Evaluating IT Talent: What It Takes to Deliver a Competitive Advantage

Posted 10-10-2012

Evaluating IT Talent: What It Takes to Deliver a Competitive Advantage

By Kevin Rhein

The key to Wells Fargo's success is our commitment to our customers. In order to provide the best customer experience and earn the loyalty of our customers, we must recruit and retain talented and engaged team members.

So how do we define "talented and engaged?" In Wells Fargo's Technology and Operations Group (TOG), we look for individuals who have a range of both technical and non-technical skills that are also great leaders and motivators. We want technologists who have a passion for executing the fundamentals flawlessly, creating integrated partnerships, and engaging with fellow team members to build a diverse, inclusive, and successful culture.

Getting the Fundamentals Right

In financial services, like many other industries, technology is the lifeblood of the organization --and you don't get a second chance to get the fundamentals right. More than 70 million customers count on Wells Fargo to have our systems operating smoothly every day. The systems we maintain in TOG facilitate billions of transactions annually.  And each is a moment of truth with our customers to reinforce their trust and confidence in Wells Fargo. We can't afford a hiccup.

With one of the largest distribution channels in financial services, we have enormous accountability. Wells Fargo has a store or ATM within 2 miles of 50 percent of the U.S. population. We also have 21.1 million active online banking customers and a fast growing mobile banking channel with more than 8.5 million active customers.

In TOG, we don't physically see customers every day, but we never forget who we work for. That's why when I consider talent I always look for candidates with a customer mindset.

Specialized skills in emerging technologies like data management, information security, and cloud computing are definitely appealing, but candidates that can examine and implement these capabilities through the eyes of the customer will have a competitive edge. We don't believe in technology for technology's sake. Every technology, product, service, solution, or idea must have a tangible benefit for our team members servicing customers or directly for the customer.

Wells Fargo has long been a leader in technology, product, and channel innovation. We were the first bank to offer Internet access to account balances and transaction history.
We also were the first major bank to widely deploy envelope-free ATMs as well as offering customers personalized options while conducting business at our ATMs.  Our innovations -- such as desktop and store-image capture for checks and other financial documents -- also reduce expenses, improve the customer's experience and help the environment.

Developing Integrated Partnerships

Before becoming the Group Executive over TOG last year, I served as head of Card Services and Consumer Lending. I know from personal experience that the business expects strategic, consultative partnerships from its technology partners. In my former role, I considered the CIO assigned to my group a part of my leadership team. I expected my technology partners to know my business, our key drivers, our customers and challenges. As the head of TOG, I have the same expectations of my team. They need to know their clients' businesses to provide the best consultation and help maximize the efficiency of the business' technology and operations spend.

In order to partner around efficiency, we have to be transparent about our costs and provide options that show value for the dollar.  This comes into play when we think about deploying emerging technology. It's not enough to be innovative -- we have to be able to clearly and concisely talk about the incremental value the technology investment provides for the business and ultimately for our customers.

Evaluating IT Talent: What It Takes to Deliver a Competitive Advantage

For example, we use a "costing" model that provides clarity around technology and operations costs and unit productivity. Our business partners appreciate these metrics and tell us it helps them make informed decisions on the best technology solutions and enhancements for their business. It also helps build and strengthen our partnerships as we work together on specific tactics that can improve the efficiency of their IT spend.

Successful team members and potential candidates are those who appreciate the value of partnering and work hard at developing and maintaining strong partnerships.

Characteristics of Talented Team Members

In just a brief interaction, I can tell almost instantly when team members are truly engaged and happy with the company. They tend to display these common characteristics:

1.    Leadership. Team members who contribute at a high level understand you don't have to be a manager to be a leader. There are many ways you can show leadership and add value in your organization. One suggestion is getting involved in your community. Don't hesitate to serve on nonprofit boards in the community. There are so many worthy organizations that are hungry for committed people willing to roll up their sleeves and take the time to make a difference.

2.    Appreciation for diversity. Our customer demographics are changing rapidly.  We have an ever increasing diverse customer base. Valuing and appreciating differences is a core tenet of Wells Fargo. I am energized by people who want to experience new things and learn about new cultures. The more you broaden your horizons, the more you understand your customers and how to meet their needs. One example of meeting the needs of our diverse customers is our global remittance service. Well Fargo Express Send allows our customers to easily send money to their friends and family in Mexico, and 14 other countries in Asia, Central America, the Caribbean and South America. Technology makes this value-added service possible, but an appreciation and respect for our diverse customers make it work.

3.    Change Agents. I've been in financial services for more than 34 years and I've never seen as much change as we've witnessed over the last 5 years. From industry consolidation to new regulation, we are all challenged to approach our jobs differently and to quickly understand and embrace the "new normal." Change isn't easy, but it often leads to new opportunities. It's important for team members and candidates to show they are open, adaptable, optimistic, and willing to give change a chance.

4.    Relationship builders. You can have all the technical expertise in the world, but if you are not trustworthy, then your career is likely to stall quickly. Relationships are the foundation for a successful career. To build relationships of trust, you need to possess credibility, reliability and intimacy coupled with a modest dose of self orientation, according to the Trusted Advisor. Many people have credibility and reliability, but fall short in their efforts to build intimacy. In the business environment, intimacy means relating to your team members, customers, partners, and communities on a personal level.  At Wells Fargo, we have team members located across the nation and internationally, so it can be hard to get to know everyone personally. We don't let that be an excuse. I and my managers take advantage of opportunities to connect with people at in-person team gatherings, and we leverage technologies like TelePresence to facilitate more personal interactions.

Evaluating IT Talent: What It Takes to Deliver a Competitive Advantage

What the Organization Can Do

I've described a lot of characteristics we expect from IT talent, but the organization has a role to play, too. Here are some of the ways Wells Fargo nurtures team member engagement:

1.    Recognition. Organizations need to cultivate open, positive cultures with regular recognition for great work.

2.    Growth and development. Ongoing learning and development opportunities are important to technologists who value training as much as compensation. It's also important to have performance discussions on a regular basis. We expect managers to have at least two performance discussions a year with team members.

3.    Diversity and inclusion. I talked about the importance of personal diversity earlier. Organizations must provide opportunities for team members to express themselves and learn from each other. At Wells Fargo, we have nine major team member networks and scores of communities of practice and numerous site diversity teams across our footprint.

4.    Engagement. I'm a firm believer in Gallup's measure of team member engagement. According to Gallup, to have satisfied, loyal customers, you need engaged team members. At Wells Fargo, we place a high priority on this and measure team member engagement annually. Our teams develop action plans that address strengths and areas of opportunity to increase engagement.

As part of engagement, I also believe it's important that managers identify each team member's unique strengths and ensure they are in a job that leverages their strengths.  A manager's ability to manage is monitored carefully as well. Time and again, we've found team members don't leave companies -- they leave managers.  I believe the single most important investment a company can make is improving the quality of its managers and supervisors.


Conclusions

This is an exciting time to be in technology. Everything from infrastructure to entertainment is dependent on technology. And customer expectations for the availability and usability of that technology increases daily.

For those who desire it, there are significant opportunities in technology and operations to be an organization's competitive advantage. But it takes leaders, managers, and team members willing to flawlessly execute the fundamentals of their business, develop deep partnerships with their product and channel providers and build an environment that embraces engagement, diversity, and inclusion.


Kevin Rhein is Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Wells Fargo & Company.