CIOs in the Age of Experience w/Martha Heller


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 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 employeeexperience, a show for it changemakers, let's get in the show Hello Changemakers, I'm Tom mcgra withme. As ever is Tim Flower, Tim how's. It go what's keeping you busy this week,Hey Tom, I'm doing really well thanks for asking plenty, keeping us all busyright now right, but it's all really good stuff, and I'm really lookingforward to talking with our guess today. Well before we do. Let me admit tosomething I have done something I think is known as Linkein stolking you thanive. Seen with my own two eyesat you've got a very distinguished career, but Ididn't see the letters cio there on your work history, why? Why is that Tim?Did that amount of power scare? You is it still on the Tim Flower CareerBucket List? What's the explanation? No, it's not on the bucket list. You knowthere are different ways to look at your technology. Career Right, one isto stay close to the action stay close to both the employees and staff and thetechnology. They'll be a leader in that way or climb the corporate ladder. I'mnot the corporate ladder kind of Guy Right. I really like the I like theFront Line Action Fair enough, Toim, fair enough Ou, obviously not foreveryone, then, but if you do aspire to sit on it's ion phrone already do so.Perhaps today's episode is a must here. After all, our guest Marta Heller haswritten two hugely influential books on the modern CIO. The CIO paradoxbattling the contradictions of it leadership and be the business CIOS inthe new era of it. She is also a not least pefounder and president of HellerSearch Associates, a recruiting, fim specializing in CIO, and it leadershiprose. Marter Heller. Welcome to the show thankis great to be here, Marthathe CIO paradoxs. Could you begin please by telling us what it is andcommon as to whether two thousand and twenty a started to resolve thetensions and contradictions in Arole or exacerbate them? Absolutely so you knowthe CIO paradox is really. The concept is just that you know the CI role isbeset by a series of contradictory forces. Those contradictory forces arealways there. They don't go away, but successful, see. I was Alearne how tomanage Tou them just as a couple of examples: security versus innovation.Absolutely nothing can go wrong from a risk management perspective. Everythingwe do has to be risk free or you know, be able to be madaged for a Lisperspective, can't leave any holes and has to be highly secure, but you'realso accountable for trying new things, throwing things as the wall heysitfails. It fails. How can I be accountable for a function that cannever fail and yet also build a culture fast failure into my organization?Smart failure, that's a paradox! It exists its important, but it never goesaway another. I call the future is to Arcabis Paradox: Cio, im accountablefor the future of the company, because what we invest in today is going to beeither going to be wonderful for us or restricted for us in the future, andit's my job to define our technology future, which is the future of ourcompany pod. I've also got a deal with... know: Decisions made about legacysystemss made. Probably ten years before I even joined the company.That's an example of the paradox, but the one that is really my favoritebecause it speaks to the challenge of being a CIO, is what I call theaccountability versus ownership paradox. So just a little a story, you know Iwould. I would get up in front of a crowd of cios and I would mention an ITproject and somebody would raise their hand and say well, my company, thereare no it projects thereare only business projects, that's how weconceptualize all of our project. Bat. I think, okay, those are pretty worried,but then you know a week later. When that CIO calls me and says: Hey I'vebeen let go because our ERP project went south. I think Hu, why are you theone holding the bag? I thought that was us a business project, and so theparadox there is that cios are so often accountable for driving technologyadoption for a certain return on investment of technology decisions whenin fact they don't own. Those teams that are actually going to adopt thosetechnologies back to me is the most pernicious of the paradoxes. But interms of you know, the latter part of your question- and you know, has thepandemic exacerbated that I would say absolutely it has because now we've gotit. You know we're relying on technology even more so any of thechallenges of the CIO role, ere going to become more acute. That being said,it has also given the CIO some relief regarding these paradoxes because ofthe pandemic CEOS who have been resistant to letting employees work,remotely Seeos, who have been resistant to adding a stream of maybe digitalproducts to their product line they're over the HOK, because you know forSeyos to say: Oh, we can only you know, sell our product with Ha handshake.Well, there's no handshakes happening right now, so no cos have to get overthe home. So I would say the PLANDENIC has not resolved any of these paradoxes.They never will be resolved, but what the pandemic has done is it's made CEOSsee the value of technology investments in area where they previously havenotch and anytime you get a CEO who has an appetite: Tor increased technologyinvestment and for technology adoption within their companies. That's good forthe CIO. When you look at the paradox, if you think of it as a pendulum rightwill 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 mindsetof 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 putsthe CIO at risk, but they're almost in a place. Now, where they've got ta notonly take the risk, but taking that risk means they need to be moretechnically asted about what that path looks like do you think it's driven bybusiness and CEO, or how much does the CIO really have a say? From myperspective, the CIO needs alway to be pushing the boundary ksowing. What'spossible, if we did this, we did this. Let me explain to you how we can pushthe dial while at the same time...

