Leading with a Compass

Leading with a Compass

Leadership - Leading with a Compass
Leading with a Compass

As an IT leader, with shifting priorities as well as a faster future ahead, you cannot lead with a map. You need a compass. But then, how would you inspire your troops, have them follow you, and deliver the intended results?


Top 5 Learning Points

  1. Can IT leader set a vision and a strategy in this shifting turbulent, fast-moving environment?
  2. How to deal with change when one is not well-equipped to handle it?
  3. How can we deal with situations that need immediate attention and that can disrupt the organization?
  4. Change seems good. But how good is it when it comes to implementation of the same in business processes?
  5. How an individual employee’s potential can be tapped and transform them to spearhead a set of operations during the changing times?


Show Notes

  • It is not just about the people working inside who matter but also the stakeholders who own their part in the organization.
  • The ability to succeed depends on the ability to change and adapt.
  • Clear communication will ensure a transparent work culture, across levels.
  • Addressing the issues at the right time will help sustenance and growth.
  • Between change and processes lies a clear communication.


Transcript Summary

Change is constant in any given setup. But how does change matter to an IT organization? The mechanics and the operations vary depending on a certain matter of facts. This, when applied to the fast track technology firm, becomes even more robust. Given the fact that change is imperative, the way it is discussed and implemented in the work culture makes the entire difference.



Sanjog: Our topic for today is “Leading with a Compass.” We have Helen Norris, the Chief Information Officer, Chapman University. Hi Helen, how are you?

Sanjog: We picked this topic because we are looking at and I’m sure you’ve seen this as well. People are saying that there is an overall faster future ahead and also turbulence. Turbulence necessarily doesn’t mean that it is a negative connotation. It’s like things shifting. At such a pace what do you do in terms of moving ahead because it reminds of a boy scout, someone going on a hiking trail? You could say that we will somehow figure out where we are going by using a compass, – you’re not going on a treasure hunt with a map. If you are to work with a compass, means the person who is leading the troop has to behave, has to think, has to approach whatever they’re doing differently and here the context is IT. As IT leaders, if you were to lead with a compass, what does it do to our own mindset? How do we inspire people and everything else that comes with it?

So, can you truly or how well can us as IT leader set a vision and a strategy in this shifting turbulent, fast-moving environment?

Helen: Well, I think there is maybe a perception or maybe there used to be mythology that we could as leaders decide our vision and strategy and bring it forward and then it’s a map and we just follow it this way. That’s just not true. When we look at IT leaders as what our vision and our strategy has to be, we have to consider it two major pieces, we have to consider the external environment and us also, in the context of our organization. One of the things I see as an IT leader is not only is the technology world changing really quickly, really fast but our organizations are also changing more quickly than we might have thought about in the past.

I can think of a good example and it is that impacts university and other businesses. We may have set our directions around how we process credit cards per student payments or a business, they set their direction about how they take payments from their customers online. But as an IT leader, we have to have some flexibility there and watch what’s happening in the technology community. I’m not an expert on Bitcoin, so I hope we don’t have a conversation about that today, but I need to know that these things are on the horizon. I can’t set my plan around how I’m going to protect credit cards in my environment and not think about the fact that you can’t send it right now, use them and in the future, we’re going to have Bitcoin as something that we have to take. As an IT leader, when I’m developing the vision around that technology, I have to be constantly scanning the environment for what’s coming next.

The second thing I want to say is that as IT leaders, it’s really important for us to be much plugged into our organization also and into our organization’s strategic planning process. We’re no longer the utility in the back room. We’re critical to the success of the business. One of the most important things that we can do as leaders for our organization is really be engaged outside the IT organization. We have to be working with our colleagues within our institutions. So we don’t want the long-term check plans for the institution, what the changes are that are coming to the business and how best we can position IT to anticipate those changes, to plan for them.

As an IT leader, when I’m developing the vision around that technology, I have to be constantly scanning the environment for what’s coming next.

