by Pat Brans

Telefonica’s Phil Jordan on the tricks of a goup CIO

May 02, 20124 mins
CareersIT LeadershipIT Strategy

One of Telefonica Group CIO Phil Jordan’s time management secrets is no secret at all.

We’ve all heard the adage “Work smart, not hard”, and most of us think it makes sense. But how many of us really apply it?

“I’ve always felt that the people who are most effective are the ones who work fewer hours,” says Jordan. “I’ve seen this in my career many times, and it’s even more clear now as work cultures are changing. More people are working from home, and thanks to mobile technology, people have less need to be in the office.

“Some people carry around a badge of honour reserved for those who work very long hours. My sense is the people who get more done are those who establish clear boundaries. They have more self-discipline to split their lives into segments.”

Telefonica is the third largest mobile phone operator in the world, with more than 225 million subscribers and over $80bn (£49.5bn) in revenue.

Jordan’s IT organisation numbers around a thousand people and his IT strategy effects thousands more. As he’s taken on more senior jobs, he has had to get better at prioritising.

“Senior executives with international responsibilities have this intuition that allows them to home in on what’s important. They don’t get dragged into every issue or try to apply their leadership to places where it’s not needed.”

One of the challenges for group CIOs is that many of the people they need to get to do things aren’t in their direct command.

“It’s a completely different way of working,” says Jordan. “People who come up through functional leadership roles don’t always get it. Even CIOs who have had all the levers they can pull, such as resource allocation, prioritisation and investment. Global roles are different. You can’t control, you have to influence.

“When you come from a role where you are directly linked to a single business and then go into a role where you cover different businesses in different cultures, the skills are almost reversed. You probably got the role in a country because you showed good functional management and leadership skills. You can allocate resources, make judgment calls, prioritise, and you can understand the business and align the local strategy to it.

“Then when you have to take a strategic view of the whole company, you have to lead through influence.”

Putting together a good team is the most important thing a leader can do. Managers who build good teams can change a business.

“I’m a big fan of building teams with certain characteristics,” says Jordan. “I look for people who do things I’m not good at. I look for balance as well. In the early days when I built teams, I tended to pick people who were quite like me. When everybody is alike, it’s easier to build momentum and easier to get along. But it doesn’t give you a diversity of opinions and balance in your decision making and your interpretation of events or situations.

“There are very few jobs where you have the flexibility to completely rebuild a team. You need to quickly understand the abilities of the people you have and their intents. You have to quickly decide whether they are the right ones to help you take the business forward. In some cases, you want to build on the cultures and skills that are there and blend that with some new blood.

“Having a big melting pot of backgrounds and skills is a really positive thing. From that melting pot it’s about finding the right combinations. It’s not as much about having the right people and skills as it is about having the right mix and the right alignment.”

As Group CIO of an international organisation, Jordan doesn’t have regular direct contact with many of his team, but this, he says, is no barrier to success.

“Managers need to be able to lead people they don’t see every day. They need to give their teams firm anchor points so team members can go off and make decisions and always come back to the intent and focus of the organisation.

“The key questions are: What are we trying to achieve? How are we trying to achieve it? What are our ideals? What are the values by which we operate?

“Quite often decisions are stalled because there isn’t clarity about directions, values, principles, and ideals. People aren’t on the same page about one of two things: what we want to be and how we want to become it. If you can make those two points clear, people can make decisions on their own.”