...investing in the security that's goingto allow us to reduce our risk. It is up to the CIO to align with otherexecutives who agree with that perspective and then to present in avery data informed way to the CEO and then it's about getting the board onboard. So you know the CIO is not you know in a vacuum going to make aunilateral decision about risk taking and you know, investing in newtechnologies, but if the CIO is sitting around waiting for somebody else to k ostick their neck out and take that risk, then the business will not evolve andwill likely sail. So you know it's. The CI WHO's got to get it going, but ifthe CIO finds het here, she is the only one in support of an idea. You knowit'll never get executed and you've been at this research for a while. Nowdo 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 acceleratedthis evolution of the CIO, or is this something that was already underwaybecause of technology evolution? What's your thought of the last ten to twelvemonths on the acceleraation sure? So this is what I think happened in thelast ten to twelve monts and you're right. You know we think of thepandemic is remote, but it's not it's also acceleration of a digital Gendo,which is about ostumer interaction, which is about products, and all ofthat I think what happened was in March. The CIOIS really stopped working ontheir high value, digital agendas and just got everybody remote, which WIS,obviously a tremendous effort, and you know I really did a whole listeningtour or fourtun five hundred COS for several months at the beginning of thepandemic and sounded like things went pretty well thereas a couple disasterrecovery plans that people wish they had they didn't have, but you knowpeople got remote pretty easily and then Teos, you know, looked at theirCIO and said wow. That was pretty impressive. I have a degree of trust inmy cio now and I annoint him or her with leading the charge on our digitalagenda, because I can't leave with customers anymore. We better get thatdigital agenda off the ground. So I think the last couple of months havebeen very, very good Corsigios in that theyv had an opportunity to you know,perform in a crisis mode and they for the most part from what I can telldelivered on that, and so now there's been a lot of trust. But what I willalso say, I that you know steaking personally in March when all this camedown, I thought Oh, what happens to an executive search for during a pandemicand during a likely recession? That's going to come from that and I called mybrother WHO's. A bankruptpcy lawyer, and I said: okay. This business hasbeen great for ten years. What's going to happen, now, walk me through itbefore he got a chance to adcise me. We started signing searches, left andright to the point where we have a stronger year in two thousand andtwenty Tand, I even antipicated back in two thousand and nineteen. So whathappened? Rigy? What happened was some CEOS were not so pleased with how theirit leadership team got. You know managed the crisis and those cios havebeen invited to pursue employment elsewhere, but I think what has alsohappened is cios have had a chance to see how their executive colleagueshandle a crisis and if this pandemic...

