Credit Suisse CIO Tom Sanzone on his secrets to IT innovation in a virtual world.
You seem to be describing the process of building trust.
Actually, in our vision statement, one of the aspects of our desire to become the premier IT organization in the industry is to be what we call a "trusted advisor." If we're able to become trusted advisors not only to our key clients, customers and business partners within IT, but also to our peers across IT, that will be a critical step in becoming a premier IT organization. Building those relationships is something that we are focusing on, and will always focus on.
I was just thinking about what I did when I joined Credit Suisse last year. I was a new guy who came in and I put a relatively new team together some executives that I had worked with in the past, others who were brand new. One of the first things I did was develop a code of conduct, which described the behaviors of the people on the team: what I expect of them, what they expect of me, and what we expect of each other.
Has your thinking changed over time?
I think what you need to create in business is commonality: a common operating model or a common set of rules of engagement. I'm not sure what you call it. It's not culture per se, because in reality our cultures are still our actual cultures. We bring that to the table every day. I'm never going to be the same as someone who was brought up in a totally different region and from a different background. Regardless of how we label it, what we need to do is work effectively together, and to do that we need a common set of values and a common framework for conducting business.
When I sit around the table with an American, British, Swiss or Japanese colleague, it's clear that we don't have the same cultural perspectives. Those differences, however, are tremendously enriching and constructive. To be effective as a cross-cultural team, we need a common set of operating principles, in terms of how we're going to work together. That's the key to getting the best out of all these different perspectives and values and approaches, and putting them together into something we can all work toward.
How would you describe the ideal leader for this new virtual model?
You need to be globally experienced and a global thinker. When you go to Europe or Asia, you get a feeling for the differences and how people perceive one another, and what's going on. It isn't necessarily obvious that you need to spend time on the ground in the various regions that you cover. But you do have to get a feeling for the areas you are responsible for, and that takes time. So here again it seems to contradict the virtual model. It's counterintuitive, but it's true: You need to spend time in global locations, working to understand people, cultures and approaches in order to then fully take advantage of the virtual model.
What about leaders who may be a few degrees away from you: on-site people, or leaders who travel. How do you translate that interactive leader to workers who might never meet each other? Well, you'll have one or two layers of leaders who do the traveling and face-to-face communication with the people in the various locations. These are your touch points for the organization, and they syndicate the message and the strategy around it. As [virtual meetings] technologies evolve, it's exciting that people can walk into different rooms around the world and feel like they're all together. Eventually, it will be available more broadly across the organization and we'll get more performance out of it. But right now it's generally available to a limited group.
Circling back to how IT drives innovation, you probably understand these issues better than most because you're on the IT side. It seems that CIOs can truly shine in this transition to innovation because they have long been sitting at the crux of these issues.
One of the things that's been a real blessing for me is, because of the nature of my role, I've been able to support the entire business. There are very few people at companies who actually get to see the entire business. I support all front-office areas. I also support the whole back office, the infrastructure everyone's my client. We're able to see the business holistically, and IT is probably unique from that perspective because the systems work across every function.
How would you advise other CIOs who want to implement some of your ideas at their companies?
I would tell them: You have to create a culture that supports innovation in your world, company, or division, and there are some very specific things you need to do to accomplish that. Certainly, the senior IT executives need to publicly and consistently support innovation in the organization, to promote success stories and make them part of the organization's agenda and culture.
From the perspective of corporate culture, you need to support it because innovation by nature involves a certain degree of risk-taking. So you have to promote a culture in which people feel comfortable about innovating, and where innovation is not only rewarded, but failure on the road to innovation is viewed as part of the process. Supporting innovation means not only supporting the successes but also realizing that when we make mistakes or things don't pan out, you shake the dust off and go at it again.