A healthy organization’s culture can be best understood as a set of shared values and how everyone gets work done as individual and team to delivers value to customers. A healthy culture results in sustained growth, profitability and employee wellbeing. Who is responsible for building and maintaining it and what does it take?
Jay Ferro, CIO, American Cancer Society
Sanjog: Today’s topic is around the organization and its culture. And when we talk about it, there are so many different definitions that people have, but the bottom line is that you have a set of shared values which everyone in the company shares; how they come together to get to work done individually and as a team. And, eventually deliver value to the people who may be internal or external customers.
We have spoken about healthy culture in context of many other challenges or initiatives people want to take on. And they say, “Oh, if we have a healthy culture, it’s going to result in this.” But the focus today is to talk about what does it take to build and maintain healthy company culture?
So in order for us to get at least the definition straight, what do you think, Jay, in your view a healthy organizational culture is supposed to be or is it subjective?
Jay: What a terrific question. I think there are common traits, no matter what type of organization you are in. I mean certainly, depending on industry, depending on the type of business it is, there are nuances but I think, in my opinion, there are tried and true qualities that any healthy corporate culture will have. I think it starts with an inspired and shared mission. I don’t say that only because we’re at the American Cancer Society. Ours is a fairly clear mission but even in my for-profit days, AIG and other organizations, we had shared goals and a shared mission. I think it has to start at the top and it has to permeate the entire organization. I think you run into big challenges when it’s not at the top and you’re trying to create it only bottom up. I think other qualities revolve around accountability, transparency, a commitment to healthy failure, and a commitment to open and honest collaboration. I think no matter what organization, a healthy culture is going to embody some of those qualities.
Sanjog: And then you’re looking at an organization which is supposed to go on to that track from unhealthy to healthy. What are the gaps that you think ought to be filled in order to say, okay, now we are moving a piece in the right direction? Because you can always say we are healthy but there could be minor gaps or there could be gaping holes as well. So, going from an unhealthy to a healthy company culture, what are those specific things that would have to be changed?
Jay: Well, I’ll talk a little bit about the specific journey we took in at the American Cancer Society (ACS). Three and a half years ago when I took over a very large IT organization, supporting 13 independent divisions and doing many of the things we were doing, we were embarking on a big global transformation to become one unified ACS. IT was disfranchised. IT was siloed, it was not thought of, my old boss retired CEO looked at me and said, “Jay, IT is a four letter word in this organization, and now go get them.” [chuckles] I just kind of stared blankly at him for a second and smiled. And it always starts with culture. IT had been beaten down much of its fault was on its own. It was laid at its own feet. We were not a transparent organization. We weren’t a collaborative organization. We spent way too much time dealing with ‘lights on’ activity. But that was a result of an organization that was not healthy. And it had all the bad traits that you would think of — Fiefdom, turf wars, failure with fatal – all of these things.
So, it started with me coming in and hiring the right leaders but also, modeling the behavior that I expected. And that’s easy to say for a leader and say, “Look, I expect transparency, I expect all of these things from you.” and then to walk away and become this kind of man on top of the mountain. I think you have to model it. So what does that mean? I mean literally, I have an open door policy. Unless, I’m in an exclusive meeting, anybody can approach me, we put in very specific, communication vehicles. We push down decision rights to the lower parts of the organization. We empowered people to make decisions and tolerated positive failure. We had open and honest discussions about what was working, and what wasn’t. People around this organization have heard me say a thousand times, if the baby is ugly, we’re going to tell the organization the baby’s ugly but we’re going to followed up with a plan on how we’re going to fix that.
And over time, when people realize that it was going to stick. Because at first people were like, okay, is this a bait and switch? Is he just doing this to find out who the troublemakers are? But gradually, the culture began to change. And part of it was a bi-directional feedback. I mean the surveys from outside of IT, surveys from within IT on what’s working and what’s not and then testing that along the way. And I feel like we’ve made great progress but it’s been very deliberate, it has not been luck at all.
As a leader, you have to create an organizational culture, and not a culture around just you and your personality.
Sanjog: So do you divide and conquer when it comes to say, fixing or building a company culture?