...isn't Enou to get CEOS and boards andexecutive committees to think things aren't different now, not just becauseof Pandelic, but because we're no longer in an industrial economy we'rein a digital ECONOC. 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 Hu.I may walk to another opportunity where that executive committee sees thefuture in the way that I do that's a great point. The trust in the CIO andthe reputation that the CIO has built is a double edged. Sword Right. You'vegot that trust and confidence internally, but now it's also a resumebuilder. And U you can go pitch that to someone who actually direly needs yourtrites. That's exactly right! You know trust takes a long time to buildthey're, just a second to lose. So you know taking the trust thatyou know your company has in you and now harlaying, that into a new role isa sound strategy, but I think, what's also happening is Cios who decided tostick around in their roles are now able to move forward on someinvestments that they had met too much resistance prior. So let's talk alittle bit about that. You know the CIO that had a significant project in frontof him that he put on hole. He or she put on hold address to the remote workand the kind of business cotnuity planning that they needed to put intoplace now gets back to that digital transformation project that was put onhold. Are they looking at it any differently? Is there a differentapproach to now collaborating with the business pulling off a big project inthe new world versus the old world? It's so funny that you ask that youknow one of the questions that I asked on my listening. Tour is: What Have youlearned about your team, your organization, your capabilities, andyou know I learned how much we cound accomplish it. We work together. Ilearned how having a you know, life and death goal which, what we literally aright, you know getting you know getting people home safely is a matterof life and death. I learned what a motivator that is. I've never seen myteam move like this. I've never seen you know our eightythousand employeepopulation adopt a new technology is fast as everybody adopted, zoom orteams, or whatever we're using. So my question then to them is okay great.How do you keek all of that speed and collaboration and productivity when youdon't have a life of death burning platform when a burning platform issimply grosth revenue and customer acquisition? Today, and not you we'rein the middle of a real healthcare crisis? How do you keep that motivationgoing and every one of them said? Good question were working on that, so I'mvery hopeful that the leadership lessons learned during the last severalmonths can be applied to the future without that healthcare crisis. But toanswer your question more directly, I don't think that the way companies andcios approach digital transformation,... investments- all of that isgoing to change dramatically as organizationally structurally. You knowas a result of the pandemic, but I do think that the collaborative nature ofa culture has gotten o boost. I'll say that, in a better way, digitaltransformation is a team sport. I can't lead t at the business, can't do it ontheir own everybody's got to work together, that's hard, because you knowwe grew up in industrial environment where you know it's all about bilos andspecialization, and I do my thing and you do your thing and I know what I'maccountable for. Well, all of a sudden. In a digitalor data economy, everythinghas to be collaborate. AVD everything has to be crossfunctional. Everythinghas to be a tea sport that its a really really hard. You know Culter to buildif it hasn't been your past. Well, during the pandemic, we all werecollaboratively. There were crisis, manageing teams there was there was nostopping and saying wait a minute. What am I accountable for? What are youaccountable for o harnessing that the culture of collaboration is alive andwell in the pandemic? So I don't think it's a new approach to digital. I thinkit's a stronger sense of collaboration, which is the right approach to get youyeand. I've seen that to an IT, collaborating with partners that wedon't normally collaborate with like Ajr when you've now gone from tenhozand people in one office to ten thousand offices, all with one person,you've got a different environment and hr really needs to start thinking aboutemployee wellness and well being businesses is concerned about not onlyproductivity of employees but quality, and do you think that those things noware starting to if the transformation projects in execution don't change allthat much other than collaboration? Do you see investment decisions on whichtransformation projects to actually pursue changing? In other words, is itall about revenue, profit and risk midigation, or does the employeeexperience employee, wellness, employee turnover? Does that now start to alsoguide some investment decisions? It's a great question. I'm going to give youfirst mycynical response. The only reason employee happiness matters isfor productivity and revenue on profet. The reason the board cares about thehappiness of a plant Loker is because they want that product out to thecustomers, Soyou know, but at the same time Ithink that the let me say it this way. Corporate Cultures, which are allothout employee, are built overtime and companies tend to take those culturesvery seriously right, that's a very important thing to them, and you know Iremember I was just did a blog interview with the CIO of Jet Blue. Youknow, and he was sitting in some random office, an ject blue. There was nobodyin the building. It was just him and behindihim on the wall were theirvalues, e Kno inpegrity, whatever those values are, but the last one was fivewith an exclavation point and I looked im and I said E, how much funn youhaving right now, he said not not a lot. You know I like to be with people, soyou know if we are back to the office in, let's call it jude. I thinkcompanies will just continue along with...

...the cultures in the values that they'vealways had, and the empoyt engagement that they've always had if we arepermanently changed as a result of this- and I don't know who knows the answerto this, but it we permanently changed and we're really not coming back to theoffice in the same way we're going to have a much greater percentagage ofremote work, commanies need to reinvent their culture. You go to cancer, sellwith the same culture, except now. We never see each other. What kind ofculture is that so I think the pademic to go back to your question of you know:Investments are so often around the customer and product and all of thatand efficiencies. What about investments and employ engagement? I dothink we're going to see more priority on employee engagement, because we'vegot to figure out how we're one company, when we're not alltogether so ratherthan thinking of it ars investing in the employee, I think fit as investingin a newly digital culture which takes am real technolodge, Martha, doesn'tthe whole question of employee experience become absorbed to a largeextent by digital employee experience, if everybody's working remotely andwhat are the implications of that on the CIOS, Ju ts and and oversayze Imean you know in some ways it makes the CIOS roal harder used to be just givinga laptop, give hem te phode. You know couple systems they're fine, but nowwant to give you a great example that a colleague of mine or just mentionedTomey. So this was the CTO of a huge healthcare plan. They've got abouteightyosand employees. It's I don't know a hundred billion dollar Compani,something like that. An he said. You know they all everybody came to work,they cubacles and all of that and t at they were having you know. Somebody hadan issue with some kind of system. Somebody would pop their head outor thecubicle look around and says anybody else having trouble logging into theYadiyada and everybody say: Yeah One call goes to the health death. One callgoes to service. That's we here in sectorn G or having issues now, becauseeverybody's home everybody makes a call, everybody calls to service SK, sointernal. You Know Cal Center help desk a ticket have spites for companies,because you don't have word of mouth anymore, and so it was earlier thisweek that I had that conversation, and I thought boy, that's an unexpectedimplication right. So you know, I think in some ways. Look when you have aculture 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 ontechnology all of a sudden in a way that they have it in the past, your jobgets a little harder. The pandemic has been good for CIOS, because theappetite for technology, investment and adoption is higher. That, I would say,is the punch line. It doesn't mean that there are lots of little challenges anddifficulties. A lone of the way like colcenter volume biking, it feels alsolike the appetite for risk, is also higher right, there's more tolerancefor taking a risk and maybe stumbling along the way, because we're in suchextreme times are you seeing that as wwell? You know it's interestingbecause I see both sides of it. So you...

