CIOs in the Age of Experience w/Martha Heller

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Companies have adopted, improved, and innovated technologically to fit business needs for hundreds of years. Now, we are living in a moment that will be historic as CIOs move entire companies from on-prem to online.

In this episode, Tim Flower and Thomas McGrath of Nexthink speak with Martha Heller, CEO of Heller Search Associates, on episode 3 of the Digital Employee Experience podcast. After speaking with numerous CIOs before and during the pandemic, Martha shares what she has seen on the front lines of these executive roles and...

- The CIO Paradox

- Digital Transformation as a Team Sport

- Re-Inventing Company Culture

For more information on CIOs and how decisions are driving organizations to be more technology enabled, Nexthink has an on-demand webinar for listeners of today’s show put on by Slater and Gordon’s IT team. For more information, head over to nexthink.com or LinkedIn to stay connected!

To hear more interviews like this one, subscribe to the Digital Employee Experience Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

You're listening to digital employee experience. A show for it. Change makers, let's get in this show. Hello, change makers, I'm Tom McGrath. With me, as ever, is Tim Flower. Tim, how's it going? What's keeping you busy this week? Hey, Tom, I'm doing really well. Thanks for asking. Plenty keeping us all busy right now, right, but it's all really good stuff and I'm really looking forward to talking with our guests today. Well, before we do, let me admit to something. I have done something I think is known as Linkedin stalking you and I've seen with my own two eyes that you've got a very distinguished career. But I didn't see the letters Ceioh there on your work history. Why? Why is that? Tim Did that amount of power scare you? Is it still on the Tim Flower Career Bucket List? What's the explanation? No, it's not on the bucket list. You know, there are different ways to look at your technology career. Right one is to stay close to the action, stay close to both the employees and staff and the technology will be a leader in that way, or climb the corporate ladder. I'm not the corporate ladder kind of guy. Right, I really like the I like the frontline action. Fair enough Tim Fair enough power. Obviously not for everyone, then, but if you do aspire to sit on its iron phone already do so. Perhaps today's episode is a must here. After all, our guest, Martha Hella, has written two hugely influential books on the modern CIO, the CIO paradox, battling the contradictions of it leadership and be the business ceios in the new era of it. She is also, not least, the founder and president of Hella such associates. A recruiting from specializing in CIO and it leadership rolls off the Hella. Welcome to the show. Thanks, it's great to be here. Mouth of the CIO paradox, could you begin, please, by telling us what it is and comment as to whether two thousand and twenty has started to resolve the tensions and contradictions in the role or exacerbate them? Absolutely. So you know the CIO paradox is really the concept is just that. You know, the CIO role is beset by a series of contradictory forces. Those contradictory forces are always there. They don't go away, but successful, see, I always learn how to manage through them. Just as a couple of examples, security versus innovation. Absolutely nothing can go wrong from a risk management perspective. Everything we do has to be risk free or, you know, be able to be managed from a risk perspective. Can't leave any holes and has to be highly secure. But you're also accountable for trying new things, throwing things as the wall. Hey, if it fails, it fails. How can I be accountable for a function that can never fail and yet also build a culture of fast failure into my organization or smart failure? That's a paradox. It exists, is important, but it never goes away. Another I call the futurist archibis paradox I cio. I'm accountable for the future of the company, because what we invest in today is going to be either going to be wonderful for us or restricted for us in the future, and it's my job to define our technology future, which is the future of our company. But I've also got a deal with, you know, decisions...