Jay: I think you have to. No one person can do it. I mean I can sit there and pound my head against the wall. You’ve heard me say before that no person is an island and we know it takes an entire village, I know you believe that. So it was very early on that I partnered with our organizational development team outside of IT. I partnered with talent strategy and human resources, I partnered with corporate communications to help put in more robust communication vehicles in and out of IT. I hired the right vice presidents and senior vice presidents in my organization that had the same passion. They’re not clones, believe me, this is a very diverse group, both in thought and background that is empowered to speak up. I don’t want yes men or yes women working for me. And not one of my direct reports has ever been fearful of telling me that I’m wrong about something. And it ended up that we know we are a far stronger team because of that. So, I absolutely have to divide and conquer and trust my lieutenants to take the message forward. And they have to trust theirs. I mean their time is limited too.
I’ll tell you a real quick story about I built a group called the IT Code Champions. And we have a code that we live by and it was put in when I first joined. The IT code stands for Integrity Teamwork Communication Ownership Dynamic and Excellence. This was not created by me, but was created at a grassroots level. I picked somebody from every organization within IT, deliberately not executives, and said, “What do we represent? What can people hold us accountable to? And what can you hold me accountable to?” We have Code Champions, people on the front lines, and they are the voice of our IT organization. And they meet with me monthly and let me know how things are going. They’re empowered to be very frank with me, as is everybody in the organization and it’s been an extremely powerful and so it’s been a great group because we reward with a spirit of Excellence Award which is selected by the Code Champions. It’s a very real meaningful thing and it’s been a terrific vehicle for culture change.
Providing a great culture is not about beating the stick. Rather, it’s about showing folks that the right way to work with clarity, transparency, honesty, dependability and all of these things is rewarded.
Sanjog: So when you came in and before that there were others who may have been running the shop the way they thought was the best because nobody comes with a bad intention. But then it was still having those issues which you were asked to come and fix. Why did anyone listen to you versus listening to the people before you?
Jay: What a great question. I think any new leader is going to have a bit of a honeymoon period. I think after the first 90 days, your honeymoon period, unless you’re doing something positive, it is going to be over quickly. As a CIO, you come in to fix all the problems. It’s very rare that a CIO takes over and they are thinking, Gosh, the guy before you was so terrific.” I happen to know my predecessor. I know that he’s a man of integrity and did his best to, in the way he thought, was the best for the American Cancer Society. I think maybe we needed a different voice. I’m a firm believer in servant leadership so I think one of the reasons they listen to me was because I admitted everything was wrong. I admitted what we were doing wrong. And I was very transparent about how we were going to fix it.. I mean, certainly there were lessons learned there. But I own it, and my team owns it and we’re going to fix it.
And we have a relentless dedication to customer service. I tell our folks internally we want to delight you, whether that’s a laptop issue or all the way to a multi-million dollar ERP implementation. We want everybody to be delighted. And I think over time when you’re consistent as a leader, you earn that credibility. So I think we’ve earned trust. At first I think when you’re new, they give it to you. But then you’ve got to earn it every day. You’ve heard the saying that success is a lease. You can never really own it, but you got to pay the rent every day.
Sanjog: How do you get over this issue where everyone or not everyone, some of them would carry become cocky or they would get so consumed with their own idea that they’re not willing to listen to others, they’re not receptive to other people. So how do you introduce humility in the organization? Even when you demonstrate humility – these people who would not have done that before. Even though you model that behavior, they will not suddenly say, “Oh my God, Jay is the best guy I have ever worked for, so let me change my core DNA.”
Jay: I can promise you, they don’t say that but [laughs] I hope somebody does every now and then. It does start with modeling but you’re right, that is not enough to change behavior. You have to be very prescriptive and very clear about what your leadership qualities are. The leadership qualities that you’re expecting of your folks, in some ways this is where the integrity in our IT code comes in. We’re very deliberate that we deliver in a moral and ethical way and part of that is becoming or being a leader with humility.
I think once you build a positive corporate or company culture, those people will either change or move out. It reaches the point where they just will not tolerate it because so many people around them are leading the right way. So I think it also starts with very frank discussions between a boss and his or her employees saying, look these are the behaviors that I expect. The way you are being perceived as arrogant, the way you are being perceived as a know it all or inflexible. These aren’t the leadership qualities that we want in this organization. The one thing I’ll say is that you’ve heard me say this before, Sanjog, if you think you can’t change people, you change people.
