by Byron Connolly

Meet Rebecca Livesey, the deliberate imposter

May 22, 20157 mins

Rebecca Livesey, the interim CIO at construction equipment supplier, WesTrac describes herself as a deliberate imposter. Ten months ago, Livesey was appointed as the company’s interim IT chief to transform and lead the technology team.

Livesey, who earned a masters degree in mathematics from the University of Oxford in the late-1990s, doesn’t have any experience in technology. A statistician by trade, but with a rising interest in why employees are disengaged from their work, she retrained to gain an understanding of cultural change, people profiling and leadership.

Since then, Livesey has focused on strategy development, most recently as WesTrac’s general manager of business strategy and growth.

As interim CIO, she leads a team of 30 staff, who she describes as all technical experts in their field.

“Somehow I had to take them through a transformation journey without knowing anything about what they talk about,” Livesey told attendees at this week’s CIO Summit in Perth. “My background is strategy, culture change, and leadership.”

Livesey says although she couldn’t help out with the technical challenges faced by the IT team, her role was to help them earn the right to influence the rest of the organisation.

“That was our value, mission and purpose. We were a team that’s come up through the ranks in an organisation that’s got a lot of tradition,” Livesay says. “The guys had been there a while and it [the culture] was very much about risk aversion.

“The IT team wanted to keep costs down, they were a bit risk-averse, and they were constantly challenging things in the business. So for me it was about learning about influence and having some standards around that.

“We created some standards around our behaviours. We did some behavioural profiling, we worked out what [the team] would look like, and how it would interact with the business,” says Livesey.

The goal was to change attitudes and stop talking about things going on in the business that were out of the team’s control, she says.

“We would earn the right to influence by delivering things we can control and things that are on our work plan. So we did. Suddenly, the business was talking to us in a way that was getting us to add value. So we were being invited in as opposed to inflicting risks on people.”

At WesTrac, Livesey focused on getting behaviours right and putting in place a governance structure around decision-making across the organisation.

“From a strategy perspective, this is where you do your analysis and from a leadership perspective, it’s about setting up and maintaining these structures – which should deliver the environment [company vision and mission],” she says.

Once the environment and structure – ie. systems, governance, policies and procedures – are bedded down, implementation (a detailed plan) is easy because tasks and actions are clear, they can be benchmarked, and people understand how systems are used, Livesey told attendees.

“The strategy bit becomes how you are executing and monitoring.”

“People know what they are doing, we know our values, our behaviours and outcomes. We know what strategy we have in place to deliver. We’ve got our detailed plan and we understand ourselves as leaders what our capacity and capability needs are and we can plan accordingly.”

Livesey says people get stressed when they are taking over a new team working in an unfamiliar area.

“I could have got very bogged down with the implementation [at WesTrac]. I could have gone in and said ‘I want to know everything about the decisions we’re making, I need to understand technology, give me 20 years of technology experience in one week.’”

“I could have really got down to the minor detail but that was never going to work so I focused on earning the right to influence, behaviours, governance and decision making,” she says.

This is an approach Livesey uses regularly if she sees a project ‘going off the rails’, an issue with a team or an individual.

“If you are seeing gaps in what you are delivering or your team isn’t quite what you want, starting looking and assessing against your environment, structure, implementation and people.”

“It’s about making sure we live [the vision and mission], we’ve got our values and understand what our behaviours look like and we challenge each other on them,” she says.

The four ‘Rs’ of culture change

Livesey told attendees that the values of a business drives the culture, culture drives how people feels, how people feel drives how customers feel, and how customers feel drives shareholder value.

“We forget about how values and behaviours drive culture. One of the key things for me is ‘how do we get a good culture, how do we get good values and behaviours?’”

She describes the cultural change journey as consisting of four ‘Rs’ – reliance, rebellion (functional and dysfunctional), results, and realisation.

Reliance is a ‘freak out culture’, a fearful culture based on KPIs where people are easily offended, blame games as played and there’s a victim mentality.

“KPIs are very scary – it’s a difficult and under-functioning [environment] and you don’t get a lot of success in this culture,” Livesay says.

“It’s very reliant on authority because authority thinks that the only way to get things done is to tell people what to do. “To be honest I’d say that 90 per cent of the Western world is stuck in this place.”

Rebellion is a dysfunctional place, it’s angry, external and blames everything on everybody else.

“I talk to my staff about, every time someone says, ‘If only management would’ or ‘If only the culture was’ or ‘If those guys did their jobs, I’d be OK.’ It’s like we have this big box and we are throwing all these other people in it apart from us,” Livesey says.

“We’ve got these masses of energy swings going on in the organisation – and the rebellious people – poison pill people start to look a bit like leaders purely because they’ve got people following them.

“This is a very exhausting place, most people end up switching between reliance and dysfunctional [rebellion] throughout their entire career,” Livesey says.

Once this gets too tiring, people move into functional rebellion, where there’s a foundation of sustainable results.

“It’s still self-focused but it’s moving towards functional. You are generally ok with these people as long as you agree with them.

The Results phase is functional, there’s internal motivation and it’s about making things happen.

“I try and get businesses and teams to this stage. If we can move them through the first couple of ‘Rs’ and get to this stage, we are well on the way to forming a good culture that can deliver strategy and initiatives,” Livesey says.

Realisation is about helping others, it’s more ‘Buddha and Gandhi-like’, but a lot of organisations struggle to get to this point, Livesey says.

“If individuals and leaders in the organisation are thinking how they best serve others than serve themselves, we are actually in a very good culture. Can you imagine if everybody’s [culture] was like that? We would be in a fantastic place,” she says.

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Follow Byron Connolly on Twitter:@ByronConnolly