...made of out legacy systems, made probably ten years before I even joined the company. That's an example of a paradox, but the one that is really my favorite because it speaks to the challenge of being a CIO is what I call the accountability versus ownership paradox. So just a little story. You know, I would I would get up in front of a crowd of cios and I would mention an IT project and somebody would raise their hand and say, well, in my company there are no it projects, there are only business projects. That's how we conceptualize all of our projects. But I think, okay, those are pretty words. But then, you know, a week later, when that CIO calls me and says Hey, I've been let go because our earp project went out, if I think, Huh, why are you the one holding the bag? I thought that was just some business project. And so the paradox there is that cios are so often accountable for driving technology adoption, for a certain return on investment of technology decisions, when in fact they don't own those teams that are actually going to adopt those technologies. Back to me, is the most pernicious of the paradoxes. But in terms of you know the latter part of your question, and you know, has the pandemic exacerbated that? I would say absolutely it has, because now we've got it. You know, we're relying on technology even more so any of the challenges of the CIO role are going to become more acute. That being said, it has also given the CIO some relief regarding these paradoxes because of the pandemic. CEOS who have in resistant to letting employees work remotely, CEOS who have been resistant to adding a stream of maybe digital products to their product line, there over the HALP because, you know, for CEOS who say, Oh, we can only, you know, sell our product with a handshake, well, there's no handshakes happening right now, so those CEOS have to get over the HOLMP. So I would say the pandemic has not resolved any of these paradoxes. They never will be resolved. But what the pandemic has done is it's made CEOS see the value of technology investments in area where there previously have not. And anytime you get a CEO who has an appetite for increased technology investment and for technology adoption within their companies, that's good for the Cioh when you look at the paradox, if you think of it as a pendulum, right, and we'll take the one paradox of taking a greater risk versus playing it safe. How do you think that plays out in a business? Is it driven by the mindset of the CEO or of the business leaders that says, Hey, we can't play it safe, we've got to go down this more aggressive approach, which kind of puts the CEIO at risk, but they're almost in a place now where they've got to not only take the risk, but taking that risk means they need to be more technically astuted about what that path looks like. Do you think it's driven by business and CEO, or how much do the ceio really have a say? For my perspective, the CIO needs always to be pushing the boundaries, doing what's possible. If we did this, we did this. Let me explain to you how we can push the die while at the same time investing in the security...

...that's going to allow us to reduce our risk. It is up to the CIO to align with other executives who agree with that perspective and then to present in a very data informed way to the CEO, and then it's about getting the board on board. So you know the CEIO is not, you know, in a vacuum, going to make a unilateral decision about risk taking and, you know, investing in new technologies. But to the CIO is sitting around waiting for somebody else to, you know, stick their neck out and take that risk, then the business will not evolve and will likely fail. So you know it's the CEEI WHO's got to get it going. But if the CEIO finds that he or she is the only one in support of an idea, you know it'll never get executed. Can you've been at this research for a while now. Do you think over the last ten months the pandemic, and when we say pandemic, we kind of equated to remote work, but do you think the pandemic accelerated this evolution of the CEO or is this something that was already under way because of technology evolution? What's your thought of the last ten to twelve months on the acceleration? Sure so. This is what I think happened in the last ten to twelve months. And you're right. You know, we think of the pandemic as remote but it's not. It's also acceleration of a digital Jendo, which is about customer interaction, which is about products and all of that. I think what happened was in March the CIOS really stopped working on their high value digital agendas and just got everybody remote, which was obviously tremendous effort. And you know, I really did a whole listening tour of ports and five hundred CEOS for Dover months at the beginning of the pandemic, and sound of like things went pretty well. There are a couple of disaster recovery plans that people wish they had. They didn't have, but you know, people got remote pretty easily and then CEOS, you know, looked at their CIO and said wow, that was pretty impressive. I have a degree of trust in my cio now and I anoint him or her with leading the charge on our digital agenda, because I can't leave with customers anymore. We better get that digital agenda off the ground. So I think the last couple of months have been very, very good course CIOS, in that they've had an opportunity to, you know, perform in a crisis mode and they, for the most part, from what I can tell, delivered on that. And so now there's been a lot of trust. But what I will also say is that, you know, speaking personally, in March when all this came down I thought, Oh, what happens to an executive search for during a pandemic and during a likely recession that's going to come from that? And I called my brother, who's a bankruptcy lawyer, and I said, okay, this business has been great for ten years. What's going to happen now? Walk me through it. Before he got a chance to reprise me, we started signing searches left and right, to the point where we had a stronger year in two thousand and twenty, and I even anticipated back in two thousand and nineteen. So what happened? Any what happened was some CEOS were not so pleased with how their it leadership team got, you know, manage the crisis, and those cios have been invited to pursue employment elsewhere. But I think what has also happened is cios have had a chance to see how they're executive colleagues handle a crisis. And if this...