And you I think everybody in our organization gets a chance to improve, everybody is given the benefit of the doubt but over time you’ve got to get rid of the poison. No pun intended, you’ve got to cut the cancer out as quickly as you can.
Part of the culture change is about building a transparent in-flight culture is that there are no wild ideas that are too crazy to talk about.
Sanjog: Let’s take a quick break, listeners. We’ll be right back. So while we spoke about humility there’s another thing to be said about, okay, we’re working in a nonprofit organization, it’s got a great mission but the reason I came here is because I would want to have more vacations or I want to not exactly work less but I want a comfortable life. But then, if you want to build a culture where everybody’s enthusiastic, they’re all excited to come over, they should be doing the right things versus just some are trying to get the job done and also pursue excellence which requires them to stretch themselves. So how do you, at the time, on one hand, when you’re hiring, you’re promising that, “Okay, this is a not for profit so you will not have the pressure.” It has been seen in at least many other places that you will get a better work-life balance versus working crazy. But at the same time when you want to build a culture of excellence, there are some dues to be paid. So, is that a bait and switch? How do you make sure that people eventually get to that newer mode of thinking, where they’re doing the right things and they continuously pursue excellence?
Please stay tune listeners, we will be right back and explore.
Sanjog: Welcome back. So, you had scenarios or maybe environments where the precedence were set or some expectations were set at the time when they were hired that the reason you should join here perhaps take a less salary or the very reason you should even come and work for us, we may not have the biggest budgets for example. But then we have better work-life balance and that at least has been touted by many, many either government organizations and or not for profits. And I’m just kind of laying this out for you.
When the people come in you want them to also work well together. You want them to do the right things and then you want them to pursue excellence because when you try to do that, not everything can be accomplished within that comfort —where there are no so-called deadlines etc. So how do you build a culture where people are not thinking comfort over excellence?
Jay: It’s a great question. And I think a lot of non-profits or perhaps government institutions probably struggle with that. I know from coming in from the outside, I probably felt that way a little bit where I was coming here because certainly the mission and a personal connection to the mission. I enjoy the size and scale of America Cancer Society and the challenge was particularly interesting to me. I will say this, I am of the firm belief that the best way to serve a mission and the best way to become successful at delivering a mission, especially when you’re trying to save lives from cancer is to be a more aggressive and a harder working IT organization. So if you want to work 35 hours a week, if you want a ‘better work life balance’ this is probably not the IT shop for you. I think we pay fairly well.
I will say what I walked into was more of that, what we have today is a very hard working organization that’s very passionate both about their craft IT but also about our mission. And it can’t just be about Jay’s personality or Jay walking up and down the hall saying, “Great Job team,” although that’s part of it. It’s got to be real.. I really, really wanted this to be a destination of choice for IT professionals all around the country because we’re a pretty big group. And what does that mean? We had to have many of the same things that for- profit has now. I don’t have the big variable option that kind of thing but I have a terrific culture. We have great technologies, we have training programs and we have a lot of fun along the way. And I think, a) players want to be an environment where they’re asked to be excellent. If I can pay them 80%, 90% of what a for-profit is paying them, they would like a warm, welcoming hard working, and fun environment that’s doing some pretty cool things to keep their skills sharp. I’m going to get a lot of people and our turnovers fairly low compared to most organizations. So I think we’re doing a pretty good job of being relevant and being a destination and showing people that they can come here in continue to grow. Because as IT people, , we have to keep our skills sharp, we like new challenges. Now if we were an organization that wasn’t doing cool things, with social mobile, big data, cloud technologies etc. I could see us having more of a challenge but luckily we’re doing some pretty cool things in all of those arenas that attract top talent. Look, you’re serving people. You’re trying to prevent people from getting cancer, serve people who have cancer, support families, fight for cures, Research Dollars, all of those things. The way we do that is by being excellent. Not by being some bunch of C players who are looking for the easy life. The way we do that is by modeling best practices, for profit, nonprofit. So a lot of my leadership team came in from the outside, I have people from Financial Services. I come from Fin Tech and Health Care. I have been at Goldman, people have been at Compu Credit many other large organizations. Coca-Cola and many others who are here now because we’re building a team dedicated to excellence but for a higher purpose.
