the phrase ‘drinking the Kool-Aid’ as shorthand for “after only a high-level meeting, my executives want this product and would brook no discussion, so we have to purchase and implement the product. And here in IT we’re not happy about it.”

Typically, when this happens, executives are not with their technology staff. They’re at a conference, a seminar, or a face-to-face meeting. Sometimes they’ll read an article about how a certain technology promises to be wonderful, and then insist it’s what the organization needs.

The good news here is that executives are taking an interest in technology.

The not-so-good news is that the wholesale acceptance of any product or solution after only a cursory discussion, without probing for technical details, tends to create difficulties for the IT staff.

Vendors typically make claims for their products based on extensive testing, and given the right circumstances, those claims are justified and provide helpful benchmarks for buyers.

But just as auto manufacturers advise that ‘your mileage may vary,’ achieving optimum product performance in an IT environment depends on many variables: load, equipment, bandwidth, operating system, configuration, and more.

Those variables will affect implementation and performance. Plus, they may interact in ways unimagined by the vendor’s engineers.

This is further complicated when organizations have their own technical idiosyncrasies, settings, or practices that are critical for the business, but perhaps not part of an operating environment that the vendor anticipated.

Potential challenges with a technology product under consideration are unlikely to be addressed in a conference between top company executives and senior vendor sales representatives.

The necessary pre-purchase questions about technical details and nuances of an IT product are unlikely to come from a non-technical senior executive. That’s why it’s vital that IT staff are included in the consideration stage: they’re most qualified to drill down into specifics of compatibility and performance before landing on a purchase decision.

IT professionals, when presented with a fait accompli, generally accept the inevitable and try to make the offering work. But if, after purchase and implementation, it doesn’t measure up to executive expectations, it’s too easy to blame internal IT staff – rather than the vendor or the purchasing process – for any product deficiencies.

It’s easy to understand the appeal of tech Kool-Aid – it’s fresh, it sounds easy to consume, it looks appealing, and most important, it looks like it will solve a problem.

But the IT team still needs to have the opportunity to exercise due diligence.

The 451 Alliance is an invitation-only think tank for IT executives, technologists, and tech-adjacent professionals. Do I qualify?

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