by Edward Qualtrough

Innovation from the Summit – Empowering IT teams to unfreeze the organisation

Sep 30, 20144 mins
IT LeadershipIT StrategyMedia and Entertainment Industry

Innovation at all levels and inspiring your team to think on their feet emerged as key themes at our exclusive CIO Summit in London.

Attended by more than 140 industry CIOs, leading teams and empowering them to push their limits is as much a part of the modern IT department as the changing demands on the CIO to be an innovator.

Indeed, in his video appearance five years after a keynote speech at the 2010 summit while working as British Airways CIO, John Lewis IT director Paul Coby described the evolution of the CIO role. He used the analogy of a three-lane motorway, with a slower lane of heavy lifting and the “fast lane of innovation”.

“Being an innovator is a key part of being a CIO these days,” Coby said, after warning the Internet of Things and wearables will be the next big disruptive challenges CIOs will face – with IoT set to be truly transformational.

Innovate or die

Andrew Jordan, SVP of International Technology and Operations at NBC Universal, described innovation as something that does more than just offer a competitive advantage for one company or industry.

“Innovation is taking something with commercial value and making it better,” Jordan said. “It’s taking an invention or improvement and giving it sustained commercial value; but you also need to execute.

“Although innovation isn’t just about making your own company better, it’s about making the industry better as well.

“It’s a culture change and not about putting 20 PhDs in a room and expecting them to create – it’s promoting innovation across the entire business and inspiring a whole workforce to generate ideas.”

Embrace risk and inspire

IT Director of the UK’s second largest online fashion retailer MandM Direct, Graham Benson said while experienced technology leaders needed to unlearn the old methods of doing IT at people, the role should now focus on nurturing an enthusiastic team which pushes the CIO out of their traditional comfort zone.

Benson said: “The pace of change is now so fast even a five-year-old reference book is as irrelevant as my old IBM manuals from the 1980s.

“Our jobs used to be about eliminating risk – now we have to take risks and embrace it. Push yourselves and embrace the naysayers because they might actually have a point.

“We need to unlearn some of the old ways and relearn new skills that will help the IT industry thrive.

“The new world is about inspiring and engaging your team,” Benson said.

“The best ideas don’t come from me but from the team I nurture. My job is to serve them more than they serve me.”

People-first innovation

Surrounding yourself with the strongest possible set of direct reports is the key component of leading and motivating a successful IT team, Halfords CIO Anna Barsby told the audience in a talk which described the new Halfords career development programme.

“I’m about people-first, empowerment and innovation,” she said.

“And don’t compromise on your leadership team. An old boss said this and they were absolutely right; it allows me time as the CIO to look at strategy and work with the other executives.”

Barsby explained that Halfords was rolling out new career paths across the IT department because she did not want to have to rely on contractors and consultants – and this was at all levels from the CIO’s personal assistant to the service desk and developers.

Empowering the department includes having the transparency to share the CIOs technology vision rather than operating in an old ‘need-to-know’ style.

“Share your strategy and plan with your team,” Barsby said. “Most IT departments have one and it’s worth sharing.

“My job is to provide the clarity and freedom for people in the team. Empowerment is a great way of giving that trust to people.”

Unfreeze the organisation

CTO at GLH, the hotel group behind the Thistle brand and luxury London including the Charing Cross Hotel, The Grovesnor in Victoria and The Cumberland by Marble Arch, Chris Hewertson said that innovation had to be championed from the top down but support a culture throughout the organisation.

“If a large number of people are incentivised to innovate it can deliver a lot of change and unfreeze the organisation,” the former Colt Technology Services CIO said.

“Innovation has to be championed from the top down. But you need a culture that supports both success and failure, and supports people putting their hands up. Innovation must be supported by the centre, but not controlled by it.”