For companies to flourish and become a workplace of tomorrow, they must jettison not just their legacy systems and infrastructure, but also their legacy thinking.
Just because the employees are happy, don't assume these winning companies are just big "love ins." People work hard, often very hard, but they don't labor. These workplaces are different. Workers believe in the company mission, find meaning in their work, are excited to come to the office and, therefore, arrive in a productive state of mind.
Even though cultures and leadership practices differ among winning companies, they all share one thing in common: They fully understand that unlocking the talent potential and creativity of their workforce is mission number one. They embrace the workforce and care for it; they strive to hire people that are a cultural fit; and, they expend energy creating work environments where the talent can flourish (and have fun).
The world will never be one-size-fits-all, and each company's culture will always be a reflection of the mind of its founder (or, in Google's case, founders). But successful leaders understand that caring about others, and having their employees' back isn't just the right thing to do, but it's also smart business. Indeed, this is the shared thread of company greatness, the DNA of their success. As founding SAS CEO Jim Goodnight says, "My chief assets drive out the gate every day. My job is to make sure they come back."
These examples of high-performing workplace cultures are a preview of the future. They are different, but they all have the "get it" factor when it comes to talent. In these companies, employees really do count. And the employees know it, too.
It All Comes Down to Talent
What does this have to do with IT? Plenty. IT organizations have inordinately focused on process and technology, much to the detriment of the workforce. They have treated their professionals as an operating expense, not as a company asset. And they have torn apart the social fabric of their organizations by indiscriminately outsourcing large swaths of their talent base.
They have traded experienced teams with valuable institutional knowledge, and broadly productive relationships, for commodity labor. They have done this without knowing which teams, individuals and roles were assets, let alone which were expenses. Too many IT leaders have focused almost solely on technology, process and cost, and gutted their human infrastructure when they should have been growing and nurturing it. As a result, their only true source of enduring competitive advantage has been squandered and lost.
When the servers, storage, networks and infrastructure have been significantly outsourced, and non-core applications have migrated to the cloud, what then? The IT talent with intimate knowledge of key business applications, cloud solutions, complex processes, and deep relationships should be remaining—if management was wise enough to retain them.
If they have failed to retain these valued employees, leaders will awaken to the fact that workforce planning should have been a core element of their strategy from the start. And that they should have been building the asset side of the human capital balance sheet, not continually liquidating it. With many key resources gone, or soon retiring, they will have in-house business systems, and some infrastructure, along with the stagnation created by uninformed talent management practices; they will have motion, but no momentum. And they will find it difficult to survive.
In their daily struggles, they might finally see and understand the new reality of work: High aptitude teams with deep institutional knowledge, collaborative cultures, nurturing leadership practices, and informed expense optimization techniques are the enduring tools of competitive advantage. As this awareness dawns, one pressing question will remain: Did management's understanding arrive too late?
Do you see, the servers are gone,
We no longer have anything to dote on.
Do you see, our infrastructure is in the cloud,
How sad, as our technology strategies used to make us so proud.
What will we do, oh what will we do,
We're left with our talent, and haven't a clue.
We spent years managing assets, just not these,
Our folks were expenses, so there really was no need.
There is no process to shape, no manual to read,
I hear, social intelligence is now required to lead.
What will we do, oh what will we do,
The people are the assets, we just never knew.
About the Author
Frank Wander, a former CIO, is founder and CEO of the IT Excellence Institute, and author of Transforming IT Culture, How to Use Social Intelligence, Human Factors and Collaboration to Create an IT Department That Outperforms (Wiley, 2013). This unique book is the very first operators manual for the human infrastructure, and will help you to personally outcompete and outperform. To read his previous CIO Insight article, "Culture: The Leadership Mirror," click here.
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