Sanjog: Let’s compare this to building a castle. Someone who is drawing the blueprint, some other people are laying the bricks and some other people will actually be living in it. None of them today seem to be having an idea what that castle will look like, where we will live and what type of material will be needed because the environment that you’re referring to would be entirely different than what it used to face in the past. You’re talking about the material changing the people who are going to occupy, it’s changing and the people who are thinking of the shape of the castle is changing which is the business, the very customer, and the technology people if they were the ones supposed to be understood as either the architect or the ones laying the bricks.

If you were to draw an analogy that one and then compare that and what’s happening on the ground with IT dealing with business and the customers, what would that look like? Are we not in a state of constant flux which is an oxymoron perhaps?

Helen: We are in a state of constant flux, I agree. The other thing I would say, I love your castle analogy. In addition, when we build a castle, we build them for perfection, and so the things we used to do in the past, build a moat to protect the castle, the threats coming from outside the castle are different to what they used to be too. We have to think about not just the people in the castle but the people outside. The best way to address one other technique we can use to address the constant flux is to make sure that we’re all engaged in the conversation. If I’m drawing the plans for the castle and I’m not speaking to the people who are going to be living in the castle and I’m not looking outside the castle to see who the invaders are, I’m going to draw the wrong plan. It’s very important for us to be constantly engaged with our castle needs and our external stakeholders too.

Once you’ve built something and brick, it’s pretty hard to change it. I do think that one other thing we’ve done in IT in the past when we build enterprise systems, we think of them as lasting 10 years and not being agile. That may not be the right approach for us anymore that we may need to build, I don’t know how we build a castle in the cloud.

Sanjog: Maybe use Legos for castle where you can shift things.

Helen: Yeah. Have the ability to be able to change a little bit more quickly than we used to be and be willing to step away from something that we’ve put a lot of time into if it turns out that a change is coming that’s going to make that castle be a little bit less effective than it used to be.

Sanjog: What you just mentioned where in order to tackle, when you said constant flux, we at least need to communicate with each other. Now imagine, you’re communicating with others who themselves are not sure where we ought to be going. They know where they’re going, you know we’re going but somewhere but not exactly what it should be or is that should suppose to be totally removed from our dictionary because we will just live one day at a time.

Helen: Well I don’t think they can quite live one day at a time because it’s very difficult I think to be quite that agile, but we also can’t live with five-year plans, like perhaps we used to have in the past. A shorter term plan that has the ability to change something that you review on a more frequent basis. You put something in place that you evaluate it on every six months, instead of every five years. I think it’s a way that we can go. I do think as we make plans, as our businesses do, disruptors come along. I think that that’s where businesses get into trouble and it is a problem.

When a disruptor comes along, I think we really have to see what impact that makes on our strategy and on our plans, and be able to change those plans to address the new threat or the new disruption. Well, I’m not suggesting that we go one day at a time without a plan, I am suggesting that we have plans that are fluid that we can adjust as the conditions that we’re living in change. Does that make sense?

When a disruptor comes along, I think we really have to see what impact that makes on our strategy and on our plans and be able to change those plans to address the new threat that come along or the new disruption

Sanjog: Yes. You made a point now but if you do anything short term, that means you’re not allowing yourself to do creative destruction which means making way for the new, you end up forcing yourself to build newer but incrementally better mousetrap which did not allow you to position for the changed state. You or anyone who is working in this mode may be just focusing on handling the change versus whatever you’re becoming today, whatever different type of bricks or mortar you’re going to use, is it really going to make you compatible with the changed state?

If we say, I&#... Read Full Transcript v  


Helen Norris, Chief Information Officer, Chapman University

Helen Norris Chief Information Officer, Chapman University Helen Norris is the Chief Information Officer at Chapman University. She has almost 30 years’ experience working in IT including several years in the private sector in a var... More   View all posts
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