5 pillars of a strong IT culture

Mar 14, 2022
IT Leadership

Establishing and sustaining a positive IT culture is more of a journey than a quick jump and begins with trust, empathy, and humility.

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Effectively developing and growing a positive and innovative culture is easily one of the top objectives for most IT organizations and companies today. It is also one of the more challenging goals given the adversities of the past two years and the resulting impact on worker attitudes and workforce dynamics.

There are some concrete reasons why a strong and collaborative culture is important to a company’s success and is worth the effort. More than 80% of the executives taking part in a recent PwC survey claim that having a strong culture not only drives organizational adaptability, especially during uncertain times, but can also provide a competitive advantage. Forty-eight percent of those polled also say that a distinctive culture can result in better business outcomes, while nearly 90% point to improved customer satisfaction.

One reason many companies struggle with culture or fail to see the direct return on the investment in time and effort is that most believe that educating workers on business objectives and goals is enough to provide a strong cultural framework. While that is a good foundation, sustaining a strong culture, especially in today’s hybrid work environment, requires less rhetoric and more action. This includes providing meaningful training for front-line managers, using the right tools to assess the strengths and weaknesses of teams to better align them to business objectives, and establishing leadership metrics and compensation structures that reinforce positive team leadership behaviors and team results, notes IDC analyst Amy Loomis.

The following five cultural pillars are more important than ever for supporting and nurturing an innovative and engaged IT culture. Here’s how we deployed them at CommScope and the impact on our culture.

1. Communication. We asked senior IT leaders to reach out across technology and business boundaries to embed themselves in the business, get involved in staff meetings, and communicate on a personal level—not easy when you are global company with more than 30,000 employees.

In doing so, it gave business teams across the company the opportunity to ask questions and IT leaders a chance to provide some clarity. Most important, it opened channels for listening to different viewpoints from smaller parts of the business or different areas of the globe. I always tell my IT leadership team that their number one job is connecting with people and making sure you provide them with comfort and confidence—whether it’s facing challenges in thecompany, challenges in the marketplace, or the pandemic. You’ve got to be there.

For example, the graphic below compares distinctions between in person and digitally mediated culture according to Amy Loomis, IDC’s research director for Future of Work.

2. Trust. One of the first things you should do in establishing a trusted culture is talk to your people to discover if they really understand their purpose in the organization and if they are connected to the bigger mission of the company. Everyone should know why they come to work each day. You should also have IT people and team leaders talk to someone on the business side and try to understand their objectives and pressures. When you do this, you must actively listen to what they are saying about the pains of the business or their customers. If you don’t do this, then you are never going to get into their shoes to discover what the problem might be and how you can help. Once everyone realizes their mission and understands that you and others are there to help, this creates a framework of trust that can be used to build a stronger relationship.

3. Empathy and humility. Unless you are humble and actively listening, you cannot have empathy, understand the pains of the business, or get into a person’s shoes in terms of really knowing and understanding their goals and objectives. It is important as a leader to be sensitive to another person’s space in a hybrid work environment if you want them to collaborate and get the work done. The message should be that we are not just pushing things from the top, but we really want to listen and understand your challenges and your needs. A part of this might be to provide additional training or even more collaboration tools. Ultimately it is more about understanding and being a part of the solution rather than just pushing something from the top.

4. Accountability. True accountability comes from team leaders who instill pride and a sense of purpose to the people who report to them, which makes them more accountable for the actions they take and their thoughts behind those actions. They will not be accountable if they do not understand the overall objectives, or if the goals are not clear, and this comes from the words and actions of team leaders. Accountability shouldn’t be a generalized concept or value, where everybody views it as simply ticking a box.

5. Flexibility. Every team and every team’s charter is different based upon what they are doing, even if they are connected and in sync with the bigger company message. So, it’s important to get feedback from each team to know what’s working and what may not be working. It all goes back to understanding and knowing what the teams, if not every employee, are going through. People are always willing to change, and the challenge for leadership is to understand and know that change is possible.

Above all, remember that the right set of people to achieve your culture goals is the team you have. It’s all about helping them see and understand where you and the company are heading, which may take a little more time. I strongly believe it is the responsibility of leadership to be articulate enough to let people know the ‘why’ and the purpose of what they are doing.

Praveen Jonnala

Praveen Jonnala is SVP & CIO at CommScope and has more than 20 years' experience in leading global IT teams in product engineering, software development and manufacturing.