...pandemic isn't enough to get CEO's and boards and executive committee to think, things aren't different now, not just because of pandemic, but because we're no longer in an industrial economy where, in a digital economy, we don't change things dramatically, we won't succeed, regardless of when the pandemic subside. So I think a lot of CIOS have said, Huh, I'm a walk to another opportunity where that executive committee sees the future in the way that I do. That's a great point. The trust in the CIO and the reputation that the CIO has built is a double edged sword. Right, you've got that trust and confidence internally, but now it's also a resume builder and you can go pitch that to someone who actually direly needs your expertise. That's exactly right. You know, trust takes a long time to build. There just a second to to lose. So you know, taking the trust that you know your your company has in you and now are laying that into a new role is a sound strategy. But I think what's also happening is CEIOS who decided to stick around in their roles are now able to move forward on some investments that they had met too much resistance prior. So let's talk a little bit about that. The you know, the CEIO that had a significant project in front of him that he put on hold, he or she put on hold addressed to the remote work and the kind of business continuity planning that they needed to put into place. Now gets back to that digital transformation project that was put on hold. Are they looking at it any differently? Is there a different approach to now collaborating with the business pulling off a big project in the new world versus the old world? It's so funny that you ask that. You know, one of the questions that I asked on my listening tour is what have you learned about your team, your organization, your capabilities? And you know, I learned how much we can accomplish if we work together. I learned how having a, you know, life and death goal, which what we literally had right you know I'm getting you know, getting people home safely is a matter of life and death. I learned what a motivator that is. I've never seen my team move like this. I've never seen, you know, are any thousand employee population adopt a new technology is fast as everybody adopted zoom or teams or whatever we're using. So my quest in them to them is okay, Great. How do you keep all of that speed and collaboration and productivity when you don't have the life and death burning platform when a burning platform is simply gross revenue and customer acquisition, say, and not. You know, we're in the middle of a real healthcare crisis. How do you keep that motivation going? And every one of them said, good question. We're working on that. So I'm very hopeful that the leadership lessons learned during the last several months can be applied to the future without that healthcare crisis. But to answer your question more directly, I don't think that the way come panies and see io's approached. Digital Transformation, digital investments, all of...

...that is going to change dramatically as organizationally structurally, you know, as a result of the pandemic. But I do think that the collaborative nature of a culture has gotten a boost. I'll say that in a better way. Digital Transformation is a team sport. I can't leave that the business can do it on their own. Everybody's got to work together. That's hard because, you know, we grew up an industrial environment where, you know, it's all about silos and specialization and I do my thing and you do your thing and I know what I'm accountable for. Will all of a sudden in a digital or data economy, everything has to be collaborative, everything has to be cross functional, everything has to be a team sport. Then is a really, really hard, you know, culture to build if it hasn't been your past. Well, during the pandemic we all work collaboratively. There were crisis management teams, there was there was no stopping and saying, wait a minute, what am I accountable for? What are you accountable for? So harnessing that the culture of collaboration is alive and well in the pandemic. So I don't think it's a new approach to digital. I think it's a stronger sense of collaboration, which is the right approach to digital. And I've seen that too. And it collaborating with partners that we don't normally collaborate with, like HR. When you've now gone from tenzero people in one office to tenzero offices all with one person, you've got a different environment and hr really needs to start thinking about employee wellness and wellbeing. Businesses is concerned about not only productivity of employees but quality. And do you think that those things now are starting to if the transformation projects in execution don't change all that much other than collaboration, do you see investment decisions on which transformation projects to actually pursue? Changing in other words, is it all about revenue, profit and risk mitigation, or does the employee experience employee wellness, employee turnover? Does that now start to also guide some investment decisions? It's a great question. I'm going to give you first my cynical response. The only reason employee happiness matters is for productivity and revenue and profits. The reason the board cares about the happiness of a plant worker is because they want that product out to the customers. So you know. But at the same time I think that the let me say it this way, for corporate cultures which are all about employee are built over time and somebody's tend to take those cultures very seriously. Right it's a very important thing to them. And you know, I remember I was just did a blood interview with the CIO of Jet Blue, you know, and he was sitting in some random office in jet blue. There's nobody in the building. It was just him and behind it on the wall where there's values and we don't integrity, whatever those values are. But the last one was hard with an exclamation point, and I looked up and I said, AH, how much funey you're having right now? They said not, not a lot. You know, I like to be with people. So you know, if we are back to the office in let's call it Ju I think companies will just continue along with the cultures in the values that they've always had and they...

