CIO Column

Cultivating culture - the CIO challenge of 2022

Developing the right culture has, and will remain, a primary focus for chief information officers.


CIO Column

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Over the last few weeks, all of us will have been immersed in our closest culture - your family, whatever form that takes - and hopefully the cultures of other meaningful groups in our lives, that of friends and family. Over the festive period of 2021, I am sure I was not alone in observing my immediate family and those of others. As we return to work - in whatever form that takes - the beginning of a new year is a good time to consider the other cultures we are close to - our colleagues, senior leadership team and the wider ecosystem that all technology divisions operate within. 

Austrian born management author and consultant Peter Drucker is famed for his statement: “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, and in 2022 his words have even greater meaning, as although a strategy is important, it is incredibly hard to stick to a plan of action in the shifting sands of a Covid-19 impacted society and economy. However, no matter how the ground beneath our feet moves, the right culture will offer some level of protection.

Developing the right culture has, and will remain, a primary focus for chief information officers (CIO). Customers and business peers are increasing their demands on the technology team, driven by a rapidly changing market and economic landscape. These challenges require not only the right technology and IT service partners but also a culture that can grasp the challenge, creatively think of solutions and deploy in an agile and timely manner.

CIOs face serious challenges to this culture though. The ongoing pandemic means remote working will remain an essential element of the team dynamic. Providing both compliance, protection and, in many cases, the only way to secure skills. But a remote workforce makes culture creation harder and can increase the mental health strain on team members (and the CIO too). With the rising demand for technology-led solutions and a myriad of reports showing that technologists are being highly productive, the burn-out of team members is a real risk, and members of the CIO and CTO community have shared this experience and concern with me. It is essential that the culture that the CIO creates is healthy and supportive. 

A healthy, supportive and creative culture will, in turn, enable CIOs to deal with the challenges of recruitment and retention. “Come and join us, it is a great place to work” is the cheapest and often the most reliable recruitment advertisement a CIO can have in their armour. Team members advocating their employer is real gold dust.

The right culture doesn’t guarantee an end to recruitment issues or that there will be no mental health issues in your team. No matter how hard we try to develop the right culture, in the maelstrom of life, we can all become blind to the struggles family, and team members are having. Part of cultural development is to be self-aware and analytical. The festive season was, personally, both a chance to observe and reflect on the cultures I am part of, but also to question weak points (especially in yours truly) and observe strengths in other cultures and how to adopt - or avoid - patterns of behaviour. 

Poor culture is now a risk. A risk to delivering successful technology solutions to the organisation, and therefore a risk to the business meeting its goals and promise to customers. Leaders with no understanding of a culture or the value of the right culture in the right place can quickly wreck a team, which leads to a decline in product quality, lower levels of innovation, opportunity for rivals and ultimately an impact on the bottom line. 

A prominent member of the CIO community once said to me or a roundtable I was moderating: “People don’t leave organisations; they leave poor leadership.” With talk, perhaps some of it hyped, of a great resignation taking place, people will leave leadership and organisations that don’t fit their values. Looking back over our careers, we have all left an organisation as it was never right or declined in purpose. The pandemic has increased this awareness in many of our team members. 

In 2022, the cultural development element of the CIO role remains in high demand, and in many cases, has increased in importance. A challenge and an opportunity for the new year.