How to Turn Your Employees into Leaders

How to Turn Your Employees into Leaders

Talented CIOs who don't cultivate, empower and reward leadership in their departments risk creating a rocky relationship between IT and the business and dooming themselves


Cultivating leadership and empowering leadership may sound the same. But the former involves eliciting the leadership qualities that exist in employees. Empowerment means giving them the tools they need to succeed. Chief among those is a clear picture of IT's mission and their role in it.

"This requires far more specificity in defining the behaviours that lead to success than is typically given in the IT department," says Emmett C. Murphy, author of Talent IQ. "Ironically, to these IT professionals — often very systematic thinkers — we typically say, 'go do your thing'. That's not empowerment, that's irresponsible leadership."

The CIO's job is to make certain all employees have an almost visceral understanding of IT objectives. For BT's Ramji, it's right there in his own job description: "My role is to provide the vision, empower employees to understand the vision and how to apply the vision to their daily decisions." Currently, BT is focused on transforming customer service across all products and customer segments. The corporate mantra? Do things right the first time and in as little time as possible. "It makes it easy for all of our people to know if they're doing the right thing," says Ramji. "They only have to ask, will this increase our 'right first time' percentage or reduce cycle time?"

"I try to create an environment where the communication is so tight that people not only know what to do in any given situation but how what they're doing links into the bigger picture," says Motorola's Morrison. Each year, she brings the company's top 100 IT leaders together to discuss strategy and goals. "It allows people to think creatively about what they can personally do to make a difference," she says. Motorola IT currently has three goals: creating business value, reducing complexity and increasing IT value. "There should be no reason you don't have a clear line of sight from your role to those three objectives," she says.

That clarity empowers IT leaders to move independently. "The CIO can push decision making down if you have some kind of measure of what's going on in business and how IT aligns with that," says Gartner's Walker. "People can make decisions to achieve without having to refer everything up the chain of command and back down again."

Empowering leaders also means giving them tools for success, from equipment to people. "If I ask [my employees] what they need, I have to deliver it," says Morrison. When Morrison gave Kozik the chance to set up a new IT group, she had to give her more than a new title and a raise. "I had to force organizational change to give her people to do the work, make prioritization decisions to make sure the money was there, make sure she had access to the finance, HR resources she needed to build a strong team," says Morrison.

Fully armed, Kozik built not only a new IT group but good standing with a new line of business. Her team improved supplier integration times, reduced downtime by more than 40 percent and delivered a digital supply chain dashboard for mobile devices. "She's working for the business," says Morrison. "And I'm working for her."

But sanctioning leaders at all levels also means allowing for less than stellar results too. It's all part of creating an open environment that encourages people to take leadership risks. "I tell my people: 'I'll forgive you for anything except not trying,'" says BT's Ramji. But for it to work, Ramji has to walk the talk. "If I tell my people: 'Be bold. It's OK to fail', then I need to be honest when things haven't worked the way I had hoped." To that end, he makes all scorecards for IT available to everyone in real time and uncensored.


All that openness can be a little frightening, even for the steeliest new leader. But courage has its rewards. For example, every IT project team at BT commits to a 90-day review of their work. At the end of that period, an independent team consults with the line-of-business customer to find out if the work met the new business imperative: Was it delivered right the first time? If so, the team receives a quarter of the annual bonus right away instead of at year end. "That links rewards to leadership and delivery," says Ramji.

Cold hard cash isn't the only motivator of leadership. In addition to the "money and equity" rewards system in place at Motorola, Morrison also recognizes good change management throughout her organization, not just schedule and budget metrics. She also measures performance against IT's other objectives — business value realization and reduced complexity — and highlights those accomplishments.

"The tendency in IT is to want to reward heroism. Something broke and we worked 24/7 to fix it," says Morrison, who makes sure to call attention in Motorola's "town halls" and other meetings to those projects whose outcome is the less-than-sexy "no disruption". She says, "My goal is to reward preventive heroism." Morrison also knows that outside recognition is important and isn't shy about prodding IT users — from a customer service employee to the CEO himself — to make his gratitude plain. "I tell them it would mean an enormous amount to this person for you to acknowledge what they accomplished," she says.

Top of mind for leaders at any level of the IT organization is career growth. Unfortunately, that's the area where CIOs are most likely to under-deliver. And it's not always for lack of trying. Morrison spends a lot of time talking to her employees about what they want from their careers and why. "If they're passionate about something, they're likely to be courageous and thus influential leaders," she says. "But it's hard if they can't articulate that."

Coaxing that information out of employees is the most difficult part of the "CIO as leadership developer" job. "Coaching is the most powerful and underused capability. CIOs need to develop it in themselves and their own leaders," says Cramm. "A good CIO will say: 'let's figure out what your capabilities are and understand how we can bring your unique gifts and talents to the organization.'" CIOs who can do that get to the leadership development "sweet spot", says Cramm, where the goals and values of the enterprise and individual meet.

At US-based Direct Energy, disciplined talent review processes have always been in place. But that hasn't stopped the CIO from taking the process even further. "We ask anyone who's been in a role for two years, What do you want to do now?" says Kalia. "We make sure there are paths for each person based on their needs."

Kalia has created half a dozen new leadership roles on his senior management team to accommodate the talents and interests of his best and brightest. "You don't always have to manage through tasks and milestones," says Cramm. "With promising leaders, you can just create space in front of them. If it plays into their interests, they will fill up that space."

Kalia also recognizes that he has strong leaders on his team who don't want to be in senior management. "People can lead in different ways," says Kalia, who's divided his management organization into two streams — technical specialists and leaders of people — that are parallel right up to the senior level. "You can take a promising technical person and really screw up their career by promoting them into senior management. Instead, we let them be technical leaders. They know a certain part of the business inside and out. And they're still setting directions for the company the way senior management leaders do."

CIOs who are skilled at cultivating, empowering and rewarding IT leaders will see their efforts come full circle. The leaders they've encouraged will themselves encourage new leaders. US Direct Energy's Scott is involved in cultivating top talent from tech grad schools. The first four members of Scott's program graduate next year. That 90-day review and reward process at BT? That was developed by Rosarius.

Back at Motorola, Morrison has seen 16 of her IT leaders go on to become CIOs at other companies. Then there's Kozik. Her role now even encroaches on Morrison's core responsibilities, with Kozik developing a two- to three-year strategic vision for the integrated supply chain group. "I have strong leaders," says Morrison. "I tell people, I can sleep at night now. I do have times when I am bored and my team will tell me to go take a vacation. But those are good problems to have."

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