The senior vice president of the shared service organization that I work with is retiring after 25 years of service to the company. In a farewell gathering last week to honor his years of service and great accomplishments, 25 selected employees (old and new) took turns to share 25 business lessons learned from our retiring boss. Many of those 25 employees who stood and spoke about the 25 business lessons accompanied them with remarkable stories. They were stories that in many ways embodied the values and meaning of each of the business lessons. Being relatively new to the organization, I felt that the hour and a half of stories and messages provided me a glimpse of the organization’s founding stories, its key tenets, culture and identity. I felt a stronger sense of belongingness and understanding that I know will only help me in how I interact and collaborate with my colleagues.
Stories are powerful messages that shape the organization’s understandings of relationships and of how members deal with the mix of harmony, successes and failures that are always present in the workplace. These are past events that people talk about internally—and even externally. In some cases, leaders choose what stories to tell and immortalize. They are stories that best represent the organization’s values and culture.
Stories can also be critical experiences, major incidents, conflicts and problems that the members of the organization experienced together. The way leaders and members approached, worked through and solved critical experiences help shape the group’s dynamics. The daily actions and decisions of leaders and managers signal appropriate responses to wide-ranging issues. Because of social influence, leaders are the single most important factors and determiners of organizational culture.
Organizational culture is influenced by the leadership style. In other words, the personality, philosophy and experience of the leaders get embodied in its group’s culture. Leaders facilitate the development of organizational culture through different embedding mechanisms that align culture with the organization’s common goal and strategy.
The group’s culture provides structure and meaning to its members—in many ways it controls members’ interactions with one another and with external parties. In this post, this concept is applied in the Information Technology (IT) group setting. The IT group culture can influence the success of the IT organization. Culture is socially constructed through leaders that embed their beliefs, values and assumptions upon the group that it leads. The culture of any IT organization is formulated and impacted by several variables. The strongest and the most obvious is the influence of its leader. According to E. H. Schein, leader’s primary embedding mechanism is seen in how they pay attention to, measure and control aspects of organization’s operations and decision making. They initiate great conversations that tie cultural norms to the organization’s goals. If the current culture is not aligned with the new realities, leaders need to be the catalyst to create new understanding and help individuals select new behaviors and, eventually, beliefs. Leaders must also define, clarify and reinforce understanding of the actions and beliefs that build the desired culture.
To examine how IT leaders influence the IT organizational culture and IT branding let’s use some of E. H. Schein primary embedding mechanisms and apply it in the IT perspective. Each one comes with a set of questions you can use to assess the impact of such embedding mechanism in your IT organization right now:
What Leaders Pay Attention To, Measure, and Control on a Regular Basis
Although performance measures presented in the leader’s reporting dashboard change from time to time, most of the leaders that I know only pay attention to a small set of key performance indicators. IT leaders rely on a subset of key measures that they believe is the best indicator of the overall performance of the organization. As an IT manager, you know what your CIO is looking at and controlling most of time. Your CIO gets your attention and tracks certain aspects of operations based on these key performance indicators. In some instances, the CIO will try to drill down and find more information about a perceived problem and base his request for action on this. The performance measures that IT leaders pay attention to, measure, and control on a regular basis dictate the importance given by the organization to a service, a problem or a project.
It is but a natural tendency for managers, staff and different groups within IT to keep track of the performance measures that IT leaders are more attentive to. More likely, these people discuss these controls in daily IT operations meetings. Some will even set alarms so as to act swiftly on incidents before they become major problems. Performance measures and controls are powerful mechanisms that IT leaders use to forge a working culture based on what they think is important. How current are your departmental metrics? Do they measure against your current organizational objectives? Do they reflect the coming changes and help prepare your team for new ways of working?
How Leaders React to Critical Incidents and Organizational Crises
Companies in this day and age rely on an integrated set of digitized platforms and infrastructure to run and manage its business operations. When a critical IT incident occurs, it often impacts mission-critical systems and processes that affect business operations. These days, it is not hard to imagine how something like this can directly impair the ability of the company to serve its customers. These kinds of problems could unfavorably hurt the company’s profits and reputation in the short term. When a major IT incident disrupts most critical processes of the company, the credibility and reputation of the IT organization is heavily dependent on their perceived preparedness and responses during the situation. The CIO is at the forefront of disaster recovery measures and business continuity management and continues to work hand-in-hand with business managers. For mature IT groups, the planning, work and infrastructure that that is used to run disaster and business continuity situations are completed way before major incidents occur.
