CIO Spotlight: Sheri Rhodes, Workday

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? “This crisis has fundamentally changed how organisations view CIOs and technology. More than ever, CIOs are leading from the front as strategic partners for innovation and day to day operations.”


Name: Sheri Rhodes

Company: Workday

Job title: Chief Information Officer

Date started current role: March 2019

Location: Pleasanton, CA

Sheri Rhodes is chief information officer (CIO) at Workday. She oversees the company’s global information technology organisation, with responsibility for the internal deployment of Workday products. Prior to joining Workday, Rhodes served as executive vice president and chief technology officer at Western Union where she was responsible for product engineering, security, and corporate technology. Preceding Western Union, she was CIO at Electronics for Imaging and also held various leadership roles at Symantec, Visa, Washington Mutual, and KPMG. Rhodes has served on the board of directors for FormFactor, Inc. since December 2019.

What was your first job? I worked at a women’s discount clothing store in High School - I actually became their Sunday manager my senior year.  And in my spare time, I was a middle school math tutor as a second side job. 

Did you always want to work in IT? I didn’t start my life in tech, but I truly grew to love the field when I was working in operations early in my career. When we talk about not having all the qualifications and taking risk - stepping outside your comfort zone is a big one - and now that I can look back, I see that is part of what has progressed my career.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I have a Master of Business Administration degree and a Bachelor of Science degree in Business from San Diego State University.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? I have been in many different industries and roles from Service to Sales to operations to tech - but that seemed to be all part of building out a different skill in my tool belt...hearing customer frustrations first-hand. This includes marketing a product to a potential buyer, redesigning processes to be more efficient - I draw upon all of these in my tech role - solving big problems with technology and having empathy along the way matters.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? 

  • Return to work: Current events have been forcing leaders to think differently about all aspects of the office, our employees, our technology enablement and what our customers might need that looks different. The distributed workforce has taken on new meaning and the saying of ‘meeting the worker where they are’ has never been so real. Helping to safely bring people back into the physical space and supporting initiatives such as potential contact-tracing, tracking vaccine records, evolving collaboration tools, iterating on our financial plans and how we go to market will be top of mind in supporting this effort.
  • Expanding our new development centre in Asia-Pacific: As Workday aims to accelerate growth, we’ve expanded our presence in the Asia-Pacific region with a new IT office, which is growing our IT capacity and helping us build more in-house domain expertise.
  • Digital Customer Experience (DCE) Evolution: This initiative is one of our largest ongoing cross-functional programs, aimed at delivering an enriched and intuitive digital experience for all customer properties surrounding our products. Previously, the customer experience had multiple logins, siloed properties, and a one-size-fits-all engagement model. Now, innovative technology platforms work together to deliver improved experiences that are: contextual and connected, transparent and data-driven, and predictive and proactive.
  • M&A: Provide continued support of our integration strategy and plan for our most recent acquisitions, including Peakon, and any further acquisitions as they arise.
  • Infrastructure as Code & Cloud: Implementing a unified communications strategy, moving all conference room capabilities to Zoom, including enabling a touchless meeting room experience. In addition, we are implementing SD-WAN and driving Network automation maturity.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT? CEO Top Priorities:

  • Drive accelerated growth by being an active user and IT owner of our internal use of Workday by helping to shape future iterations of the product.
  • Magnify the value of Workday for our customer base through initiatives like DCE, an integrated platform experience, and customer insight management.
  • Foster a culture of belonging to build a better future through accessibility, M&A, employee experience and digital employee experience.
  • Lead the future of work through world-class technology solutions such as vaccine management, accelerating Workday extend, and scaling with key partners.
  • Align and execute with urgency through continuous planning, following our decision-making framework and furthering M&A efforts.

We will support the business with IT by taking care of table stakes like keeping security at the forefront and providing employees the right tools to remain productive regardless of where they are.

Soon, we will return to the office under a new hybrid model of work with a more global and asynchronous workforce than ever before and I believe technologies that are architected for agility will be the permanent cornerstones. We are also continuing digital acceleration efforts that will help drive efficiencies and scale the business while accelerating product innovation, customer stickiness, and market positioning by being the first customer of our products. Underscoring all of this is keeping our employees’ mental health as our number one priority.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? This crisis has fundamentally changed how organisations view CIOs and technology. More than ever, CIOs are leading from the front as strategic partners for innovation and day to day operations. Throughout the last 18 months, I’ve consistently heard my peers talk about “finally having a seat at the table”, which is a huge shift from IT historically being a keep the lights on function. In my experience, once a CIO has established trust with their key business partners, the sky is the limit on their level of contribution.

