How Bank of America's tech chief manages culture

Data helps Cathy Bessant gauge how her staff understands the corporate mission for a bank undergoing a broad business transformation.

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Governing technology within a large enterprise requires getting the entire IT department to buy in to a cultural ideology, a singular way that work gets done in alignment with the corporate mission. It's a tough task Cathy Bessant, chief technology and operations officer of Bank of America (BofA), is undertaking as she shepherds 95,000 employees through a shift to faster software and service delivery. Bessant governs culture by tapping into what should be every IT leader's best friend: Data. Data, she says, sets her free.

"I have to set a culture, make sure it's understood, enforce it when necessary, be willing to make change around it when it's not and test the depth of people's understanding [of the culture]," said Bessant at the Forbes Next CIO Summit recently. "I have to be able to count on the 95,000th person to make the right call."

To take the pulse of her staff, Bessant conducts monthly Gallup-style polls to ensure she has alignment from her CIO lieutenants to her junior engineers. A top question Bessant has slated for her next poll asks employees whether they understand how BofA's global technology and operations makes its funding decisions. She hopes the answer will tell her where in the hierarchy understanding about technical funding might break down. "I can figure out where the culture isn't working," Bessant said.

Cultivating culture amid tech change

Knowing whether culture is working is an increasingly important chore for IT leaders today. Technology's role is gaining prominence across the enterprise, often requiring significant culture change. IT leaders are well positioned to oversee this cultural transformation because their role requires them to work with every level of an enterprise's business, wrote Gartner analysts in a September 2016 research note.

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