Business continuity and disaster recovery is part of an organizational learning process. In the wake of a crisis, IT leaders adopt a learning orientation and use prior experience to develop new routines and behaviors that ultimately change the way the organization prepares and responds to crisis. The best leaders recognize this and are purposeful and skillful in finding the learning opportunities inherent in every crisis situation. Is your organization proactive about problem management, disaster recovery, and business continuity preparedness? What can you do to better build your team’s capabilities to manage critical incidents and crisis situations?
How Leaders Allocate Resources
IT leaders have control on the allocation of resources in the organization. This applies to operational and projects resource assignments. The CIO controls the budget allocation to key projects, resource assignment to operations areas, and the time IT members spend on certain initiatives. On the other hand, the CIO also controls how and where to slash resources during budget optimization. How leaders allocate the resources of the organization creates a natural signal to its members about their priorities and what they think creates more value to the company. His or her interpretation of the business strategy and the expectations of the company’s shareholders impact the leader’s decision making process. Resources mean money and time. Therefore, when the CIO decides on the operating and capital budget portfolio allotment, this provides managers an indication of where in the organization best efforts and priorities are expected.
Another strong indication of the CIO’s priorities can be observed on how he spends time. To better understand the job of the CIO, Peter Weill, MIT profession and co-author of the book IT Savvy, examined how CIOs allocate their time. CIOs allocate time in four major areas: managing IT Services, working with non-IT colleagues, working with customers, and managing enterprise processes. Time allocation varies a lot because of individual management style but in most cases, where the CIO spends the most time sends a strong message. As an IT leader, examine how you spend your time. How do you think it impacts the desired cultural values of your organization? In what ways should you change your managerial regimens to better present, explain, and reinforce the desired culture?
Deliberate Role Modeling, Teaching, and Coaching
We all naturally know that leading by example is one of the most powerful ways of leadership, but ironically it’s often the most overlooked. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” The best way to create culture is to transmit culture. I think the most obvious ways to transmit culture is through teaching and coaching. IT managers and staff look up to their senior leaders for directions. Leaders should be engaged with IT operations but their engagement in it should not be limited to supervising and running operations but also guiding, teaching and coaching managers.
Information Technology needs future-oriented leaders. Arguably, it is the most unpredictable and fast innovating area of the company. If the CIO is not forward looking, it can’t provide the business with a platform to continue to be competitive and at par with competitors who are relentlessly pursuing innovation. IT leaders are fascinated about the future. They are relentless about change and impatient for progress. CIOs are always looking forward to new technology and practices that are developing, looking for ways of plotting a course of new processes, tools and methodologies and experimenting how it will make sense in business in the future. How many types of developmental conversations occur in your organization? How can you create a culture of learning that goes beyond traditional classroom training? In what ways do your communication tools and practices help build your team’s skills for participating in conversations about goals, changes, and barriers they face? What can you do to better build your team’s capabilities for participating in transformative conversations? Is learning embraced at all levels?
The values and priorities of the IT leader- may it be the CIO, CTO, IT VP or IT Director— are reflected in the culture of the information technology (IT) organization. This is true also for other organizations, big or small, that has its members working together for some time. A positive organizational culture reinforces the core beliefs and behaviors that a leader desires while weakening the values and actions the leader rejects (Kaufman 2002). A negative culture becomes toxic, poisoning the life of the organization and hindering any future potential for growth. Obviously, there is an inevitable bridge joining organizational culture and the level of success it enjoys (Peters and Waterman 1982).
Photo courtesy of Ivy Remoreras Photography.
In Part 1 of this series I talked about branding in general and how IT branding is linked to the Process Culture maturity of an IT organization. In Part 2, I listed the different rewards IT organizations can derive directly or indirectly from having a strong IT brand. I also defined the concept of IT Brand Identity and IT Branding.
- IT Brand Identity marks the tangible representation of your IT brand. This representation can be in different forms – your mission and vision, your service offers, culture and style.
