4 steps toward building a productive IT culture

IT and other executives must learn how to use corporate culture as a tool to boost their team’s efficiency, morale and effectiveness.

Define your organization's culture
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I had the pleasure of being introduced to Frank Wander through a mutual friend. As our discussion began, I learned that he was a former turnaround CIO, author of the book Transforming IT Culture and the CEO and founder of PeopleProductive LLC. Given the nature of my column, I thought he would be a perfect person to interview and share his thoughts with you. I was right!

We discussed the key role that organizational culture plays on IT productivity, success and its impact on the business it serves. Mr. Wander explained that corporate executives of all types, including IT, need to understand the importance of corporate culture and how to use it as a tool to maximize their team’s efficiency, morale and effectiveness. He went on to explain that it has been his experience that most IT projects, and departments, fail because of the people, not the technology. As a result, culture should be carefully designed, actively managed, and continually monitored.

Mr. Wander said that a primary cultural factor within a team is agreement that collaboration is part of everyone’s job, because a strong cohesive team both minimizes project risk and dramatically enhances the potential of project success. Individual workers who are not team players and refuse to collaborate are corrosive to the team’s culture and effectiveness, no matter how great their level of technical skill and ability. In short, leaders need to know how their people interact with others or risk team related issues and the potential for project failure.

Given the importance of organization culture, I asked him if he had any tips he would like to share with me and he told me the following:

1. Provide a safe place to work: Being a biologist by original training, he explained that the Amygala, a portion of the limbic system, is essentially a “threat sensor.” When this sensor is aroused in the workplace, creative thought and problem solving are replaced with a focus on self-preservation, resulting in reduced productivity and lower work quality. Safety within the workplace, of course, means physical safety, but it also means psychological safety, which is created through quality leadership, organizational transparency, fairness and mutual respect. Safety leads to trust. When workers don’t trust their management, only 1 in 12 will be engaged.

2. Management caring about its people: Management caring is the foundation for building trust, loyalty and employee engagement. It also has a positive effect on reducing employee attrition, enhancing employee growth and the creation of a team-like atmosphere. People are more than their jobs. Management needs to embrace and get to know the whole individual because their lives outside of work are hugely important in terms of acceptance and inclusion, two vital pre-cursors of engagement.

3. Help build relationships between team members: Friendship between team members helps build collaboration, bringing with it, all of the advantages previously mentioned. Having friends at work has the additional organizational benefit of potentially enhancing employee job satisfaction and reducing employee attrition. Per Gallup, an individual with a best friend at work is 7 times as likely to be engaged.

4. Build a culture that fosters innovation: Creating an innovative culture is built on the combination of employee enablement, the encouragement and support of senior management, training on innovative thinking best practices and the implementation of processes that allow innovative ideas to move from ideation to implementation.

As our conversation continued and our time together was reaching its end, I asked Mr. Wander if he had any final thoughts that I could pass along to my readers. He said that for companies to survive and flourish in today’s world of technological reinvention, IT leaders must understand that during the Industrial Age, humans used physical tools to create physical products. In today’s digital world, human intellect and emotion are the source of innovation and productivity. People are the tool. It is time management learned how to get the best out of their people.

Frank Wander and his company PeopleProductive can be found at www.PeopleProductive.com.

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