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Alicia Blain


Quote:  “You can’t lead without imagination”  ~  Seth Godin in Tribes: We Need YOU to Lead Us

Imagination is seriously lacking in today’s corporate environment.  We are knee deep in a status quo that no longer serves us and that in many ways, makes us mediocre.  To change that, we need to spark imagination in all our employees.  But first, we must spark it in ourselves as team leaders. To create the spark you need to embrace experimentation.  I’m not talking about creating a department or a committee to look into experimentation.  I mean changing the way you lead your team so that experimentation is always encouraged and rewarded.  When an idea doesn’t work out, it isn’t perceived as failure but as a learning experience that enriches the team and the lesson learned can be utilized to fuel the next experiment.

Experimentation is the final but core concept in the C.A.R.E. System.  It is what ties it all together. In these posts, I have showcased Starbucks and its CIO to illustrate the key principles behind the C.A.R.E. System.  At the very core of Gillett’s success was his innate acceptance or need to experiment. None of the examples would have been possible if Gillett had not embraced experimentation. Let’s recap all the ways he experimented:

  • When he took on more responsibility in the face of daunting IT problems that needed resolution
  • When he went to work at a Starbucks retail store, not knowing what he’d find or how he would do,
  • When he showed the Executive team a live simulation highlighting the shortcomings of their existing POS system
  • When he proposed the new business unit called Digital Ventures,
  • When he chose an entrepreneur to run the new business unit,
  • When he made IT and Marketing equally responsible for the new business unit
  • When he asked employees for their ideas on making IT better,
  • When he let employees select their IT devices,
  • When he applied his knowledge of networks to help spark solutions in Starbuck’s retail business.

All of these examples illustrate that Gillett was open to experimentation. He may not have been comfortable with all of it but he chose not to play it safe.  At some level, he understood that taking risks was critical to Starbuck’s survival and he, as well as his CEO, faced the challenge and came out ahead.  I’m sure that there were ideas that didn’t work out.  In fact, the article highlights one. Apparently, Gillett is a big gamer or lover of video games. Actually,  he’s a guild master in the online video game called World of Warcraft.  That’s a pretty big deal in the gaming community. Instead of playing down that passion, he  set up a meeting between the executive teams of Starbucks and Blizzard, the owners of World of Warcraft so they could look into the possibility of doing business together.  After all, both companies had a huge fan base and Starbucks needed to find ways to engage customers online the way that Blizzard did. 

At the end, the experiment did not end up in a partnership.  But all was not lost.  The experiment sparked new ideas among the Starbucks executives that led to new offerings for their customers.  Embracing a spirit of experimentation almost always sparks the imagination and that leads to more possibilities for innovation.

For companies to be relevant in the future they must make experimentation a core objective for all departments.  It needs to be nurtured, rewarded and imbedded into the corporate culture.  More importantly, it is a pivotal component if we are to transform the way we lead.  Millennials will make up 50% of the global workforce in less than 5 years.  As leaders preparing to pass the baton to the next generation leaders, I believe it is our obligation to embrace change and find new ways to lead.

So you may be wondering what happened to Ben and his direct reports? As I dissected the Starbucks case study, Ben was able to see real world examples of C.A.R.E. in action.  It sparked their curiosity and an eagerness to try new approaches in their organization as Gillett tried to do in his.  Ben, as CIO, made a very important decision that day.  He chose not to play it safe.  He realized the future required new ways of seeing things and new ways of leading.  The Millennials were their new audience not just as employees but as customers. He realized that if transformation was going to happen, it needed to include the Millennials in the workplace.  And he was ready.

I’ll end this series by quoting Seth Godin one last time.  In Tribes: We Need YOU to Lead Us, Seth writes:

“The safer you play your plans for the future, the riskier it actually is.”

My questions to you are:  How safe are you playing your role as leader? What one thing can you do today to get you slightly uncomfortable? What one thing can you do to get to know a Millennial in your workplace? 