- IT Branding is the process of building and improving IT brand identity. This identity or culture is shared by employees and groups that control the way you interact with each other and with stakeholders outside of t he company.
I derived the idea of associating quality of IT service delivery and IT branding from the opinion shared to me by William Gearhart. Bill is the VP of Information Technology of the organization I work with. Bill’s comment was as follows:
“Critical to the success of any company or its branding is the business model and the success of delivering it hourly, daily, weekly, etc. You can brand any identity but it is the delivery and focus of the team that moves you up the ladder of respect within an organization.”
Bill goes on to say:
“I believe you establish the partnership and respect, apply your brand and then focus on assuring your service delivery and processes move forward with the organization(s) you are supporting and enabling.”
The relentless pursuit of high quality IT services is central to IT branding. It is the factory that creates meaningful stories in the hearts and minds of our internal customers. These stories ultimately shape the perception of your internal customers – thus, strengthening your IT brand identity. High quality IT service is the best IT brand identity. For a service organization like IT, the surest way to create trust is consistency in the delivery of services.
Facets of Quality in IT Services
Quality is the best problem solver. IT organizations that consciously pursue quality in all its services take a proactive approach in problem management. This pursuit guides IT organizations on which problems to solve first and which opportunity to seize. Problem management practices are essential in this effort. First of all, problem management should be proactive. It should be focused on studying trends in order to reduce recurring issues and ensure long-term solutions by addressing root causes. Reducing IT incidents directly helps in improving customer or end-user experience in using IT services.
Quality is the best customer relationship. High quality in IT services is the silent salesman. Consistency in IT service delivery will create good perceptions and a positive experience for internal customers. I think that a high level of quality enables IT to function as a business partner of its customers. Somehow it is the same as selling a product in the market. No matter how much you spend in advertising and promotions, if the product is questionable and does not have good quality, it will be difficult to sell. It is important for IT to focus on delivering high quality products and services right the first time. This is done through effective change management and high quality implementations.
Quality is your best identity. IT branding and quality of IT services delivery are two sides of the same coin, in that high quality IT services creates a good IT brand identity. The level of quality in your company’s IT services determines how your organization is perceived by your partners and internal customers. It is important for IT managers to understand that the organization establishes its brand by building trust. The best way to create trust is consistency in providing high quality services.
A Final Note:
One can define quality in many different ways depending on the point of view. However, quality in the perspective of a service organization such as IT is defined entirely by the customers. The customers’ perception is reality. Quality is based on the customer’s assessment of his or her entire customer experience which is the consolidated evaluation of the organization’s different touch points. Again, I believe that the persistent pursuit of high quality IT services is central to IT branding. High quality IT service is the best IT brand identity. For a service organization like IT, the surest way to create trust is consistency in the delivery of services.
Photo courtesy of www.zebratranslations.co.uk
Branding IT Organization Part I talked about branding in general and how IT branding is linked to the Process Culture maturity of an IT organization. This time, I will further define the concept of IT branding and how it relates to team culture. Jose Rivas, a colleague of mine, posted this as a comment in my last article:
“Branding is something that everyone in IT does every day– it is how the user community perceives you. I believe that branding is a reflection of the culture that drives the IT organization, or any other group for that matter. Purposely branding IT takes a lot of thought and effort. It requires a clear vision, effective communications within as well as outside IT, strong executive sponsorship and a well-motivated organization.”
I couldn’t agree more with this opinion of Jose Rivas on IT branding as a reflection of the team’s culture. Branding has a lot to do with human perspective and the forces that are created in social and organizational interactions. It has a lot to do with your group’s identity and culture.
IT Brand Identity and IT Branding
IT Brand Identity marks the tangible representation of your IT brand. This representation can be in different forms – your mission and vision, your service offers, culture and style. It is what you stand for. IT brand identify is the set of values that exists in your customers and employees’ mind as a result of interaction and associations with your IT organization.
IT Branding is the process of building and improving IT brand identity. This identity or culture is shared by employees and groups that control the way you interact with each other and with stakeholders outside of t he company. It is the value you create that gets reinforced every time your internal customers interact with anyone in your team and any facet of your service.