Sanjog: When we look at an organization which is requiring transformation, it could very well get ugly before it will get better. And for that especially when suppose I take the context off your organization how much immunity that’s offered to the people, the leadership, the very teams, the very organization that they could make mistakes, they could do experimentation and they can work in the mindset where we embrace crisis, we convert into opportunity and even experiment more because the end goal is to turn into something which you are proud of. Now all along, the whole journey that maybe happening within your department or in a sub a smaller portion of the organization, may not be objectively looked upon favorably by the leadership, the overarching leadership because they’re saying, “Oh my God, American Cancer Society, we’ve got a great mission, we cannot afford to have negative PR because our Donor Dollars are dependent on it.”
How do you balance the due and how do you safe guard that overarching goal of maintaining a positive image but also behind the scenes, it could be all the ugliness that someone can imagine, but for the right reasons because you’re transforming the organization?
Jay: Yes, that’s right. We were the first group to transform. So ACS was already a 100-year old organization at the time of embarking on this transformation. We had to break some eggs and we started with the end in mind, with the goals of becoming a more nimble responsive, relevant and impactful organization. So the message is clear that we are doing this, not for the sake of change, but we’re doing this to be better and serve the mission better and more effectively. And that’s really the same in IT, is telling that story that you’ve got to be very clear that we may take a dip and you’ve seen the change curve and you know that what the valley of despair is and all of that kind of stuff. And that’s where true leaders are made of – to say that you can weather the storm When you start shining the light of transparency on an organization when you start holding people accountable, when you’re become metrics driven, when you’ve become an organization that is holding each other accountable in moving at a far faster pace. You’re going to lose some people and that tends to maybe cause a ripple effect for people with uncertainty because what they had before was just a culture where I could come in and do my thing, go home and nobody ever made waves, I raise my hand. And it gets shot off, so I’m just going to keep to myself. We ended up losing some people.
One gentleman came in and said this isn’t what I signed up for. What he had signed up for was just to kind of put in his 35, 37 thirty hours and go home and that’s fine. Look, you got to know your own limitations. I want folks who are passionate about what they do but passionate for the organization. But they’ve got to have that North Star. And the North Star is to become a more relevant in impactful organization. So in those times of turmoil, in those times of, “Oh Gosh, are we doing the right thing?” You can still point and go, what guys were doing the right thing for the constituents of the American Cancer Society. And we’re going to stick to our guns and become the most relevant and impactful organization, in the country in a candid battle against cancer in the world.
That’s the approach we took and it’s been successful. It has not been without bruises [chuckles] along the way, and pain in wailing and gnashing of teeth. But we’re out of the valley of despair and we’re getting better each week.
Sanjog: And one of the better traits or I would say the highlights of any healthy company culture is that people work with clarity, are they would seek clarity before they’ll get started with something and along the way, if there’s any confusion or fuzziness they would like to get clarity before they charge ahead such that there’s transparency at all levels. And then finally, honesty; So let’s define what that something else is which makes people dishonest or inconsistent or fuzzy, but they don’t seek clarity. What causes all of that and how do you get rid of those?
Jay: Well, first of all you got to hire right, naturally. And I think again, going back to kind of the light of transparency and being very clear about what you expect of people and I think we say that but it really for the listeners, it comes around very clear goals, very clear expectations, not only of the work that you’re doing you know project X, initiative Y, metric Z, but also the leadership qualities that you expect of everybody and that’s not Jay Ferro or just my senior executive team. That’s everybody, including client services or helpdesk support, but I want everybody to model that behavior.
It’s a tipping point, if you’re doing things the right place where more often than not you have employees that believe in that and will not tolerate dishonesty and inconsistency. And suddenly those folks become the outlier. And they become very uncomfortable in the organization. And they either move on or they’re moved out. I said earlier, you got to get that cancer out or get that poison out of the system very early on.