Like me, you’ll find that staying in your comfort zone as a leader is actually riskier than embracing a little discomfort to prepare for the future. Once you step out of your comfort zone and see all the possibilities that it offers, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner…

Quote: “ I don’t think we have any choice.  I think we have an obligation to change the rules, to raise the bar, to play a different game.”   ~ Seth Godin in Tribes: We Need YOU to Lead Us

Connecting with our employees and customers and adapting our mindset gets us ready to play a different game.  But you also need action and to do that you have to be willing to RESHAPE your organization.  To Reshape is the third module in the C.A.R.E. System. To visualize just how you can begin to do that, let’s go to our Starbucks example.

Again, Here’s the link to the Information Week article.

Here are 3 examples of actionable steps that Gillett took to reshape his IT team and their reputation.

1.     He forced collaboration between teams.  In the C.A.R.E. System for Next Generation Leadership, we call this “Letting go of Silos”.  Silos are rampant across corporate America and they are innovation and motivation killers for most employees but especially Millennials.  One of the key Millennial characteristics is their collaborative spirit.  They work best in groups and the more you mix up the group the better. Imagine their surprise when they show up for work and see that business units barely interact with one another and they certainly don’t share and collaborate very much. In his pitch for a new business unit, Gillett forced the collaboration of the IT and Marketing teams.  Talk about silos that don’t normally have much in common.  The new unit was called Digital Ventures and Gillett hired an entrepreneur to run it instead of a corporate type. Now that’s playing a different game.

 2.     He let the employees choose their technology and propose new ideas. At a time when so many IT shops are still fighting the consumerization of IT here is a company that allows their employees to select from a wide assortment of technology, from Macs to PCs to smartphones to get work done. To be completely fair, the article did say that Starbucks modeled their Tech Café after the Apple Store. That brings up a good point.  We should always be scouting the market for techniques that work for others and how they can be customized for our specific organizations.  What I liked the most was that they welcomed feedback from the employees on all things concerning IT.  In the C.A.R.E. System, we call that IT Advocacy.  Millennials are the first generation of workers that actually want more technology than what currently exists in the workplace.  No matter what team they work for, they can be invaluable to an IT Dept.  But IT has to take the first step and request their help and then be open to the suggestions given. As IT Advocates, Millennials can be a wonderful test group for any new product, process, or upgrade that the IT Department is considering. If done properly, IT Advocates can be a great extension of the IT Department.  As IT partners, they also create a great fan base for IT in the company.

3.     Applying expertise from an unrelated field to solve a different problem.  Gillett had little retail experience before working at Starbucks and according to the article he had never worked on the scale of a Starbucks.  But he had worked for companies with big networks like Yahoo. Instead of disregarding that experience, he leveraged it to understand the retail giant and apply that seemingly unrelated experience at Starbucks.  Gillett is quoted in the article as saying:  “[…] big Internet, like Yahoo, had solved a lot of the technical challenges that big retail had yet to solve… If you think of all your stores like nodes on a network, and all your resisters as computers rather than cash registers, you can start to manage and deploy […] like Yahoo would a server farm […]”   Many examples exist in business of how breakthrough ideas and products are discovered when a solution that worked in a completely unrelated field is applied to solve a different problem.

 Sometimes, organizations are too narrow-minded in how they view and value experience.  Perhaps an employee in your team has expertise in solving problems in another field that can be the breakthrough idea you need to solve a problem.  You’ll never leverage that unrelated expertise if you don’t know about it or you don’t support it or you don’t find an outlet to try it out.  Experimentation is the subject of our last post in the series and a pivotal one for transformation to occur.

Quote: “What they needed was a leader to bring the organization to a new audience in a new way.”       ~ Seth Godin in Tribes: We Need YOU to Lead Us.

