Why CIOs need to manage organisational culture as well

Suzanne Adnams, Vice President Analyst, Gartner.

At Imperial College London, the CIO was transitioning his team from waterfall to agile methodology when he discovered a serious workplace culture problem.

Employee engagement was low. He was having trouble getting his staff members to own their inclusion goals. Top-down messaging and bias education efforts were not doing enough. Clearly, success required more than emails from leadership and mandatory training modules — the business needed broad, deep and sustained behavioral change.

When traditional ways of influencing company culture are not enough, what can a CIO do to inspire sustained behavioral change? The first step is understanding what culture means.

By 2021, CIOs will be as responsible for leading workplace culture as their peers in HR. But to do that, CIOs must understand how these values, mindsets and practices intersect. Leaders have direct influence over how these three facets affect behaviors to shape the culture. They must also put a tactical strategy into place so that positive behaviors are identified, modeled, encouraged and rewarded.

Organisational values must be consistent with organisational goals, and must be reflected in leaders’ daily decisions and behaviors. Missing or inconsistent leadership modeling of values undermines workplace culture and can harm broader strategic objectives.

Organisations that have not established consistent and strategy-aligned values cannot expect to see consistent and positive workplace behaviors. CIOs looking to influence culture should be first concerned with the values of the IT organisation. If these group values are not clearly understood, then personal values will become the basis of individual decisions and actions.

With only 13% of HR leaders reporting that employees believe strongly in an organisation’s desired culture, it is fair to say that most CIOs do not really understand what their employees are thinking. And although it is true that most CIOs will not have time to get to know everyone in their IT organisation personally, they are still responsible for the culture within that organisation. Therefore, CIOs should model accepting, inclusive behavior at all times.

Creating a work environment that promotes personal acceptance and inclusion helps staff feel safe enough to share their mindsets and be open with each other, Adnams says.

Involving all stakeholders using an open source approach is one tactic to ensure authenticity and to promote engagement in culture shaping. Sharing lessons from failures and modeling self-awareness are some of the many critical behaviors you can adopt to make yourself more approachable.

Changing how organisations operate has a much greater positive impact on aligning the workforce to the organisation’s desired culture. Any behavior, habit or routine will continue to persist as long as there is something in the environment that rewards and reinforces that continued action.

Key takeaways

  • By 2021, CIOs will be as responsible for leading workplace culture as their peers in human resources.
  • CIOs should objectively evaluate their own behaviors and practices, and those of their direct reports.
  • CIOs can use these three steps to successfully shape their organisational culture.
  • Execute tactical culture hacks to raise awareness, share organisational goals and break the reward cycle.
  • Communicate consistent, strategy-aligned organisational values.

By Suzanne Adnams, Vice President, Analyst, Gartner.