The other way you do it, it’s not just about beating the stick, it’s about showing folks that the right way to work with clarity, transparency, honesty, dependability and all of these things is rewarded. So those folks who embody those traits who are successful, are the ones who are getting the great projects, the ones who are getting promoted, the opportunities, those are the ones who are continuing to grow in their career path. There’s a couple ways to approach it but we’ve tried to do both.
Sanjog: Let’s take a quick break, listeners. We’ll be right back and let’s talk about how to build collaboration. Everyone has an eye on the castle that they want to build versus their individual bricks that they’re laying. That means to have a holistic thinking and one goal that they are pursuing. How do you develop and integrate people into such teams? That’s what we’re going to explore when we come back. Please stay tuned listeners, we will be right back.
Sanjog: Welcome back. So in order for us to be able to move ahead as a unit, like that swarm formula where swarm of hands would find their way from one direction to another when everybody’s talking to each other but they know which direction they’re going. How do we develop that mindset and those collaboration processes, if you will such that the streams are working together, but have a holistic thinking and sharing the same?
Jay: Yeah. It’s tough, especially when you have a team that’s spread out all over. There are very tactical things that you can do. It’s not pragmatic especially, at a non-profit to fly people in all the time and have these JAD sessions or these big collaborative work sessions, it’s not a tremendous use of donor dollars, you have to do it every now and then certainly. And I would expect anybody who donates to assume that they want a high functioning team and there are certain things you have to do. But we’re very mindful of our expenses. So we find other ways to do it. Whether it’s video conferencing, we certainly are using other ways to collaborate, Yammer, and many other such tools. So we’re very active on our own internal social media. Part of it is just being very clear about the outcomes of a project or the overall goals of the organization. I have to be very clear with everybody in IT about what my CIO goals are and how they are tied to the overall mission and goals of my CEO, who is my boss at the American Cancer Society. Building that accountability that goes in order for me to be successful, I have to work with Steve next to me and– in the past I may have been punished for coming out of my lane. But now I’m encouraged in fact, if anything you’re dissented to not do that so you’re building this culture of raising your hand and reaching out and asking each other for help.
We wear a lot of hats, we’re fairly big organization. We’re not big enough to do everything and have everybody has one set of responsibilities. I don’t know any IT organizations that way anymore. And what I mean by that is everybody is working on multiple projects, they have multiple rules or at least nuanced roles and that means you have to collaborate in order to be successful. So I think of all of those things and again, going back to modeling, Sanjog, I have to collaborate with my peers. One of the ways we can model that behavior is by bringing in people from other departments such as marketing, digital, which is really more of a hybrid group of us in marketing, Cancer Control or advocacy arm. And I bring in all of these groups to work with us and they share our space on certain projects. They educate the entire IT staff on what’s going on, so that we feel more connected and fearless when it comes to reaching out. It takes time, especially when you’re trying to fix a culture where collaboration was not the norm. It honestly it’s actually opened my eyes to sometimes how much it time it takes to get to some people. But it’s a process and you never really stop doing it.
Sanjog: The way you mentioned– your response was great. One thing you mention is that it takes a lot of time. And frankly, I’m not sure if people are not able to do it because they want to get it done yesterday. Is that what you think the people make as mistakes when they try to change their culture that they’re trying to rush through it?
Jay: I think so. I think they feel like, I think many executives and I seen it at other companies where you get the memo. I said, we’re changing our culture. Dang it. And read the memo. That’s our new culture. I’m not sure that exactly is a recipe for success. I think it does take time. I will say there are people that get it immediately, we’re human beings, we’re all very, very different. I think as leaders you have to have a line in the sand for certain roles where we do have aggressive goals, we do have aggressive targets. I don’t have time for multi-year reclamation projects so it does force you to have some tough decisions where if some people won’t come along and you might have to manage them out of the organization or make a change. And that’s always hard. I think a lot of people feel like if I hand out a bunch of management books, if I have a quarterly meeting talking about culture and if they don’t make it part of the fabric or the DNA of the organization it’s going to fail. You just go back to your regularly scheduled program. It’s got to become woven into everything that you do so that the way you are successful in the group, is by modeling the collaborative behavior. That it’s really hard to not be – it’s really hard to be successful, if you’re not collaborating. And I think we’ve gotten to a point now where if you’re not a collaborative guy or a lady, if you’re not a collaborative IT professional then you’re going to struggle big time. Because people are going to come to you and they’re going to ask for help, they’re going to expect you to proactively ask for help and not wait to be knighted. And that takes time but it’s absolutely worth all the effort.
