Today, information technology executives have an influential seat in the C-suite and effective leadership is essential for their company’s success. The accelerated pace of technology adoption across industries means the IT team is more critical than ever in charting a company’s future and setting it apart from competitors. This gives the CIO enormous opportunity to shape corporate strategy and the responsibility to execute it.
At Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), I have the privilege of working with the world’s most innovative companies and investors in the technology, life science and premium wine industries. SVB provides targeted commercial, international and private banking services and expertise through its offices and networks in innovation centers around the globe. Reflecting on my decades in IT, I will share some of the lessons I’ve learned about exercising effective leadership to build and manage a highly skilled and responsive IT team that stands the test of an ever-changing technology landscape dotted with industry disruptors.
Don’t ignore crises, learn from them
Commonly the newly hired CIO inherits major issues that require immediate attention or a veteran CIO is faced with a crisis. In my experience, it’s key to take stock with a focused analysis across the classic three dimensions: people, process and technology. The next step requires disciplined planning to address the shortcomings and opportunities with short-, medium- and long-term plans. Once the resources are marshaled, it’s time to take action. But it’s important to ensure that the plans are sustainable, and include strategies for avoiding relapse while preparing for the myriad challenges ahead.
" Technology changes at exponential speed and processes evolve to compensate but it’s the individuals and collective team that ensure long-term success "
There’s a reason that “people” are the first in that triad, ahead of technology. It’s all about the people. Technology changes at exponential speed and processes evolve to compensate but it’s the individuals and collective team that ensure long-term success. A workplace that encourages and rewards collaboration –and innovation – generally succeeds.
It starts with corporate IT leadership setting priorities, with a strong and consistent tone. The vision we paint, the direction we set and the values we espouse and model will impact the organization’s future far longer than any technology or process. This also holds true for any manager we select to help build and guide the team. Experience, professional maturity, diversity in background and skillsets, confidence and a certain “fire in the belly” are essential ingredients to build a successful team.
Have a game plan for managing the team
Experience and skills are top considerations for hiring IT talent. So too should be the team member’s willingness to adopt corporate values and contribute to the corporate strategy. Team members should be both individually inventive and able to contribute in a collaborative team setting. People want to work with dedicated, innovative teammates with whom they can solve problems and from whom they can learn.
Typically, the team includes first-round draft picks and experienced talent. Creating an environment in which all team members can thrive is how to win the game. First, this requires a “healthy” workplace – one built on honesty, transparency and trust in leadership. Second, team members crave challenge befitting their skills and career interests. The atmosphere should be positive (and even fun) and encourage everyone to contribute his or her best work while developing skills – technical or otherwise – necessary to move along their chosen career path. And, critical for any strong enterprise, leadership needs to help everyone understand how their contributions align with overall corporate goals and link to recognition for work well done.
Encourage impact and innovation
Today’s technologists are most highly motivated when they understand how their work contribution is creating real value for the business and IT overall by solving problems and creating opportunities. An effective manager will clearly articulate the challenge and opportunities so each individual understands the role on the team and the value each brings to the company. At SVB, we have created an internal IT campaign called “One IT” – we are one group working together to deliver and ensure success.
To achieve this outcome, we work with SVB’s executive leadership to understand corporate priorities, and then develop IT’s vision, strategic direction and near-term tactical objectives. We maintain a formal three-year IT Strategy that is refreshed annually. It consists of seven strategic focus areas: Enterprise Architecture; Technology Research & Development; Infrastructure; Business Technology Solutions; Project Delivery; Governance, Risk and Compliance; and Talent Management and Global Staffing.
SVB’s corporate strategy, values and recognized drivers of successful execution are woven into the fabric of the IT team, helping members understand how their contributions fit in to the bigger picture. Additionally, we have a comprehensive employee communications program to reinforce the links. The IT management team often provides clarification and advice to ensure we stay aligned. When people can link their contributions to a positive larger outcome, they become even more motivated to achieve greater things.
Matching an individual’s skills to the appropriate work is key. IT departments seek employees with specialized training and experience aimed at boosting productivity, agility and efficiency. As a result, IT professionals need to keep their skills relevant. SVB corporate goals include providing professional development opportunities, and we support a comprehensive IT training program. In addition, IT leaders also continually enhance their leadership skills.
One of the key ways SVB supports professional development is to encourage team members to change roles and teams. The long-term employee benefit outweighs any short-term reorganization pain. Not only is the employee challenged by a new role but also he or she can share knowledge and experience with new work colleagues. This also increases the chances of career advancement.
If there is one key takeaway from this article, it is that despite all of the challenges and demands facing today’s CIOs, putting time and effort into managing the IT team will generate the biggest return: Improved employee morale and a skilled IT team that is well-prepared to thrive in the fast-paced global economy. The C-suite will take notice.