If you’re not quite sure why Millennials are an organization’s “new audience”, I invite you to read through some of my past blogs to get a thorough understanding of this unfamiliar group.  As leaders, we won’t be able to really reach that new audience unless we are willing to create a new way or at the very least question our existing way to see if it will work going forward.

That’s why it’s so important for us to ADAPT and find a new way so our next generation employees are engaged and productive in our teams.  ADAPT is the second module of the C.A.R.E. System for Next Generation Leadership and it’s an important one because it has to do with a leader’s state of mind. ADAPT is all about mindset and getting comfortable testing your boundaries.

So what specific things can we do to ADAPT our leadership style?  Let’s look at the Starbucks case study for ideas.  As the new CIO, Gillett embraced 3 things that got him out of his comfort zone and ready to ADAPT and find a new way to lead his IT team.

Again, Here’s the link to the Information Week article.

1.     He was curious and courageous. The article quotes Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz as saying that Gillett “had an insatiable curiosity and wasn’t afraid of pursing big, bold ideas.” Curiosity and courage are key components of the C.A.R.E. System.  To change and adapt to a new way of doing things and of leading is not easy.  You are fighting yourself and those in the organization that want to keep the status quo alive.  Without being inherently curious, asking lots of “why do we do it that way” questions and being willing to fight the good fight, it is very difficult to ADAPT and give your new audience – the Millennials – a new way.

 2.    He asked for even more responsibility.  In early 2009, Gillett has been in Starbucks for just one year and realizes he inherited what can only be termed an IT nightmare. At the same time, Starbuck’s new CEO, Howard Schultz,asks the company executives to give him ideas on how to turn the company around. He urges them to think outside their corporate functions. Does Gillett ignore his boss’ request because he legitimately reasons he already has too much on his plate? No. He goes ahead and pitches an idea for Starbucks to make a venture capital investment in a new business unit designed to push the company’s mobile and online strategy.  That was a gutsy move.  Instead of sticking to what he knew and focusing on just that, Gillett saw a rare opportunity to be part of a transformation at Starbucks.  It required him to take on more than he probably could chew at that time. He got out of his comfort zone and adapted his mindset to take on a strategic challenge and he succeeded. According to the article, since creating the new venture “Starbucks has become a retail leader in mobile payments”. By stretching yourself and getting uncomfortable you push yourself to try new things.  Like a muscle, the more you use it, the more comfortable you become letting go of your status quo.

 3.   He instilled an entrepreneurial spirit into IT.  That’s very rare to see.  IT departments in most large organizations these days are all about following the rules, often playing it safe, and saying a lot of NO in the interest of “security”.  In the next post, we will see examples of what Gillett did that went against these typical IT practices.  The examples were possible because he elected to run IT not so much as a corporate business unit but rather as an entrepreneurial venture. They opened themselves up to try new things.  The focus was to address the needs of its customers – both inside and outside the corporate walls. That ultimately showcased IT as an enabler instead of  a cop.

 In today’s super competitive, global marketplace,  organizations that don’t want to fall behind need to be run by leaders that are open to adapting their frame of mind and leadership frameworks to make way for the future. They need to ADAPT and find new ways for their new audience – the Millennials.

Quote“ If you’re not  uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it’s almost certain you’re not reaching your potential as a leader”  ~ Seth Godin in Tribes: We Need YOU to Lead Us

Being uncomfortable is how transformation begins.  When I first started hiring Millennials, I didn’t want to change.  The more they perplexed me, the more I dug my heels in my comfort zone.  It wasn’t until I decided to understand why they perplexed me that the transformation in my leadership style took place and led to the creation of the C.A.R.E. System for Next Generation Leadership. That led to first seeing the potential Millennials brought to the workplace then tapping it then capitalizing on it.

The first step in doing that is to CONNECT.   Many of us who cut our management teeth in the 20th Century approach leadership like this:  I, leader, have a certain leadership style that you, employee, will need to get comfortable with.  It is not my responsibility to figure you out or adapt my style to meet your needs.  You need to conform to my style and work effectively under that style. 