...employe engagement that they've always had. If we are permanently changed as a result of this, and I don't know who knows the answer to this, but if we're permanently changed and we're really not coming back to the office in the same way, we're going to have a much greater percentage of remote work. Companies need to reinvent their culture. You going to can't just sell it's the same culture, except now we never see each other. What kind of culture is that? So I think the pandemic, to go back to your question of investments, are so often around the customer and product and all of that and efficiencies. WHAT ABOUT INVESTMENTS AND EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT? I do think we're going to see more priority on employee engagement because we've got to figure out how we're one company when we're not all together. So, rather than thinking of it as investing in the employee. I think of it as investing in a newly digital culture, which takes some real technology math. It doesn't the whole question of employee experience become absorbed to a large extent by digital employee experience if everybody's working remotely? And what are the implications of that on the CIO's duties and oversize? I mean, you know, in some ways it makes the CIO's role harder. Used to be. Just give them a laptop, given a phone, you know, couple systems there. Fine. But now let me give you a great example that a colleague of mind are just mentioned to me. So this was the cteo of a huge healthcare plan. They've got about eightyzero employees. It's a I don't know, a hundred billion dollars or company, something like that. When he said, you know, they all, everybody came to work, they have cubicles and all of that that they were having. You know, somebody had an issue with some kind of system. Somebody would pop their head out of the cubical look around and says, anybody else having trouble logging into the Yada, Yada, and everybody say yes. One call goes to the help desk, one call goes to service desk. We here in sector G are having issues now because everybody's home, everybody makes a call, everybody calls a service x. So internal, you know, Call Center or help desk tickets have spits for companies because you don't have word of mouth anymore. And so it was earlier this week that I had that conversation and I thought, boy, that's an unexpected implication. Right. So, you know, I think in some ways, look, when you have a culture that is hungry for the technology that you're giving to them, your job is easier, but when you have a culture where everybody is relying on technology all of a sudden in a way that they have it in the past, your job gets a little harder. The pandemic has been good for cios because the appetite for technology investment and adoption is higher. That, I would say, is the punchline. It doesn't mean that there aren't lots of little challenges and difficulties along the way, like call center volume spiking. It feels also like the appetite for risk is also higher. Right, there's more tolerance for taking a risk and maybe stumbling along the way because we're in such extreme time. Are you seeing that as well? You know, it's interesting because I see in both sides of it. So you know, what we do...