Improving your IT brand: Why bother?
Below are just some of the rewards IT organizations can derive directly or indirectly from having a strong IT brand.
- IT will run more efficient operations because they align all decisions with the mission, vision and values that underpin their promise.
- Internal customers (business) are willing to invest more in IT because they believe it will deliver outstanding benefits.
- Quality of IT services concretes internal customer loyalty.
- Business supports IT projects because they know that IT creates value in the company.
- It is easier for IT to communicate new service offers.
- IT will find it easier to attract and retain good employees because applicants believe in the quality of the workplace based on the advance knowledge of the caliber of the brand.
- IT will increase its value and management support
The bottom line for IT managers and employees is that if they do not become conscious of the team culture in which they are embedded – those cultures will control them. This process is complex and multifaceted. Every IT team must learn how to become a team. They have to find their identity and use it to their advantage.
Photo courtesy of advanceweb.com.
The project that I am currently involved in has been very successful. Unfortunately, I can’t give you many details about it, except that the team is tasked to implement a new business model. It involves blueprinting the new model, construction, organizational transformation and implementation in a multinational company. We are not even finished with the project yet but the business return on investments has been unprecedented. In projects as big as this, you can talk about many success factors. The common clichés are senior management support, adequate change management, good business model design and construction, excellent resources, etc. However, I would like to single out one success factor that has inspired me to write this article—project management discipline.
Project management has been practiced since early civilization. It began with engineering projects and it was in the early 1950s that companies started systematically applying project management principles and tools in complex business projects. It could be the oldest trick in the book. But it is still a key element to any business integration initiative.
Steve Small is a colleague of mine. He manages Project Management processes. I would like to quote him about his views on project management.
“I look at Project Management as the force that provides the structure, framework, and guidance for all the participants, activities and deliverables; however, the ultimate success factor for any project is the strength of the team you have in place. I know it is a cliché but it is really all about the people!”
Let’s analyze Steve’s quote and from it, derive key points of project management concepts.
Structure, Framework and Guidance
Let’s start with structure and framework. There are many project management frameworks and methodologies out there but there is a common theme in all of them. They all contain the traditional sequence of steps. They are typically comprised of the following stages: Initiation, Planning, Execution, Monitoring and Completion. These steps tell you what you have to do – how to manage your projects from start to finish. It describes every step in the project life cycle, so you know exactly which tasks to complete, when and how. Whether you’re an experienced project manager or a novice, it guides you in administering the project.
Activities and Deliverables
When it comes to explaining activities and deliverables, the PRINCE2 diagram and approach is my favorite. Why? It is because the framework provides the life cycle based on the project processes with clearly defined inputs and outputs.
- Starting up a project – Inputs: Project Mandate; Outputs: Project manager and project management team appointment, business case and project brief
- Initiating a project – Inputs: Project brief, business case and approach; Outputs: Project plan, refined business case, project controls, project initiation documents
- Directing a project – Inputs: Project plan, project controls; Outputs: Authorized initiation and stages, day to day project management and controlling.
- Controlling – Inputs: Status reports, alarms, issues and risks; Outputs: Issue resolution, reviewed project stage output, issue escalation.
- Managing stage boundaries – Inputs: Project stage progress; Outputs: Planned next stage, updated project plan (if necessary), updated business case (if necessary) and Stage end reporting.
- Closing a project – Inputs: Overall project results / output; Outputs: Project decommissioned and project evaluation reviews.
People and Other Resources
Resources are essential to carry out the project task set forth by the project mandate. They can be people, equipment, facilities and financial. When you lack a project resource, it becomes a constraint that might affect the completion of the tasks. Resources need to be managed and balanced through project management so these are adequate in any given time to complete project activities. Normally, resource assignment considers how each task is prioritized. Resource scheduling, availability and optimization are considered key to successful project management.
I spent a good portion of my work experience in projects. I had the privilege to work with people from different nationalities, cultures, backgrounds and process areas. I like participating in projects because it gives me an ever changing set of opportunities and challenges. As they say, no two projects are the same. It is mainly because of the temporary nature of a project — having a defined start and end date. It is a complete contrast to business-as-usual operations, where individuals and groups have predefined, usually repetitive tasks and goals to achieve value.