Really?  Do we really want to lead that way?  Does it work for us?  If we were honest with ourselves, we would admit that working for a boss that took the time to know us and spend quality time with us are the ones we liked working for and worked the hardest for.  Now more than ever, making a special connection with each of our employees is not only critical but expected.  The more removed we are from our staff, the less effective they will be and that will reflect back to us.  We also minimize our message and our vision.  We need that direct connection to our teams to spread our message and communicate our goals.

So how can you begin to CONNECT?   Let’s look at the Starbucks case study for real world examples. Here’s the link to the Information Week article. 

As the new CIO for Starbucks, one of the first things Stephen Gillett did was connect with the people in the trenches and with Starbuck’s customers.  How did he do that? He shadowed them by actually working in one of the retail stores. This is one of the key components in the C.A.R.E. System.   As a leader you need to spend time with your target audience whether it’s your employees or your customers.  It’s important for 3 reasons:

  1.  You see firsthand how employees work.  You can observe their thinking process as they complete their tasks.  How is that thought process unique and can you leverage it in other areas or functions in your team?  You also see how they do their tasks.  Are there shortcuts that they are taking and are unaware of that help speed up the work? Can those shortcuts be applied in other areas of your operation? Or perhaps they are missing important steps that require more training?  Is there duplication of work that you were not aware of?  No report or spreadsheet analysis will give you that kind of intelligence.
  2. You see if the process works or doesn’t.  In the case of Gillett, as he worked at a Starbucks store, he quickly realized that the point-of –sale (POS) system was broken.  Even though the Starbucks brass knew the limitations of the system they were more focused on growth strategies and opening stores.  They didn’t realize that the limitations of the POS were contributing to problems in opening new stores.
  3. You are able to make better and more intelligent decisions when prioritizing projects based on your firsthand experiences in the trenches.

If shadowing is effective downstream – working directly with your employees and/or customers, it is equally effective upstream – with your executive team.  After spending time shadowing downstream at a Starbucks store, Gillett decided to bring the same experience upstream, to the executive team. He created a Tech Derby which is really a live simulation of a problem showing the pain points and a proposed solution to the problem. The simulation acted as a shadowing opportunity. Through a large-screen display, the executive team, including the CEO, Howard Schultz, shadowed a barista painfully placing an order in the outdated POS system.  They got to see not just hear about how much time was wasted as the baristas had to translate orders so the POS system could capture them. Then, through a mock up of the proposed replacement system, the executive team was able to shadow the new process to see how much faster and more effective it was. 

According to the article, “When they showed both to Schultz, ‘he just turned around and said, When? And whatever you’re going to tell me, it has to be faster’”.  That’s how effective shadowing is and how powerful the concept of Connecting is to introduce change.

Imagine how connecting with your Millennials or others in your team can give you a bird’s eye view to what’s going on in the trenches.  Imagine how many things you’ll be able to discover, uncover and identify that can be game changers to your team and ultimately your organization.  The days when leaders could run teams by just interacting with their direct reports without a strong connection to their team members are disappearing quickly.  The opportunity for innovation and real transformation lie with the ideas and creativity of those closest to the problems your team faces every day.  You need to connect with them to tap and harness that creativity and find innovative solutions.

What examples do you have that illustrate how you CONNECT with your employees?

So as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, here are the 4 techniques I had to learn and embrace as I dealt with the changing attitudes  and more sophisticated IT skill sets of our user base.