Sanjog: When you do talk about people who are supposed to change: One, you expect change from outside in. But people change from inside out. What is your way to get into their own needs of success satisfaction and smiles for you to be able to really understand what would be the trigger points? Is it that mass personalization approach that’s going to work or something else?
Jay: Well, partly. I think partly that it’s a great point about mass personalization. We have a bunch of different feedback and mechanisms that our talent strategy group has helped us with. We joke that we’re kind of the guinea pig for any new organizational development or a organizational design model that comes out where if it’s a way to get a little more efficiency or collaboration out of our team we’re willing to take it on and at least try it. And that includes me in my leadership team by the way. We’re not immune, this isn’t us from on I saying, let’s go do this, we’re the ones in there learning how to work together and becoming a higher functioning team.
Part of it is just listening. I talked about the IT Code Champions and you don’t certainly have to create a formal construct like that but you’ve got to have total transparency where people at all levels feel comfortable communicating what’s motivating them. So we just had an engagement study we did at the middle of the year. We’re looking through those results. And what we’re really looking for is, are we hitting our targets in terms of the way folks are engaged or not engaged in their work at ACS. And we found some opportunities. We found some opportunities where we thought we were doing a pretty good job. And it turns out there are some opportunities to get better maybe being a little bit better about career path in being a little– And I think we just have to have humility. And you have to be able to put yourself in the shoes of your frontline and midline staff and say, I’m hearing this over and over again, this is important to them, I have to respect that. And we’re going to be really aggressive about improving this area. So you’re not going to reach everybody though. I mean my team has heard me say this I’m like, if I hit 90, 95% of the organization and they’re all on board, you’re always going to have an element in your group that’s going to complain no matter what. You’re always going to have an element that’s never happy. Hopefully you can root them out or change them. But if I have a mid-upper 90s, I’m feeling pretty good.
Sanjog: So when we talk healthy, we also talk resilient. If you were to introduce resilience into an organization where people are not just showing their model behavior and are working well with each other etc. Only when the life is good or things are flowing smoothly but also when you are faced with uncertainty. And some turbulence, that’s where a family is what I have it for to, is to say a family comes together when it’s a time of uncertainty. Such times teach you a lot. So how do you introduce resilience or how do you work at making them healthy to the core so that they automatically come together as a unit and fight together when there are some issues.
Jay: That’s a terrific point because it’s really easy to be a leader in the good times, isn’t it? When things are going well, nothing’s down, there are no changes. It’s easy to pull people together over lunch and say, “Man, we’re a good team, look at that, all the lights are green.” And it’s when they start turning yellow and red is when you are really, really tested. Three, four years ago I’m not sure that I would have said I want to be in the trenches with a whole lot of the in the structure that we had because I think there was a lot of fear in the organization; a fear of trying things, the fear of failure, among others. And today I would absolutely stake my career on my team and it’s not because of me, it’s because of the fact that these folks came out of their shells and know that we have a job to do, are not afraid to bring ideas, are not afraid to be on the phone at 3:00 in the morning, are not really disrupted when a new project request or something.
And part of that is, A, transparency around when things come in and all of our processes. But B, from the top down in the bottom up, showing folks that look change is inevitable, things are going to be thrown at us, systems are going to go down, new projects are going to come in. And even beyond IT, as the rest of the organization transforms showing them that we still have a North Star, we still have a job to do, we’re still dedicated. And leaders in those times have to be visible. So I encourage CIOs, and VPs and executives really at any level. In those tough times, you have got to be visible. You have got to be heard. You’ve got to be in the trenches. Believe me you don’t want me writing any code anymore. But I can sure as heck go by pieces. [chuckles]
You’ve got to walk with them. I think a lot of folks are just afraid to do that. What that does is it builds camaraderie, it builds a team spirit and I work at it every day, and believe me I’m not where I want to be but I feel like we’re at an organization where we have each other’s back. But the proof is in the pudding. When things go down and shit hits the fan. So it’s a combination of all of those things; it’s a combination of leadership, making sure you’re visible, it’s a combination of rewarding that behavior and celebrating it so that when it does happen, you as a CIO or you as a senior executive, call it out. Say, “Hey, you know what? Kudos to Sanjog and his team.” We had this issue pop up and I want everybody to know how great this was about, how great he was and his team were to pull together and solve this issue. Thank you. And are you as a willing leader, are you willing to walk around and say thank you. Look somebody in the eye and say, “Hey, thank you for doing that. You rock. Can’t do without you.” And I think that supremely important. That’s how you build a tough team that is resilient.