To be continued…
In my succeeding post, we will discuss program management. Viewing program management as just administration of a collection of projects is a mistake. Program management is more than that. It is more involved with the firm’s over-all Process Culture. Vaughan Merlyn has written extensively about this topic in his blog IT Organization Circa 2017. Let’s see what we can draw up from his ideas and discuss it in the next article.
Building an engine that generates a steady stream of innovations in processes, technology and product development is difficult, but companies that are able to do it, differentiate themselves from competitors. Innovation groups (other companies call it evolution committees or R&D groups) should focus their energy on:
- Incremental Improvements (streamlining, optimization, reengineering, cost reduction, reliability)
- Radical Periodic Improvement (New platform, new methods, new strategy, new philosophy, Enterprise 2.0, leap to Process Culture, etc)
Examples of two companies who have mastered innovation are Toyota and Google. Both are leaders in their respective industries. Toyota’s success is tied up to its well-known business model– the Toyota Way that has been duplicated by other companies in different industries. The Toyota business model has been so successful that the company has relied on it for decades now to run its global business successfully. Toyota, for a long time, has a strong process culture and its continuous dominance is driven by its focus on incremental process improvement that is tied up to its quality operations and production management.
Google, on the other hand, grew rapidly because of the radical rules they initiated that redefined the use of the Internet. Roberto Verganti in his book Design-Driven innovation compares this radical change to having a vision, and taking that vision to the heart of the customers. In the case of Google, this means the Web users. Think about it. This company has overturned our understanding of the use of information and networking. Jeff Jarvis in his book What Would Goggle Do?, talked about Google differentiating itself from the likes of Yahoo and AOL. Unlike the previous search giants, Google is not a portal; it is a network of platforms. Google, in a way, empowered the users of the internet, changed media and redefined the advertising rules. We as users have not asked for these new necessities, but when we experienced them, it was love at first sight.
It’s hard to imagine how already huge companies such as Toyota and Google can continue to improve and sustain growth well into the future. They have perfected the fuel that keep them competitive and well ahead of everyone else. They rely on the combination of continuous incremental changes and periodic radical innovations. I think it is mandatory for companies who aim for sustainable growth and continued primary industry position in the future to push for visionary innovation. There is no single scheme to follow. It is a transversal process that depends on combining industry experience and strong innovation methodologies that create new ideas, new technologies, new products and new processes.
Design-Driven Innovation- Book Recommendation
Last weekend, I came across a book entitled “Design Driven Innovation: Changing the Rules of Competition by Radically Innovating What Things Mean”. This recently-published book is written by Roberto Verganti — a professor of Management of Innovation at Politecnico di Milano. He is the founder of PROject Science, a consulting institute that provides consulting services on management strategic innovation.
The book caught my attention initially because of its title. I have a close affinity for design initiatives, having moved early last year across the Pacific from Asia to the company headquarters to join a Global Design Team. I have always believed that innovation from a well-thought out design initiative can radically improve a company and change the rules of competition in its industry — be it product innovation, organizational, technological, process and company philosophy.
From the front flap of his book, Professor Verganti presented his vision of a bold new way of competing. He wrote, “Until now, innovation studies have focused either on radical innovation or incremental innovation pulled by the market.” He explains that “…design-driven innovations do not come from new markets; they create new markets. They don’t push new technologies; they push radically new meanings.” His book talked about innovative products like Swatch in the 80s and as well as Nintendo’s Wii and Apple’s iPod – both of which are currently dominating their respective markets. In the fourth chapter of his book, Professor Verganti provided a comparison between the innovation strategies of Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft in the US$30 billion game console industry. Nintendo, after dominating the game market in the 80s, was experiencing a downturn, until they released their revolutionary Nintendo Wii. Meanwhile, Microsoft and Sony were focused on incremental improvements on their Xbox and Playstation products through better speed and graphics. Nintendo, on the other hand, introduced the radical idea of using game consoles as an active physical entertaining medium. It generated new meaning to game consoles and appealed to different consumers worldwide.
I think managers who are interested in innovation should get a hold of this book. This can be used as essential reference for all those interested in design and determined to make innovation the driving factor in their business and profession. In my case, the reason I bought this book is because I am interested in Processes and IT innovations. I believe this book will definitely provide me insights on methodologies that can drive process innovation initiatives. It is something that I want to write about and explore.
