5 Tips for IT Leadership in Crisis

5 Tips for IT Leadership in Crisis


IT leaders from Signet Jewelers, Workday, Turtle & Hughes and One Call share the lessons they learned for effective leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. […]

Technology teams played the role of corporate superheroes during the COVID-19 pandemic, accelerating digital strategies to ensure their businesses remained operational. IT executives get credit for exceptional execution, but CIOs know that success is fleeting and stability uncertain.

In fact, 68 percent of the 500 CIOs surveyed say their departments are not fully prepared to help their companies weather another major business disruption. This is according to a recent survey conducted by the professional services company Genpact and the MIT CIO Sloan Symposium. The survey should show what lessons IT leaders have learned from the pandemic storm and how well prepared they are for the future.

“Transformational pilot CIOs that drive the alignment of the entire C-suite, with an organizational focus on building resilience and innovation, will be the co-creators of new business models and sustainable businesses,” said Sanjay Srivastava, CDO of Genpact. “CIOs that don’t will see their companies struggle.“

Here, IT leaders share critical leadership lessons learned while navigating the virus outbreak-tips that will continue to serve you well and prepare your colleagues for future Black Swan events.

Lead with empathy

Consultants have been calling on CIOs to improve their soft skills for so long that it has become a broken record. But if ever there was a time when IT executives should show empathy, it’s now when colleagues, colleagues and subordinates are grappling with a series of pandemic-related health problems, economic woes and political turmoil, according to Howard Melnick, CIO of Signet Jewelers. CIOs accustomed to having a firm grip on their businesses should abandon a “command and control”leadership position in favor of a softer stance.

Howard Melnick, CIO, Jeweler Signet (c) Signet

This approach should cascade through the IT ranks and down product teams-something Melnick has struggled to do at Signet, which last year had to virtualize its jewelry consultant experience in double time. An ethos Melnick has adopted from Jim Collins, who in his seminal book “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make The Leap and Others Don’t” calls on executives to “put the right people on the bus.”

“This year has been a year like no other,” Melnick said. “You have to have a flexible mindset and be comfortable with change.“

Take time to build relationships

Empathetic leadership also involves getting to know your employees. Mark Bilger, CIO of One Call, takes the time at the beginning and end of each day to exchange ideas with colleagues and employees.

Mark Bilger, CIO, One Call (c) One Call

“Good relationships with my employees and business colleagues are critical to the trust we need to work together,” he says. Bilger also holds a 30-minute one-on-one meeting each year with each of his 130 IT staff, during which he learns a lot about the company and its team, while letting employees know that they are valued and managers are not sitting in an “ivory tower”.

Finally, Bilger maintains an email address for special purposes: Ask_The_CIO. There, any employee (especially IT staff) can ask questions or make comments. “In the COVID era, this is meant to reinforce my open door policy – the idea that any employee can reach out to the leadership team at any time.“

Ask for a pre-reading and hone your storytelling

To prepare for a presentation, Sheri Rhodes, CIO of Workday, asks for a “pre-read”, essentially a summary of what the presenter plans to discuss. It also offers such pre-reads before presentations to the Board. This gives participants the opportunity to think about the material and come up with intelligent questions.

Sheri Rhodes, CIO, Workday (c) Workday

“It sounds simple, but it’s about understanding the story you want to share and the input you want to get,” Rhodes says. She also makes storyboards by creating a narrative of what she wants to say, rather than listing enumerations and actions to get better results from the meeting. If it is necessary for the leadership of Amazon.com is good enough, then it is also good enough for CIOs worldwide.

Coordinate OKRs between technology and business teams

The business units are happy to state their own goals and key results (OKRs) for products, but this can get in the way of business coordination.

At Workday, more than 80% of OKRs are exchanged between the business tech team and other business units, including sales, service and finance, to communicate how the products are connected to the goals, Rhodes says. Ask yourself: Is your team aligned with others in the company? How do you measure success together? Then gather around the OKRs to achieve the desired business results-essential in a time of countless interruptions.

Be strategic in change management

The steady advance of automation in the company has led to the fact that employees are afraid of losing their jobs. Will my job be automated? What will happen to me then? These are legitimate questions, and CIOs must have an answer to them. Ajay Kamble, CIO of the 97-year-old industrial company Turtle & amp; Hughes, knows the challenge all too well. It implements robotic process automation (RPA) and extends customer service with artificial intelligence software at a time when people are already worried about their economic well – being.

Ajay Kamble, CIO, Turtle & amp; Hughes (c) Turtle & Hughes

“The moment you use the word ‘automation’, people fear that their job is in danger, ” says Kamble.

To address people’s concerns, Kamble has articulated the importance of this transformation internally to leaders, colleagues, and the workforce by informing stakeholders early and frequently about the strategic benefits of his team’s work and asking for feedback to ensure acceptance and “satisfy the human hunger for appreciation.”In short, make change management a part of the business fabric rather than seeing it as a one-time thing for each project,” Kamble says.

“Their whole mindset is changing,” says Kamble. “You no longer feel like you have to operate a time clock.“

Optional Reading

This is just a small selection of hacks that work for practicing IT leaders. For an additional list of advice, including some wisdom about sharing information, delegating, dealing with problem escalation, and working more effectively with board members, check out Atif Rafiq’s tips for working in the boardroom. Rafiq, currently President of Customers, Commercial and Growth at MGM Resorts International, is a former CDO of McDonald’s and Volvo Cars.

* Clint Boulton is senior author for CIO.com and reports on IT leadership, the role of the CIO and the digital transformation.

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