...here at Heller church is executive search. so I write blogs, I interview, see, I was all day long. I've been doing that for a very long time. But you know, that doesn't pay the bills. Right where pays the bills is executive search. That's where, I said a lot of my time, as as my team, and one of the things we're noticing is a little trepidaciousness on the part of the CIO community and we recruit at other levels. Right reviews of this out of the other where. You know, there's some risk in me leaving this role right now because I know what I know. I've seen my team, my leadership team, in action. I see the executive committed, I've seen the board the way they and the way they work, and I don't know about you know, if I go join your company, what am I going to find there? And also, relocation right now is real challenging because, you know, if I've got a kid in junior high school who makes friends to playing sports, how am I moving right now when my kid is not going to have that opportunity. So it's interesting. The minute you thought, when you said the word risk, I thought I'm seeing actually lower risk tolerant out in the market, but I think that's more about me and my personal career and am I really you know, how much risk am I going to take right now? When it comes to taking risks, I think you know risk management is alive and well and company don't like to take risks. I don't know if COVID has changed that. I will say, though, that CEOS who do not believe, has never believed, that a digital product will fell now or taking a risk on that kind of thing. Yes, so I think what we might be able to say here, then, is whether there is risk or if the risk has been mitigated. CIOS in today's age still need to be adaptable, they need to adapt and they also need to push their entire technology team and portfolio to adapt as well. If we put ourselves in the seat of a ceio that's not necessarily successful in doing that. Do you see other CE xos, and you mentioned that the CTEO big player in large corporations. We've got a great customer at Liberty Mutual. They've got a chief experience officer to see Xo. You mentioned the digital officer. Do you see these new see xo roles starting to take a piece of the CEO's Pie, or do you see them as just more collaboration partners? I see them taking a piece of the cios Pie and I see that as a good thing. So you know, I interviewed the chief digital officer and the chief information officer of nationwide. I did a blog with both of them and I thought, hot, it's going to be interesting where the CIO responsible for versus and a digital officer, and it was very, very clear. The chief digital officer has the digital product roadmap. We need, right a apple watch APP. We need one log in as opposed to three. We need, you know, a way to sell our incredibly complicated insurance product to a younger generation with only three clicks. We need to price it this way, we need to deliver it to the...

...market this way. But I got to tell you, CIO, I had no idea what the underlying technology is. I don't know the architecture is behind that thing. I don't know how to get that up. But still the CIO can still be a visionary and say Micro Services Architecture. There's a vision. We're going to run, you know, we're going to put a day lake and we're going to put in a data integration layer. We're going to get it. There's vision there, but it's a vision on what are the engines that allow that she digital officer to get those products into that market fast. Now that's how nationwide to be hell. But I just talked to a cio of a higher Ed Company. Right you know, they're switching from being a print company to being a digital company. She oftens have an engineering background, she is all of my take and she's a chief digital officer. She's got a whole product development. So some of it depends on the business, some of it depends on the actual players. To have a CIO was as an engineering background and can be ahead of product development, great. It's one bowl, but I do see CIO CTEOS chief did whole offer sers, she product officers, she dat officers. I do see them taking some of the seizes of responsibility. And I say good because when the company becomes a technology company and you're the head of technology, boy that's a lot of responsibility. I think it as the democratization of it. It can't all belong to me anymore. I need. The more my plant managers can do self service our PA, the better feel. We're doing a search right now for the same company, two rolls. One is a VP of digital engagement that roll reports into it, into the CIO, and the other is a VP of marketing technology that roll reports into marketing. One's responsible for the marketing technology stack and the other is responsible for customers, your digital engagement with the company. Boy, those two folks better work will really, really closely together, because you don't want two different technology strategy. But when your company becomes technology, how can the CIO have all the accountability for all technology development adoption to May and it would become an impossible role. If you'd like to hear from a CIO really has successfully balanced and negotiated many of the paradoxes first upon them in two thousand and twenty and implemented an incredible experience first digital workplace for their employees. Check the show notes and listen to an exclusive cmsy interview with slater and Gordon's John Granger now. You will not regret it. Take care to make sure that you never miss an episode. Subscribe to the show and Apple podcast spotify or your favorite podcast player, and if you're listening on Apple PODCASTS, make sure to leave a rating of the show just to have the number of stars you think the podcast deserves. If you'd like to learn more about how next think can help you improve your digital employee experience, head over the next thinkcom thank you so much for listening. Until next time.

In-Stream Audio Search

NEW

Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (48)