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? In January 2020 we launched the Digital Customer Engagement (DCE) program at Workday to address how we mature and scale the digital customer and Workday employee experience, accelerating Workday’s growth and bottom line. This multi-year, cross-functional initiative with our Customer Experience team is focused on delivering a unified digital experience outside of the Workday product. Our goal is to ensure that the digital touchpoints for customers are intuitive and intelligent. From enabling seamless navigation through single sign-on across our customer web properties, including customer support, our Workday Community and Workday Learning, to improved data and content sharing, this initiative will transform the customer experience. The foundation of our business - the architecture, collaboration tools and security investments we have made - help us to do this. As we evolve elements of this program, we continually look for opportunities to streamline the customer journey, scale our engagement model, and maximise customer value - while also accounting for revenue growth and product expansion.

While there will always be trade-offs required, and balancing across growth/operations, we've tried to focus on investments that achieve both outcomes. For example, the support case creation and assignment process were redesigned this year to be much more intuitive and efficient for customers, which in turn reduced a significant amount of operational demand to review, classify, and assign those cases to the right resources.  And for customers, faster resolution and easy access to knowledge about the product leads to higher retention rates and a willingness to adopt new features and products.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? As a cloud-native organisation, we look at measuring success in many ways: 

  • Customer Satisfaction & Experience: is the work we are doing improving and transforming our customer experience and contributing to our customer satisfaction?
  • Employee Experience & Organisational Health: are we providing our employees with engaging and productive experiences? Are we making it easier for employees to get their job done?
  • Business Value: are we delivering value to our business partners? Are we helping drive their strategies forward and enable growth and scale?
  • Velocity & Quality: are we committing to the right work? Are we delivering on our commitments? Are we delivering quality work?
  • And, of course, Service Level: are our systems up, working, and stable?

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? A good culture fit in my organisation means we are aligned with Workday’s company culture and living our core values of employees, customer service, integrity, innovation, fun, and profitability.  ‘How’ we get our work down, is just as important as ‘what we get done’. Even through all of the recent change, our underlying core has not faded, and frequent communication has been a priority. Multiple mediums, content, and tone are all important to reach a fully distributed workforce. We have also thoughtfully created virtual experiences and hosted fun online events intended to keep our teams connected and engaged. Some of our newest employees have made outstanding contributions this year, even though they’ve never met the rest of the team in person. Our commitment to having fun, operating with integrity, and driving innovation has not changed.

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? The technical talent market overall is extremely competitive right now. I anticipate that advanced data/data science roles and automation experience/skills will continue to be highly sought after in the near future. In order to keep pace and to differentiate themselves, companies need to continue seeking out ways to achieve decision velocity- and that objective is typically driven by data foundations and automation.

What's the best career advice you ever received? I have been fortunate to learn from other great leaders. I remember returning to work many years ago from maternity leave after I had the first of my three wonderful children. The first thing my boss said to me at the time was how delighted he was to see me back and what a great role model I would be for my daughter. For any parent returning to work after spending time with a newborn, we know how hard that can be. But it showed me that words matter. Leading with empathy matters. And that we all wear multiple hats. That day my hats were an “IT professional” and “mom,” and I am reminded every day that every person in our organisation, and the world for that matter, wears all kinds of hats - we are all just trying to do our best.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. Yes. Succession planning is just one of the steps to make sure we are building orgs to scale and that we are living our core values. We are all continuous learners of leadership, and certainly the pandemic has shown that we can’t predict the future but that we should make sure our leaders have the right tool kits to manage through change. Creating space and time to invest in our teams.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? My advice would be: Think like a general manager (across customers, employees, and stockholders) - Understand the business context, be ready to offer options - strive for good-not perfect, and be ready to share how you have optimised or could further optimise what you already have before seeking out something new, unless it is a differentiator.

What has been your greatest career achievement? Definitely when you are at a great, high growth company, with great leaders, and a great team - with a role that allows you to transform the way you work - hits the top of the list. That would be my CIO role at Workday.

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? In college my friends and I used to have a toast ‘No Heartaches, No regrets’, so while I’ve had a super amazing partner for 30+ years and the no heartaches doesn’t apply, I still toast to no regrets. 

What are you reading now? The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare.

Most people don't know that I… That I am obsessed with playing Words with Friends but with the game bot specifically, and that I am an ice cream fanatic.

In my spare time, I like to…Travel, read, spend time outdoors, obsess over my dogs and just hang with family and friends.

Ask me to do anything but… what can be done tomorrow, if there is time to do it today!