by Kevin Kern

How to Create Collaborative IT Leaders

Dec 21, 20123 mins
Collaboration SoftwareIT SkillsMentoring

How First Data is identifying, mentoring and leveraging IT staff who focus on teamwork and corporate goals.

The world of online payments is changing dramatically, and my team is on the front lines of customer service. Accordingly, as a leader at First Data, I need people on my team who are dedicated to transforming the organization.

Within Global Operations and Technology, we have established seven goals that guide us, including providing differentiated customer service and enabling and accelerating revenue growth. This leads to both internally and externally focused transformation initiatives.

We dedicated considerable resources to creating global sourcing capabilities in-house, which has saved more than $200 million over the last three years. Establishing a global development governance process now ensures that we are making and deploying improvements for our customers without disrupting their retail cycles.

But the goal I usually start with–the one that makes it possible for us to deliver on all the others–is building and leveraging global talent. Obviously, this starts at the top. I came to First Data almost four years ago because I like leading global, complex transformation; I’ve been doing it for more than 12 years. A number of people who have been with me through those years came along. All my direct reports have been CIOs in their careers, which helps create confidence and trust in my team among my C-level peers.

My direct reports are nothing if they don’t have people with the skills and mind-sets to support them. We seek to hire, mentor and promote people with certain qualities, such as a collaborative focus, intelligence and global experience. Some people may seem overqualified, but that’s OK. The culture here has been risk-averse, and we need to change that. Everyone on the team has to have the mind-set that they’re going to step out, and they need to know that I’ll support them as their leader.

Another big part of how we work is our matrixed structure. I’ve found that A and B-plus players are very comfortable in a matrix. They’ve had some successes and failures, and they understand the difference. They also understand that while they’ve got to be aggressive, we’re asking them to operate in a manner that’s respectful and collaborative. They are judged in their formal reviews on whether they’ve built consensus and constituency within the management team to earn the possibility of a promotion.

Conversely, I’ve seen B and C players struggle in this environment. They tend to want to keep knowledge to themselves; they see it as power. When you’re transforming, you can’t have people in that mind-set. We need people who will step up when we ask them to take on a goal that’s outside their wheelhouse, for the good of the company.

I’ve also learned that you have to take risks sometimes. When people leave the company, it opens up opportunities for people who might not seem perfect for a role, but who have the ability to scale.

Our annual talent review process includes an assessment of whether people are willing to move around the company or to other global sites, and making those moves within a collaborative IT organization is paying off for the whole company.

Kevin Kern is executive vice president and CTO of global operations and technology at First Data, and a member of the CIO Executive Council.

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