...know what we do here at Heller,shurch's, executive search. I write Bos I intervuwe CIS all day long. I've beendoing that for a very long time, but you know that doesn't pay the billsright. What pay the bills is executive, serch. So that's where I spend a lot ofmy time as os. My team and one of the things we're noticing is a littletrepadatiousnee on the part of the Sio community and we recrew at other levels,right leepies and this that and the other, where you know, there's someriskin me leaving this role right now, because I know what I know right. I'veseen my team, my leadership teen in action. I've seen the executive Committie seen the board the way they and the way they work, and I I don't know aboutyou know if I go join your company. What am I going to find there and alsorelocation right? How is real challenging because you know if I'vegot a kid in junior high school who makes friends to playing Sport Howam? Imoving right now when that kid is not going to have that opportunity. So it'sinteresting the minute you thought when you said the word risk. I thought I'mseeing actually lower risk tolerance out in the market, but I think that'smore about me and my personal career. Am I real? You know how much risk am Igoing to take right now when it comes to taking risks? I think you know riskmanagement is alive and well and company don't like to take risk. Idon't know Whif COVID has changed that. I will say, though, that CEOS who donot believe ive never believed that a digital product will sell now we'retaking a risk on that kind of thing. Yeah, so I think what we might be ableto 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 theyalso need to push their entire technology team and portfolio to adaptas well. If we put ourselves in the seat of a CIO, that's not necessarilysuccessful in doing that, do you see other cxos and you mentione ha the CTObig player and inlarge corporations? Wev got a great customer liberty.Mutale they've got a chief experience officer, Tho Cxo, you mentioned thedigital officer. Do you see these new C xo roles starting to take a piece ofthe CIO's Pie, or do you see them as just more collaboration partners? I seathem taking a piece of the CIO's Pie and I see that as a good thing. So youknow I interviewed the chief digital officer and the chief informationofficer of nationwide. I did a blog with both of them and I thought Ha.This is going to be interesting. Wheris, the CI O rersponsis for Versons, an sdigital officer, and it was very, very clear. The chief digital officer hasthe digital product roadmap. We need IGA Apple Watch APP. We need one log inas opposed to three. We need, you know a way to sell our incrediblycomplicated insurance product to a younger generation with only threeclicks. We need to price it this way.

We need to deliver it to the marketthis way, but I got to tell you CIO. I got no idea what the underlyingtechnology- I don't know. The architecture is Byn. That thing I don'tknow Haw to get that up, but still the CIO can still be a visionary and saymicroserviceis architecture, there's a vision, we're gonna run. You know we'regoing to put a day alake and we're going to put in a date integrationlayer and we're going to do it a there's vision there, but it's a visionon what are the engines that allow that chief digital officer to get thoseproducts into that market fast now that how nationwise Di be well? But I justtalk to a cio of a higher Ed Company right, you know, they're, switchingfrom being a print company to being a disual company. She happens, Hav anengineering background. She is all of my t and she's. A chief digital officer.She's got a ATL product development, so some of it depends on the business.Some of it depends on the actual players. Thoy have a CIO which, as anengineering background, I can be ahead of product development. Great it's oneball, but I do see CIO CTOS. She didn't offerer she product officer, she's dataofficers. I do see them taking some of the CIS of responsibility and I saygood because when the company becomes a technology company and you're the headof technology boy, th, that's a lot of responsibility. I think I thedemocratization of it. It can't all belong to me anymore. I need the moremy plant managers can do: Selfservice, r PA the better Yo we're doing a searchright now for the same company two roles: one is a VP of vigtal engagementthat roll reports into ITN, an the CIO and the other is a VP of marketingtechnology that will report in to market it. One's responsible for themarketing technology stack and the other is responsible for a customers.Younow digital engagement with the company boy, those two folks, betterwork really really closely together, because you don't want two differenttechnology strategy. But when your company becomes technology, how can theC io have all the COUNTABILITI for all technology development, adopttion Doman?It would become an impossible role if you'd like to hear from a ciatreally has successfully balanced and negotiated many of the paradoxes fhrustupon them in two thousand and twenty and implemented an incredibleexperience. First, digital workplace for their impores check the show, notesand listen to an exclusive cmswhy interviewed with slater and GoldensJohn Greenger. Now you will not regret it. Take care to make sure that you never miss anepisode subscribe to the show. An apple podcast, spotify ore, your favoritepodcast player and, if you're listening on Apple Podcast, make sure to leave arating of the show just hale the number of stars. You think the podcastdeserves. If you'd like to learn more about how next thing can help youimprove your digital employee experience head over Tho next thingcom.Thank you so much for listening until next time.

In-Stream Audio Search


Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (18)