Book Cover Image Courtesy of Harvard Business Press.
Last August 13, I published an article entitled “Accelerating Process Culture” which talked about the four different levels of process culture maturity in a company. There are two underlying criteria used to qualify the different levels of process culture maturity– level executive management involvement and level of business process integration.
When executives exhibit a strong commitment to the process and technology evolution of the company, they always bring everyone on board. Executive management has the authority to push company-wide change as well as fund processes and IT initiatives. They are responsible for aligning the company’s structure to the business integration strategy; therefore, they enable the organization to advance to a higher process culture maturity. Let’s revisit the four levels of process culture maturity:
- Level 1: Individual heroes – dependence on individuals or a few company experts
- Level 2: Diverse Approach – initiatives per department but lacking in integration
- Level 3: Model Integration – business and IT align and model integration is achieved
- Level 4: Process Culture – executive passionately participates in process initiatives
This time, let’s examine closely the highest level of process maturity—The Process Culture. The final step of process culture maturity is when the organization achieves a high level of model integration by leveraging the consistent involvement of executive management as sponsors and facilitators of change.
There are three factors that determine the right approach towards process culture maturity. Let’s call it the “SIB factors”. S stands for senior management involvement, I for innovation and B for business model integration.
Senior managers and managers alike are the critical success factors in your organization’s process culture journey. They lead the way in building process culture and defining the operating model. Innovation in information technology is also a key component. Successful companies nowadays rely on an integrated set of electronic business processes, tools, information, and technologies. With proper support and funding, an IT organization should be able to provide the right platform and technology in which to build the foundation.
The next thing that the company needs to do is to make sure that they select the right business process model from among the many tested disciplines and existing operating models. The underlying logic here is that a company’s business model is limited by the environment. In other words, it depends on several factors, such as the industry it operates, the products and services it sells, its size and geographical diversity. Using all these factors, you determine the level of business process standardization and the level of integration of the company’s different businesses — with profitability and competitiveness requirements in mind. Shared services, outsourcing, diversification, standardization, model replication are some of the most prevalent business models multinational companies have implemented.
The real question is: how close are you and your company to getting to the highest level of process culture? This is a guide on how to assess the level of process culture maturity of an organization. Again, the examples are outlined using the “SIB factors”. Observe the following points and evaluate how your company is doing right now.
Senior management involvement
- Top executives participate in the IT and Processes evolution committee.
- Requires thoroughly analyzed business cases and encourages measurement of acquired benefits.
- Pushes for post-implementation audit to evaluate project output and acquire lessons learned.
- Encourages collaboration across business lines and functional teams.
- Funds IT and Process initiatives and actively support training in the use of IT.
- Exhibits a strong sense of innovation, feelings of shared interest to continue to improve and be ahead of competitors
- Holds regular management briefings on the impact of new technology developments and process innovations in the industry.
- Establishes a consolidated IT operation that manages a standard IT platform to sustain day-to-day support functions to business areas.
- Encourages use of IT in the business. Users possess a feeling of empowerment and confidence in the effectiveness and reliability of the processes and systems.
- Strives to leverage new technology, platform and methodology with sufficient effort in research and development in the area of processes and IT.
- Defines a clear vision of model integration and process standardization.
- Uses a best-in-class enterprise resource planning software to run an integrated set of business processes
- Promotes implementation of end-to-end processes to ensure the efficient flow of activities and effective allocation of decision rights and accountabilities.
- Captures business information in one area and shares it to another business area. Possesses the willingness to share and use information to measure and improve key performance.
- Maximizes reuse of business processes and platform across different business lines.
Achieving a high level of process culture maturity presents a host of challenges to an organization. The SIB factors provide a structured framework where initiatives can be drawn and strategies derived. This will propel your company forward through its process culture maturity journey. Achieving the highest level of process culture maturity requires strong executive sponsorship and IT leadership in order to support the company through a change process. When achieved, the company is in a good position to leverage IT for profitable growth and gain competitive advantage in a global market that knows no boundaries. This leap begins with you and your company’s senior managers.