Technique #1:     Let go of the status quo.  I’ve talked about this technique in previous blogs and it relates well to IT. As users become more tech savvy and want a voice and a choice in technology decisions, IT and IT leaders need to re-think their role within their organizations. It will be increasingly difficult in an IT consumer world to control all aspects of IT. As that consumer world bleeds into the corporate fabric, keeping the 2 worlds separate becomes a challenge.  As the tech savvy user base in my organization began to ask more questions and wanted more involvement on IT related matters, I decided to make IT more transparent instead of keeping it as a mysterious “black box”. The more we shared our issues and our approach with our users, the more supportive they became and the more willing to accept the IT decisions we made. By being open and transparent, we ,in turn, received some good suggestions and ideas from users some of whom would have never ventured forth an opinion in the past. Instead they would have continued to bypass IT policies as they had always done.  Break the “black box” habit and make IT more transparent and accessible to your users.

Technique #2: Create a Business Lab.  As the IT user community begins to introduce choice and suggestions on IT solutions, IT will need to be aware of these solutions and understand them so that the risks of the solutions being presented can be appropriately measured.  That means IT has to have a way to experiment and tinker with those solutions and a process to evaluate them. The use of a lab is not new to IT departments since they are often used to test new versions or upgrades of IT components from operating systems to software to productivity tools.  This lab is different in that users are part of the experiment. We created Innovation Labs where IT partnered with business IT savvy users in evaluating IT solutions that were suggested by the users themselves.  By having a fluid process in place to manage the requests and the involvement of  IT and the user community both sides could objectively review the solution. The appropriate people like the risk and security folks could be called upon to be part of the review as well. Sometimes, the solutions passed the litmus test, other times they didn’t.  The important thing is that the lab facilitated an independent and unbiased review of the solution by all concerned parties.

Technique #3: Think beyone IT.  For years, IT groups would protest the fact that the user community did not always embrace the IT solutions it provided them.  As the business urged us to become more business savvy we longed for the day when the business users would become more IT savvy.  Well guess what?  The time has come.  Through the collaborative spirit of Millennials I quickly began to see how tech savvy our users had become.   I realized that my team could use these IT savvy users to expand our reach.   We began to create IT Advocacy Groups within the business teams.  These were people we called “friendlies” (it’s tough to break the friend vs. foe mentality, isn’t it?) and they were thrilled to help us with anything having to do with IT. The business teams, in turn, used them to funnel ideas or issues relating to IT.  Instead of closing them off, we were able to increase our IT army beyond our headcount.   The IT advocates loved being involved, loved sharing their IT ideas and loved serving as the bridge between their teams and IT.  Win-win.   

Technique #4: Push your Vendors.  As I began to apply the techniques above, I realized that the vendors of IT solutions were not always aware that IT was becoming more user driven.  In order for IT to properly manage the risks and security issues behind the consumerization of IT that was already occurring, we needed the help of vendors.  We needed them to focus on making solutions more secure, to understand that what was developed on the consumer side would eventually bleed onto the corporate side and that in doing so, more stringent standards had to be applied.  We began to work closely with our vendors to raise awareness and foster in them an understanding that personal and corporate IT convergence would take place and they needed to factor that into the roadmaps of their respective solutions. What might have been acceptable on the consumer side could possibly fail on the corporate side and this had bottom line implications for the vendors.

As I became comfortable utilizing these techniques, it opened the door for more experimentation and I became more comfortable in challenging or at least questioning my old ways from the old days. What about you?  Will you utilize these techniques and challenge your old ways from the old days?

Loaded question, right? Unfortunately, many times that’s how corporate users are seen by the IT folks and with good reason.   Anyone who has worked in IT has seen the role of their department become increasingly one of policing its users.  With the proliferation of devices that can be brought into the office, the security risks inherent in working in a highly connected world and the often blatant user disregard of acceptable use policies, it is easy to see why IT views its user base as somewhat “special”. 

As the head of IT for many years, I can attest to the fact that many users bypass and disregard IT policy on any given day and that it keeps IT folks up at night. Now some users don’t see what they do as a violation and still others know it is and do it anyway. That often makes the IT Departmentu more determined to enforce the policies and to lock down systems and restrict access even more.  After all, IT knows they will be the ones to pay the piper and scramble to fix the problem if security is breached or the organization becomes vulnerable to a virus, malware or something worse.  