I wish people don’t come to me with problems, come to me with solutions and I don’t care how stupid it is, I don’t care how off the wall it is, you walk into a room with me and then you’re going to tell me some bad news or things are changing, tell me how we’re going to handle it. And at first that was tough, people were like, “Oh God, I don’t want to give the old man a bunch of stuff here and he’s going to think I’m an idiot.” I said, “Look man, throw it at me. No dumb ideas, you’re smarter than I am, which you do I promise.”
Sanjog: Let’s talk realism for a second. In fact, I’ll just introduce the concept and we’ll come back from the break and continue discussing. Realism is where on one hand you want to be like having a bunch of Steve Jobs in your company who are able to innovate. And at the same time you also don’t want something which is up in the sky. So that something gets delivered and that’s what gives you and everybody else the confidence that we can do things. And you don’t want to shut down those Steve Jobs either. What’s the way for you to build a culture where both of those areas coexist but in a healthy balance. Please stay tuned listeners, we will be right back.
Sanjog: Welcome back. I wanted to set the stage for realism. So you could have a bunch of Steve Jobs in there who actually would think totally out of the box out of it that’s what you also need. At the same time you want realism so certain things get done. How do you build both of them as part of building a healthy culture because you need both?
Jay: Well, everybody envisions their IT organization as being a bunch of innovators and wearing black turtlenecks and coming up with these ideas. And certainly you want to encourage that, you want that independent thought, you want that off the wall creativity. But there’s a job to do. Our job as an overall organization is to end pain and suffering from cancer and we do that a lot of different ways, we do that through obviously raising the funds that fuel our research and that fuel our mission programs and our patient services. And there are hundreds of systems and thousands of employees and tens of thousands of constituents that are all very dependent on us in what we do. So we take that very seriously. But you can support them in a number of different ways,
One is just a core blocking and tackling of providing a great user experience. Making sure that the folks in all across the country can do their jobs every day with a minimum of friction and a minimum of pain and suffering. But at the same time, I think there’s an understanding that we’re honestly looking at new ideas and fresh ways. So in one way we’ve done it is, we’ve carved out dedicated time. I think there’s an expectation in our performance, process about innovation, part of it about building a transparent in-flight culture is that there are no wild ideas that are too crazy to talk about. And many of the innovations that we’ve rolled out are because of that. We allow our folks to tanker and we allow our folks to do that. They have to keep things moving, they have to maintain their project responsibilities. We’re certainly not big enough to have a big innovation center. I don’t know whether that’s a great use of donor dollars, but we have such a passionate IT group that they’ve carved off time, where they can tinker. And so if you look at some of our mobile capabilities that we have today that in 2016 are going to get even better.
If you look at a lot of the stuff we’re doing with data analytics that’s both helping research and our operations. Those are the results of people thinking more like a Steve Jobs as a result of people tinkering around. So we were rewarded, we incented, we celebrated. You talked about smiles earlier, and I think that’s so important. Leaders, and especially IT leaders who are notorious for being introverts or whatever and I don’t know that’s a fair characterization today as it was maybe years ago. But it’s certainly still applicable. Letting folks know that you see them and that you’re happy and that I think is very, very important. But I think people will gravitate toward the behaviors that is rewarded and incented. If you make it hard for them, they’re not going to do it. And if you look and go, “Yeah, that’s not your job, why are you doing then?” They’re going to stop doing it. You can’t do it, you’ve got a reward and incented. And just be very clear about what they’re accountable for, say, “Look, if you’re supposed to build three widgets and you’re building three or four widgets and you can still do this, absolutely, let’s talk about it.”
