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The CIO agenda: Rebooting leadership and culture for the digital era

The CIO agenda: Rebooting leadership and culture for the digital era

Enterprises can’t innovate at the speed and scale demanded by uncertain and changing markets, without adapting leadership thinking and organisational culture.

CIOs need to help people go through the inevitable 'discomfort zone' of business transformation

Graham Waller, Gartner

Mindsets and culture are notoriously hard to change. But enterprises can’t innovate at the speed and scale demanded by uncertain and changing markets, without adapting leadership thinking and organisational culture.

Just telling people to become more innovative, speed up decision making or be more risk tolerant, seldom leads to meaningful change. Instead, CIOs need to commit to a systematic reboot of leadership traits and culture. This must be done in a way that helps people through the inevitable "discomfort zone".

Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, explores a technique called “growth mindset” that can underpin such a reboot. It addresses intrinsic barriers to change by emphasising a belief in the ability to learn over a reliance on innate and current knowledge.

Embracing a mindset like this can enable individuals to thrive on challenge, persist and learn from setbacks, build on the ideas of others and move forward despite uncertainty. This makes it well-suited to the demands of digital business.

CIOs can harness growth mindset to ignite creativity and attract new talent, while reinvigorating and motivating current employees.

Of course, any one technique is not a panacea, but a component of a broader culture change. Most enterprises facing digital disruption need this type of change, even when the broader business leadership team is not yet ready. Don’t wait passively, as you can initiate such a change within IT, presenting it as a microcosm and learning environment for the broader enterprise.

Measure the impact, then pivot

Graham Waller, Gartner

A growth mindset inspired cultural reboot

There are four steps you can take to drive leadership and organisational change anchored by a growth mindset regardless of its size or industry.

  • Define leadership and culture for tomorrow

Digital disruption often outpaces an enterprise's ability to respond using traditional leadership styles and culture, which can crave certainty too much or be too risk averse. This is why today's thinking stifles innovation and slows decision making.

The enterprise can't execute a new strategy well unless the organisational culture adapts to fit the new demands. In digital business, where enterprises may have to change direction sharply in the face of uncertainty, a growth mindset can create an adaptable, resilient culture.

While many CIOs talk about being more innovative or increasing velocity, it can too often remain a vague dream. The growth mindset focuses on applying effort, learning and growing as the way forward. It can provide a tangible way to stimulate your enterprise's innovation.

  • Roll out leadership and culture change deliberately

Employees won’t adopt the new culture if management merely pays lip service to it. For the culture to take hold, they must be involved in creating it. Allow plenty of time for the change to happen.

In a sizable organisation, management must boil down the culture into a simple message that every employee can understand. As a CIO, you must also incorporate the new culture into the most fundamental activities, such as year-end reviews, hiring and promotions. Without serious, continual reinforcement from all management systems, people will soon revert to old behaviours.

  • Measure the impact, then pivot

People do what managers notice and reward. Culture won't change unless you track how well people are picking up the new behaviours and reward them for it. The behaviours themselves, such as "do it, try it, fix it" experimentation, learning from failure and increased collaboration, may appear unmeasurable. You can, however, measure the impact of those behaviours and must do so for culture change to succeed.

  • Keep it real and role model the change

Many "critical" initiatives that management pushes down to the organisation never stick. Culture change could become one of those if you don't make it part of the daily life of your employees.

The new behaviours need to be simple, memorable and embedded in daily work and processes. Repeated exposure over a long period will enable your team to internalise the new principles of the culture so that they become the automatic way things are done.

At the same time, regularly practice a growth mindset yourself and reward others who do. Your team will only take the risk of trying it out if they see you using it. Over time, growth mindset becomes standard practice across the organisation.

Graham Waller is a research vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, working with CIOs, CEOs and digital business leaders on contemporary leadership and realising business advantage via technology. He is a co-author of two Gartner books: Digital to the Core: Remastering Leadership for Your Industry, Your Enterprise and Yourself" and The CIO Edge: Seven Leadership Skills You Need to Drive Results. He will speak about digital business at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Australia, 30 October-2 November 2017.

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