by Matt Egan

How one UK CIO motivates himself, his team and his business | How to lead young people to commercial success

Jun 23, 2016
CareersIT Leadership

A UK CIO tells us how he copes with the demands of his job, physically and mentally. He also outlines his philosophy around keeping his team engaged. Here’s how one CIO motivates his team and influences senior managers.

Greg Morleyis the CIO of United Living, a large construction company with five regional offices throughout the UK. It’s a complex business that needs to support many construction sites and 650 users.

Morley’s team comprises ’10 full-time employees and a couple consultants’. And he makes great use of partnerships. He says: ‘I make good use of partnering arrangements with our service providers. When we’ve entered into new procurement arrangements, one of the key things that we’ve emphasised upfront is the partnership element. They are an extension of us.’

It is obvious that a strong IT element is required to keep the business moving forward, and Morley believes his team is key: ‘They are very different characters and that works well. We certainly wouldn’t have had the degree of success that we’ve had without any of them.’ He also believes that an open approach to new ideas, and a positive attitude to youthful enthusiasm is important to United Living’s success.

So how does the CIO at the head of such a team keep himself focused and energised in order to lead and motivate a crucial part of his business? We spoke to him to find out. (Also read our other interview with Greg Morley: How one UK CIO drives digital transformation through a company merger.)

How a CIO motivates himself, his team and his business: Personal energy

The first and most critical step when leading a team for any senior executive is to take care of your own energy. Because United Living is the result of a merger, and due to its geographical spread, Morley lives a long way away from the office and consequently spends a lot of time in hotels. He is mindful of the potential pitfalls of this, and the effect it can have on his performance.

‘The number one priority is personal family life,’ he says. ‘That’s important and I can’t afford to lose sight of that. I’ve got a wife and a 15-year-old daughter. It’s all too easy when living away from home to spend a lot of time socialising in a hotel bar, and that’s not for me. I like to spend quality time on the phone with my daughter every evening. Help her with her homework and then on weekends just be totally there for them. That’s super important.’

Morley also believes strongly in looking after his personal health, in order to be professionally effective. ‘I’ve got to look after my health and I’m consciously trying to live a healthy, authentic life,’ he says. ‘It may sound a bit trite but if I can’t take good care of myself, how can I expect to give good care and attention to the family and colleagues I’m responsible for? I’m also a firm believer in having a little “crazy” in one’s life to counter-balance all of the serious stuff. For me, “crazy” could be trail marathons or a sailing adventure.’

This relates into his work because by being physically and mentally strong, and with home life taken care of, he feels able to commit to work. And that means being able to be fully present when supporting his team.

‘I really value being authentic, present and aware,’ he explains. ‘So many people are coming to work with different issues going on in their lives, whether it’s personal or work related. It’s really important to be there for them and, inevitably, it pays off. They’re going to be there for you when you’re having a rough time or we are facing a challenge. That’s worked really well for me so far.’

Finally, in terms of personal motivation, Morley says he really values the part of his role that requires him to challenge the status quo. ‘It is about never being complacent,’ he says of the CIO role. ‘Having a balanced set of challenges is very stimulating.’ (You can read Greg’s CIO 100 entry here.)

How a CIO motivates himself, his team and his business: Setting standards

Morley has a military background, and believes that some of the core skills he picked up there help with overall team motivation. Setting high standards is not just good for production, but raises self-esteem and team pride.

‘I was in the South African Navy and one of the first things I learned was keeping everything ship-shape and tidy,’ he says. ‘Making sure that there’s no mess or loose ends because those tend to cloud everything and can affect judgement.

‘That sense of tidiness extends through a tidy office environment, a safe construction site, a well-defined project or short and to-the-point meetings.’

How a CIO motivates himself, his team and his business: Mediation

Morley is a strong advocate of giving members of his team the opportunity to succeed… and fail. He says that we all make mistakes, and it is important that people have the opportunity to learn through trying things.

‘Everybody has a story to tell and if they’ve messed up I want to give them the freedom to say they’ve messed up, and the ability to learn from it,’ he says. ‘We don’t punish honest mistakes.’

‘I think it’s imperative to have that approach to allow people really to grow and become their own person.’

