Most IT managers started reading in the first grade. So far as I can tell, most stop shortly after they’re hired for their first full-time position.

I’m no longer surprised, but am chronically disappointed in the response when I ask members of IT leadership teams what they read to stay informed about industry developments. The usual response? Embarrassed shrugs, punctuated by acknowledgement that Gartner is their primary … make that sole source of strategic IT insights.

You’re reading this right now, which makes you an exception. On behalf of all of us who write and publish, thank you.

But if you’re in management and especially if you’re in IT management, reading is just the ante. It won’t win you the pot.

As a reader you’re aware that “Digital” has become a noun. As a regular KJR reader you know that, whether noun or adjective, Digital is about turning new technologies into new business capabilities and turning those new business capabilities into competitive advantage.

Presumably you read more than just KJR, familiarizing yourself with specific Digital technologies that seem especially promising for your company. That’s what prepares you for conversations about using them to increase marketshare, walletshare, and mindshare.

As a regular KJR reader you’re an IT leader no matter what your job title or official position on the organizational chart is. If you weren’t, your eyeballs would be elsewhere. And so, a reminder: The most important difference between a leader and an individual contributor is that individual contributors succeed. Leaders build organizations that succeed.

It might be my fault. I named this e-letter Keep the Joint Running to embody the principle that, as put forth in the KJR Manifesto, before you can be strategic you have to be competent.

Keeping the joint running is no small thing. That doesn’t mean it’s enough. It’s necessary, but it isn’t sufficient.

Reading isn’t just for management. Reading is the difference between a data warehousing team actively promoting hyperscale “schema on demand,” data-lake repositories and wondering why IT management brought in outside consultants to make them happen.

It’s the difference between developers embracing microservices architectures and saying, “This is no different from what we used to do with COBOL copylibs,” while IT management brings in outside consultants to develop new applications built on a microservices foundation.

It’s the difference between IT infrastructure management advocating replacing the company’s MPLS-based WAN with an ISP-centric connectivity model, and figuring they’re meeting their SLAs so it’s all good while the CIO brings in an IT services firm to make it happen.

So reading isn’t just important for management. It’s everyone’s tool for staying current and not slowly sliding into irrelevance.

It’s everyone’s tool, and as an IT leader it’s up to you to encourage every member of your organization to use it … to recognize that being knowledgeable matters. Maybe not quite as much as competence, but close.

What does this encouragement look like?

Here’s one possibility: With the rest of the IT leadership team, settle on a handful of promising Digital technologies and parcel out responsibility for turning “promising” into either “important” or “never mind.”

Then, each IT leadership team member involves their staff in the process. For small and medium-size IT organizations this might mean reserving two hours in everyone’s time budget for this purpose — one hour to read and one hour for discussion. The desired outcome: A briefing on the technology, that (1) defines and explains what it is; (2) lists and describes the new or enhanced business capabilities the technology might make possible; (3) assesses the technology’s maturity and market readiness; and (4) sketches an adoption roadmap that takes IT from incubation to integration.

And, by the way, once-and-done isn’t good enough. These briefs will be out of date as soon as they’re published, and new high-potential technologies are popping up all the time. Those who write the briefs are responsible for keeping them current.

Keeping track of Digital possibilities is a vital role for IT because the company’s org chart says it is. It is, that is, unless the CEO gave up on the CIO’s ability to provide this level of leadership and hired a chief digital officer to pick up the slack.

In our upcoming book, There’s No Such Thing as an IT Project, Dave Kaiser and I reserved a chapter to describe IT’s new role as business strategy leader. It’s a role that’s important for IT because a department that doesn’t know What’s Going On Out There is a department that neither receives or deserves respect from the rest of the business. It’s important for the rest of the business because …

Well if it isn’t, what’s all the fuss about Digital about?

Sometimes you should document.

Last week I suggested that if you’re being backstabbed, scapegoated or otherwise hung out to dry, documentation won’t help you.

Several members of the KJR community pointed out that if you think you might ever file a formal complaint … if, for example, you might involve the EEOC or if things might end up on court for one reason or another … then good documentation is essential.

As long as we’re on the subject of your relationship with your employer going sideways, let’s take a few minutes to talk about your next exit interview.

Here’s what the exit interview’s point is supposed to be: Freed from concerns of reprisals, departing employees are supposedly more likely to provide honest information about their employment experience than those they’re leaving behind.

And so, exit interviews should help HR pinpoint both problem managers and more systemic issues, and in either case to recommend corrective courses of action.

Here’s what actually doesn’t happen, according to “Making Exit Interviews Count” (Everett Spain and Boris Groysberg, Harvard Business Review, April 2016):

“… many companies don’t even conduct these interviews. Some collect exit interview data but don’t analyze it. Some analyze it but don’t share it with the senior line leaders who can act on it. Only a few collect, analyze, and share the data and follow up with action.

Imagine an HR staff member — call her Mary Mencheslaus — charged with conducting exit interviews. Mary is interviewing Wendy Whyme, a five-year employee who tendered her resignation two weeks prior. Whyme explains why she resigned: Gary Gaslight, a top-performing sales rep who employs the unfortunate tactic of taking prospects to strip bars and requiring the whole sales team to come along. Whyme is the third departing employee in as many months to tell the same story.

Mencheslaus documents the interview, writes a summary for Gaslight’s personnel file, and meets with Gaslight’s manager, Fred Foghat, to explain the situation. Foghat explains the consequences of killing golden geese and suggests to Mencheslaus that dropping the whole matter would be best for all concerned.

Mencheslaus next meets with her manager, Sam Sansvertebrae, to inform him of the situation. Sansvertebrae explains that Gaslight, because he’s such a strong rainmaker, is untouchable, that there’s no point in pursuing the matter further, and that Mencheslaus should remove her remarks from Gaslight’s file and drop the issue immediately.

Mencheslaus, being a highly principled individual, refuses and escalates to the head of HR. Shortly thereafter she finds herself looking for her next employment opportunity.

Meanwhile, Foghat lets Gaslight know about his meeting with HR, suggesting he tone things down a bit until it all blows over. In response, Gaslight spreads the word among his personal network that Whyme is bad news and a troublemaker.

If you think the above tale of woe or something similar doesn’t play out, over and over again, throughout the halls of business organizations all over the map … this is just my opinion mind you … you aren’t being paid for your charming naivet√©.

Who flubbed the situation, and how?

Whyme‘s mistake wasn’t trusting HR’s discretion. Mencheslaus didn’t mention any names in her documentation or her meeting with Sansvertebrae. Whyme’s mistake was thinking she had any upside for responding honestly and completely in her exit interview.

As a five-year employee she had to understand the company’s management culture well enough to know nobody would care. And she had to know that if anyone reprimanded Gaslight or otherwise called for him to change his stripes, that he would figure out she was a likely informant; and that he was vindictive enough and sufficiently well connected that she was putting her career at risk.

Did Mencheslaus make a mistake? You bet she did. She also had to understand the company’s and HR’s management culture, also Sansvertebrae’s management style. Whatever other actions she took, she should have consulted him before taking any other action. Then, if she decided to escalate in spite of its utterly predictable futility, she’d also have been smart enough to keep personal copies of her documentation regarding the entire sorry episode before doing so, just in case one of Gaslight’s victims decided to take the company to court.

Anyone else? Of course. I hope everyone in the KJR community is savvy enough to recognize that the CEO and board of directors are the source of every aspect of the company culture.

That includes the culture of plausible deniability that’s carefully designed to insulate everyone above Foghat and Sansvertebrae in the management hierarchy from the reality of How We Do Things Around Here.