Emerge is always pleased to talk to IT leaders who know the pressures and difficulties in trying to align IT leadership with business partners. In this piece, the second of two interviews (part 1), Jarod Greene VP of Product Marketing at Apptio discusses the concept of culture hacks and their impact on organizations driving digital transformation.

 

What happens when you are talking to, for want of a better phrase, a "conservative I&O" organization?

I think they need a broader understanding of what the goals are—and not everyone can articulate that. I think most of your kind of run-of-the-mill CIOs will look at it and say, "Look, we're incentivized for green things. We deliver our metrics, leave me alone. I've done my job. Go somewhere else." And I think we've got to evolve to “Mr. or Ms. CIO, don't you want to embody the growth mindset you want to see in your staff?”

 

It's an interesting point you're saying that there's a growth mindset IT leadership, but wherever you are in an organization, whether you're the CEO, the CIO, or the janitor, there's an element of self-reflection: "What am I gonna do to be responsive and develop in my role?" One of the Gartner articles we were talking about before this interview introduces the idea of culture hacks to promote a growth mindset. Why doesn’t an edict from IT leadership make it so? Why do you need a hack?

I think it's twofold. You need to push people out of their comfort zone.  From "you can't make me do anything” to “ok, you can.”  

It takes some top-down pressure to push people out of a comfort zone. Left to the individual, you default to what's safe—what’s comfortable.  Seeing others step out of their comfort zone is inspirational. 

 

But the word “hack” implies a quick and dirty way of getting it off the ground. Leadership can’t be on the hook for every aspect of culture hacking.

Programmatically with the support of HR and the support of programs and the support of the CEO, I have some room to drive a program that I've never driven before.  It forces everybody to level up in a way where, "Yeah, if I've gotta drive..."

 

Any practical applications?

I had an idea for a marketing content hackathon. Start with a question, what the heck do salespeople know about writing content? Well, let’s find out. And then flip it around. What the heck does marketing know about what’s going on in the field?  Let’s find out by bringing both groups together and seeing what they can produce.

Bring those groups into a room for two days, with beer and pizza and darts or whatever you need, and come up with a target for a set number of content assets. And now you're showing salespeople why we need a messaging framework, the value of a copy guide, and the value of brand consistency.  

I want different groups to understand each other better. Salespeople may want the output of marketing without bothering with the buyer’s journey and SEO. Likewise, marketing may wish to distance themselves from sales. But that doesn’t help anyone.  Culture hacks force groups to see different perspectives.

Visibility into processes creates an opportunity to pick them apart. For example, "Why are there 18 steps in this process? That sounds silly. Why don't you do this and this?" And we go, "Well, we've always done it that way.” 

Expose other groups into your processes to find opportunities for streamlining. IT is being asked to be more like the business—which is a little less process-orientated—and to be more iterative and be more agile in its approach, which scares the heck out of most of us.

 

But there's a blended view to it. Any service (IT or otherwise) needs predictability and consistency—that’s part of the deal. Business partners want IT to be predictable in cost, availability, and quality.  Coming up against that is the growth mindset POV that a decision taken (right or wrong) is better than stasis.  Where’s the balance between a bias-to-action and predictability and consistency?

With that one, I want to make decisions and gamify a system to reap personal benefits. But it does require me to think holistically about decision making.  What are all the inputs I need to make a decision? What is our decision framework? Get out of the position where we make decisions based on who screams the loudest.

 

And this is where I want to pivot. There must be scaffolding around decisions so that when things go south, there's accountability. And the accountability is not punitive. Many organizations struggle with that because everything's great until the day it's not and all the positive vibes of the growth mindset go out the window. How does IT leadership manage that?

Look at the pace in which stuff moves. What's your alternative?  Born-in-the-cloud companies dependent on agile methodologies are living in an ecosystem where a growth mindset is a given. Organizations with legacy systems have a challenge of maintaining the old while embracing the new—but they are still on the same (ultimate) path of needing to be more responsive and more attuned to a growth mindset.  

 

But this early-mover advantage isn’t permanent.  These companies may linger on cloud 1.0 technology and fail to keep up with new cloud innovations if they fail to live the tenets of a growth mindset.

Yeah, absolutely. Because it goes back to the point, in the beginning, of democratized technology. I don't need the biggest baddest data center on the planet—I need a credit card. You and I can start a company tomorrow.  If that's the case, the only thing that differentiates us is our ability to be agile in our thinking, our approaches, and our understanding of the market and where the gaps are.  Machines aren't solving that for us.

Even with all the cloud providers offering out there, someone still has to sit down and ask, "What am I building? What are the needs? What's the API relationship?"

Uber needs an ongoing growth mindset.  Somebody sat down and said, "I don't want to catch a cab. That's antiquated." But Uber doesn't exist without the ubiquity of phones, and it doesn't exist without global position systems. These things must happen for Uber to be a reality. But then there was the next iteration of how to evolve their product. Because here comes Lyft and other rideshare programs. The only thing that differentiates your company from your rivals is the growth mindset of how to think differently.

And here is the other issue: growth mindset people don’t grow on trees. This skillset can’t be mobilized because it is so competitive. You must cater to the needs of people who want to work in a place that does not get stale, where you will be challenged, and asked to flex new muscles. 

 

That's an interesting angle. That isn’t an age, gender, or race defined characteristic.  Organizations make the bet that hiring for the growth mindset profile will reap results in the face of pushback from a fixed mindset.

There will always be pushback. And that's the thing. It's all fun and games until somebody gets punched in the mouth. Can those who get punched in the mouth rebound from it?

If you want a fail-fast culture, support it. If you don’t, people will be conservative. Smart people will look at the culture and take work to the point where they think they're going to break something and then revert to what’s safe, which doesn’t promote a growth mindset.  Developers want to develop cool stuff—no developer wants to build something static, stable, and predictive. But they must be supported to take risks.

 

Here's my thesis statement: “To undergo digital transformation, you must have a growth mindset.”

Absolutely. There's no transformation without transparency. They don't exist without each other. I cannot transform as a father, husband, leader without being transparent at some level.

Part of the growth mindset is recognizing where you are strong, where you're weak, and be transparent enough to address those gaps in a way that may be scary or frightening. You must be open and forward and humble enough to recognize where you need to apply some cycles. And I think either way you're right if you believe you can't do it and you're right if you think you can, 

They've got to fit into the goals of the business.  I might have an idea about transforming the way we do everything, but if it doesn't fit with the sort of organizational value creation thesis that we have, then it's probably not for today. But it is something that I think we would all benefit from. I'd love to see it move forward.

 

So, flipping it around. Is the traditional IT shop (e.g., Department of No, even-spread cost recovery for shared IT services) indicative of a fixed mindset or can you have a growth mindset in a culture that is less transformative?

Transformation is going to be what you make of it. Even in the fixed mindset, there might be a transformation initiative to drive optimization.  So, even in the mindset of, "Look, we're not going to build flying trucks. That's not what we're doing. We are the largest food distribution center in the mid-west. Our job is to get food to the right place", there is still a conversation about lowering costs and being more efficient.

 

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