It’s always been challenging to be in IT and these days it can feel like the challenges are overwhelming.  Years ago, corporate users were  inexperienced, untrained and somewhat apprehensive about using IT.  This gave IT Departments much more control over all aspects of technology within the organization.  Today, it’s a very different story. Corporate users have become very tech savvy and determined to have a voice and a choice in decisions that the IT Department makes when it comes to technology.

I’ve written about the consumerization of IT in some of my other blogs.  I’ve also written about how today’s leaders are running their organizations and teams at a very critical and unique time in corporate history.  The fact that users are no longer taking a back seat to the technology decisions made is another example of a corporate first.  As time passes, I believe IT will become more user driven than ever.  I can see the IT folks cringing as I say this but it is a reality and it’s better to face it head on than live in denial and let the situation get out of control.

As more Millennials continue to enter the workplace, IT will see a push for more and more  user driven IT solutions. It will become very difficult to continue applying a command and control type approach to technology.  Command and control, whether applied to leadership or technology, is an ineffective solution.  Our employees and our users have become too sophisticated for this outdated 20th Century approach to work any longer. 

Instead of continuing to embrace an “us. vs. them”,  friend or foe attitude with our users, it might be time to shed those limiting traditions and find ways to develop a solution that will work and be a win-win for all concerned.   Years ago, as I struggled to make sense of the changes I was beginning to see in the workplace, it was very difficult for me to let go of the command and control approach that is built in to managing the technology function in most organizations.  After a lot of hard work and experimentation I managed to change my outlook by applying  4 new techniques into my leadership style.  Stay tuned to tomorrow’s blog and I wll share them with you.

In the meantime are you ready to shed the friend vs. foe attitude when it relates to your users?

I was reading Chris Murphy’s article in the Global CIO section of  Information Week called “Is Everyone an IT Worker Now?”  In the article,  Chris was commenting on a recent report  prepared by Foote Partners,  a leading IT analyst firm.   David Foote , the author of the report,  believes that the IT Classification used by the  U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics is outdated and significantly underestimates the number of IT workers in the US.  As an example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a total of 4 million IT professionals but  David Foote believes the number is closer to 20 -25 million.   The substantial difference in the numbers is due to what David Foote calls  ”antiquated definitions of IT jobs” by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It’s a great article and I encourage IT  leaders and managers to read it because it draws attention to a trend that I believe is gaining traction and will continue to do so at record speeds within the years to come.  It has to do with the blurring lines or fuzziness that is taking place between IT employees and your average, everyday business professional working in organizations today.   Over the years, IT Departments have faced incredible pressure to make their technical staff understand the business.  We’ve heard the term “aligning IT with the business” for decades now.  Great inroads have been made by CIOs and their teams in this area and Chris Murphy gives examples of IT Departments in companies that have done that well.

Lately, I’ve become more intrigued about the other side of the Business-IT alignment equation.  As IT professionals have slowly begun to understand the business, so too, has the business begun to understand IT.   Years ago, I remember it was extremely difficult to find employees in business functions who had technical expertise. In fact, those of us who have been in IT for some time can remember our user community often telling us “I don’t know anything about technology” or “I’m not an IT expert”  or “I’m not good with computers” or some version of that.  To me, that was always the secret code warning us that they: were not going to embrace technology; saw technology as making their job harder because they needed to learn it and; were going to go kicking and screaming into a world where their business function had a technology component to it.

Although there still may be some remnants of that type of employee left in some organizations, the fact is that business folks have taken great leaps in embracing technology.  There are 2 specific factors that I believe will continue to make it very difficult to classify an IT worker.  IT has always been considered a separate, stand alone  function in organizations similar to HR and Finance.  In the past, it was understandable  because the technology was not easy to navigate and not all that intuitive.  You needed to be trained  in specific technical areas to be able to use the technology in question. But technology has taken gigantic steps in many areas and has become very user friendly and easy to use. The consumerization of IT and its ease of use have contributed to the first factor making it difficult to classify what an IT worker is.

