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Big Decisions June 16, 2008

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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Being a CIO has lots of benefits but carries big responsibilities as well.  For better or worse, the really big decisions get pushed up to you, forcing you to make difficult and sometimes divisive rulings on critical issues facing your organization.

Like, for example, women’s casual footwear.

We have a dress code in my organization that is designed to let people be comfortable while maintaining a professional work environment. This includes wearing “appropriate footwear.”  As warmer weather approaches, people start wondering what that means, exactly.

For the men, it’s pretty easy: almost any reasonably-maintained shoe except sneakers is acceptable.  For women, it gets harder.  Open-toe shoes have prompted great debate in my group.  Are flip-flops allowed?  If not, what about “dressy sandals?”  What about “strappy sandals?”  What about open-toe flats that aren’t actually sandals?  Open-toe, with or without a heel strap?  Slingback as opposed to buckled? Sandals, but without a toe thong? What about those new gladiator sandals? Leather or plastic?  What about plastic that looks like leather?

Big decisions like this cannot be delegated to lower levels of your management team.  Only you possess the Solomonic wisdom to define a single standard by which all sandals, strappy or otherwise, will be judged.  You must meet this challenge head on and appease everyone at once.

Thus we have another Profile In Courage: What constitutes appropriate women’s sandals for professional wear?

My answer: if you can submerge the sandal in a bucket of water without upsetting the owner, it is not appropriate.  If the owner would be greatly annoyed by having her sandal submerged and ruined, it is appropriate for our workplace.

This test instantly rules out most everything you would typically wear to the beach or the pool, but leaves in everything you’d wear to dinner or an evening out on the town.  Amazingly, most of the women in my group who consider this solution find it acceptable.  While there are exceptions to both sides of this test, they are small enough that the vast majority of footwear can be easily and unambiguously judged.

Notice that this solution does not apply to the men.  Most men would barely flinch at soaking-wet shoes since our shoes, wet or dry, look and feel about the same.

With another big issue resolved, I can return to less pressing matters.  What a relief!