So we created a small quick win program where we have these short sharp pieces of work. And we’ve had hundreds of ideas and we wrapped some rigor and some process around it. Not enough to slow it down, but enough to make it meaningful and measurable. We’ve had dozens of improvements that have come and they’ve all benefited by the way, they’ve all benefited our folks in the field. And our folks are constituents. So you’re going to be very deliberate with it.
Sanjog: Now we speaking about the leaders, they transform the organization, perhaps build a great culture but how do you leave a legacy after you’ve left because you do not want this to become a sine curve in terms of the culture health check if somebody were to perform from one leader leaving to another coming in then often, how do you maintain resilience of a culture, if that’s what I have to call it?
Jay: It’s a great point, Sanjog. You don’t want to call to personality where it’s just about Jay Ferro or just about Sanjog or just about anybody else. You wanted to be an organizational culture, not a culture of this one individual. And sometimes when you get a very charismatic or powerful leader, sometimes that happens but I hire people that are way smarter than I am and dedicated, as dedicated as passionate and on fire. And I expect that they will build their organizations the same way. I’m the least important part of the leadership team. I can promise you that. I don’t tell my boss that I still need my paychecks, Sanjog.
I think leaders who are humble recognize that that it’s not all about you. You’re creating an organizational culture, not a culture around just you and your personality. So hiring smart, putting in processes and metrics that incents the right behavior, measuring them, communicating them, celebrating them, actively rooting out the weeds in your garden and making sure that that you identify them quickly and pull them out when necessary. You put those in place and you have a very robust succession plan. I think you can do it. I think it’s very doable. I have two or three people that work for me that could easily take my job and in not too distant future.
Sanjog: If you were to appeal to the leadership, which it maybe not on technology but suppose you’re being given the responsibility of turning around the culture, what support that you need as a leader to make that happen?
Jay: Yeah, great question. It’s very tough to change a culture in a department or a function when the rest of the organization, is perhaps not that way. I think different groups within ACS are at different levels of maturity. I’m proud that in many ways IT has been a leader and some of them and others, we were playing catch up. I am not an organizational design expert or organizational development expert but I lean on some very good folks in my organization, bouncing ideas off them. All of this is absolutely critical to success. I’m also very clear with my boss, our CEO, Gary Reedy, about what the IT code is. He knows that he has to hold me accountable to that. At the end of the year, I’m going to get feedback from my team based on whether I’m embodying the spirit of what we’re trying to do. As a matter of fact that our last spirit of excellence, he gave out the award, so getting him involved in seeing firsthand how important the culture is to IT was critical. And I think a lot of CIOs don’t take advantage of that. It is super meaningful when a CEO of a big organization or any organization is handing you a frontline staff or an award for excellent customer service. That’s pretty powerful.
So involving them, showing them that they’re just as important as you are to the success I think is absolutely key. If you look at my leadership meetings on a weekly basis, I have certainly a direct report meeting but I have a broader leadership meeting. And that includes my talent strategy partner, my OD partner. These are the ancillary or adjunct members of my leadership team. They see it all. There’s no, we’re not going to talk about this in front of you. They see it all because I can’t be successful without them. So I’m sitting there with PMO and finance and talents and digital and all these other folks who technically are dotted line to me but are not to my direct reports. But they operate as very important, equally as important members of my team. And it sends the message that we are 100% transparent. And we cannot do without you. I could not do without the terrific partners I have outside of my team.
Sanjog: On behalf of the show and our listeners, I really like you thank you for sharing your thoughts on how organizations can be built in a way where they enjoy a healthy culture and that helps them and productively in innovation and overall well being for everyone combined. Thank you so much.
Jay: Thank you for having me, Sanjog. It’s always great to chat with you and I appreciate the opportunity and happy holidays.
Sanjog: Happy holidays to you as well. Thank you so much Jay. And the listeners, please like us on Facebook, search for CIO Talk Radio and be sure to follow us on Twitter. Thank you again for listening to CIO Talk Radio. This is Sanjog Aul, your talk show host. Till next week, take care and God bless.