How a CIO motivates himself, his team and his business: Sense of mission

It is important to Morley that United Living is doing good work. Building social housing and engaging with housing associations, facilitating charitable and social projects. And this is an important part of the culture he supports. Colleagues are encouraged to engage with the overall mission of the business, to see their contribution as integral to the overall success of United Living.

‘Nobody’s coming to work just for a paycheque,’ he says. ‘They come to work because they like to get out of bed in the morning and deal with their challenges. I’ve got to honour that and I appreciate that in all of them. That’s important to me.’

How a CIO motivates himself, his team and his business: Influencing the business

Of course, the great challenge of being an IT leader in a modern business is that you are no longer just a cost centre or a service. Morley sees his function as both a utility required to fuel the business, and an agent for digital transformation. He reports to the CFO and doesn’t have a seat on the board, and so to do his job properly he needs to be able to understand the needs of senior leaders – and educate them.

He says that the due diligence involved in merging and then integrating two businesses has led to a lot of intensive work between the line of business leaders and IT, and this has created an atmosphere of sharing and trust. He makes himself available outside of office hours, and considers it part of his job to build relationships with those leaders his team supports.

‘There are a number of us who travel together a lot, and the down time is a great opportunity to bounce ideas off each other informally, to raise issues, and to explore opportunities. That kind of after-hours informality lends itself to a more open dialogue in the office as well.

‘Sometimes as a CIO you have to push quite hard to have a voice. But it pays dividends, leading to a presence at board meetings, where I can present something relevant.’

Again, Morley believes that it is important to understand the person in relation to the job function that person happens to hold. ‘Everybody’s got a different style. Some of them like to get into the details. Some of them just like to see the headlines and what’s it going to cost,’ he says.

‘It is important for a senior leadership team to understand one another’s strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. If their football team has lost, it might not be a good day.’ (Read next: CIO 100 2016 new faces – Leading CIOs and upcoming technology executives new to the 2016 CIO 100.)

How a CIO motivates himself, his team and his business: Everyone has a voice

Of course, what is good for managing upwards is as important when offering a voice to all colleagues. Morley is a passionate advocate for hearing from a range of voices, and believes strongly in allowing younger people to have their say.

‘Within the IT team itself we aim to give everybody an equal voice,’ he says. ‘As a business we recently set up a junior board, recognizing that we’ve got to attract the younger generation but also retain them and give them a voice and an opportunity to learn and contribute. This junior board is an opportunity for them to see what happens at that end of the business, what factors influence decisions and impact strategic business plans. It’s been great, and I’ve been working with a handful of them on some IT procurement projects.’

This, then, is where the benefit accrues. Morley says that younger members of the team have a very different voice that can bring energy and new ideas to existing projects.

‘Young people have a very different voice. It speaks loudly,’ he says. ‘An example is one of the young people we’re working with on the mobile procurement piece. When he started this process he thought it would be as simple as buying 600 Android phones or iPhones from a mobile phone shop. The junior board engagement helped him understand the implications: the data element of the contract, voice, the reporting, contracts, security. What type of devices we need to consider for different reasons.

‘Once he was aware of the implications he was able to meet with device suppliers to understand potential business benefits between volume discounts and the ability to work directly with the OEM. He was able to find a balance between end-user usability and business value. It’s a really valuable process for that person and for the business.

‘I’d call it youthful vigour. It energizes what could have been a very tedious process and offers that fresh pair of eyes and a new enthusiasm It makes it a very interesting project.’

And it’s not just the advantage of fresh eyes on an old problem. Morley says that in a fast-changing technology market it is important that education runs from the bottom to the top as well as vice versa.

‘A lot of the younger members of the United Living team have either come out of university where they’ve been taught to use a certain set of tools, or they’ve had a graduate placement with a competitor. We have to listen to any kind of feedback that comes in and we hope that if they move on, they take positive feedback to their next appointment.’

Recognising the value of young people does mean that you have to work to recruit and retain them, of course. And this is something Morley thinks about a lot. He says that giving young people a voice is the best way of keeping them engaged. But also stresses the need to take care of what may seem like small things, such as equipment.

‘We’ve got to be mindful of the fact that the people we’re recruiting have come from college or university where they’ve known nothing but tablets. To come into an organisation where they’re going to be expected to use an old PC under their desk, or a legacy application, that’s not the best way to retain them. We’d like our teams to be properly enabled to do their job and do it well. (See also: 5 ways to use mobile to get your team to work smarter.)