The second factor is the one I believe will significantly blur the line even more in years to come. It is the fact that the younger workers have used technology practically since birth.  They come into the workplace not only embracing IT but demanding it.  I’ve blogged about this trend several times over the last few months.  As I observed Millennials and spent some time shadowing them in the workplace, one of the things that struck me the most was how Millennials in other non-IT teams were so tech savvy.  As I discovered there were many reasons for this. For example, some had been put “in charge” of technology in their homes as their parents invested in home networks or a neighbor contracted them to build a website for their home business or they worked in the IT lab at their universities.

The point is that Millennials don’s see technology as a differentiator.  For them, technology is a way of life, not something you learn or add on to your resume as a skill. As more of them enter the workplace, they will blur the line between what an IT worker is and someone in a business role.   Although there will still be a need to classify an IT worker in the future, the skills will be much more complex, highly specialized and advanced.   To me, this would mean IT classifications would shrink rather than grow since some of the skills we consider IT- related today may become mainstream in the future.

As future generations enter the workplace, the line will blur even more to the point that they are no longer perceived as IT skills per se.  The Millennials are simply the first generation blurring the lines and making IT  fuzzy.  As they blend their IT skills with their business skills they force us to question our legacy beliefs and definitions.    One more example how leading and working in the 21st Century is about experimenting and going beyond our comfort zones.

So how fuzzy do you think IT has become and how fuzzy will it get in the future?

I came across an interview that Nick Heath of had with Jeanne Ross, one of M.I.T.’s IT gurus. The article was called “How to Supercharge your IT Dept.”In the article, Jeanne Ross talked about some of the things IT departments needed to do to go from being order takers to business change drivers.  At one point,  Nick Heath asks Jeanne what she felt were the important skills CIOs need today to be successful.  Although she said that CIOs had to be strong technically she believed that it was not the most important skill.  She felt that to be successful,  CIOs needed to have the ability to manage and the vision to achieve corporate goals. 

Now I can see many CIOs nodding their heads in agreement.  But what is questionable is whether that agreement gets put into action.  I still see too many CIOs that place more importance on either their technical abilities or trying to meet the expectations and demands of their boss/CEO and peers.  Those are important considerations that require attention but so does the management of your team.  Often CIOs get so busy with the tactical demands of their job that they relegate the management of the people to their direct reports. Sometimes the CIOs are not comfortable with the people side of their job and try to avoid dealing with the complexity that comes with managing an assortment of people each with their own set of needs, skills, and problems.

But that’s where the real success of the CIO lies.  With his or her people.  There are many examples in the corporate world of leaders with no technical expertise being brought in to run IT departments that were successful at doing it.  Their success came out of the fact that they were great leaders and had an ability to manage people and motivate them to do their best.

I can remember times in my corporate career when I worked for a boss who knew nothing about IT yet he  (or she) took an interest in my work.  He  took the time to get to know me as a person and made sure that I was challenged so that I could grow professionally.  Unfortunately,  I have worked for bosses who were not like that, who did not have an ability to manage and I know that I did not push myself as hard to succeed as when I worked for a boss who did.

Taking the time to get to know your team and to genuinely show them that you have an interest in their development and success in the company is a sure way to get them to give you their all. That connection breeds powerful results.

For the newest of your employees, the Millennials, that connection is even more powerful.  Not only do they seek that connection but in doing so, you will better understand how they think and how they work.  And here’s the best part:  you don’t even have to connect with all of them.  Getting exposure to even a few of them with good results is all you need to do.  The Millennials will do the rest.  They will spread the good results through their network of coworkers.  This creates a positive atomsphere and that creates positive results for the team.  

What have you done lately to reach out to individual members of your team?  When was the last time you took a Millennial to lunch? Might surprise you…  I was – pleasantly so.