How CIOs and Tech Execs Can Lead and Build a High-Performing Culture

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With remote work environments the norm for most organizations, CIOs and technology executives have voiced long-term concerns about keeping employees engaged and motivated while working virtually. For instance, 73 percent of CIOs, CISOs and other technology executives surveyed by HMG Strategy say keeping employees engaged and motivated is a top priority.

One major concern has been how to establish- and strengthen- organizational culture, both for existing employees and recently onboarded talent. At the HMG Live! 2021 Silicon Valley Global Innovation Summit on February 9th, HMG Strategy hosted a panel discussion facilitated by Hunter Muller, President and CEO at HMG Strategy, on steps that CIOs and technology executives can take to cultivate the organization’s culture.

“The pandemic is a horrific global situation, and at the same time it is a culture accelerator, especially as we near a year of working remotely,” says Wendy M. Pfeiffer, CIO at Nutanix.

In facing these extraordinary and challenging times, leaders have established transformational practices that are likely to survive long into the future. Pfeiffer and other tech leaders found ways to overhaul roles and teams to smoothen the transition to remote work – and those efforts have worked.

Some of these adjustments involve creating mixed and flexible schedules that include intentional time to interact with others and some time working independently. The organization has also focused on becoming more directive and transparent while managing teams that span across time zones and geographies; those workers remote from the organization’s primary hubs could no longer be given the short shrift. 

Taking this type of empathetic and thoughtful approach has paid dividends. “We are 12%-to-18% more productive across the board today,” says Pfeiffer.

In a world where onboarding has also been handled remotely, sourcing candidates has become easier. “Now, we have people who can work anywhere,” says Pfeiffer. “It’s not just who you know, it’s what you know.”

It’s also forcing hiring managers to be creative about onboarding new hires and making them feel welcome into the organization. “We’re hiring new employees that we’ve never met in-person,” says Martin Leach, VP, R&D IT, Global Quality IT, and Human Experience IT at Alexion Pharmaceuticals. “What can we do so that these individuals feel they are part of the culture that you’ve built? How do you get them to trust you? How can you create opportunities for you to trust them?”

Technology executives have answered these questions in a number of innovative and creative ways. Without the ability to stop by a cubicle or chat in the hallway, leaders are turning to intentional practices to build community, culture, and trust.

Whether it be engaging in comedy skits in front of the team to show a more vulnerable side, or hosting virtual mixology classes or paint nights, casual opportunities for employees to connect allows executives to meet their teams and build trust in a remote working environment.

Leach discussed the presence of “culture champions,” members of the organization with ears to the ground who are able to surface issues as part of an extended leadership group.

“It’s helpful to have these people in place, because you have limited views as you get to the top of the leadership chain,” says Leach.

Character and competence create trust, and trust creates speed in your organization,” says Tony Leng, Managing Director, Digital Transformation and CIO Practice Lead at Diversified Search. “Top leaders create psychologically safe environment for their teams which allows them to express concerns, offer creative ideas, make mistakes etc. – without getting their hands chopped off. This type of environment breeds creativity, motivation, loyalty, trust and openness”

In unprecedented times, it is important that the organization operate with speed and agility. Creating trust in leadership by staying humble and authentic can create a work environment that empowers employees, allowing them to act quickly.

“If you can create [that culture] in an online Zoom world, it’s a phenomenal achievement,” says Leng.

At the end of the day, executives are remembering to adapt and provide support to their teams in an innovative and extraordinary time.

“It’s about grace,” says Pfeiffer. “We have standards, we have rules, and some of us have the right to suspend those rules. That’s what a leader does.”

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