Gartner: How CIOs can lead organisational culture

In large-scale transformations, the technical implementation is often far easier than the change management needed to make IT projects a success

When traditional ways of influencing company culture aren’t enough, what can a CIO do to inspire sustained behavioural change? The first step is understanding what “culture” means. Organisational culture is the expression of combined daily behaviours that are constantly changing and interacting. Each behaviour is guided by a unique combination of values, mindsets and practices.

By 2021, CIOs will be just as responsible as their human resource (HR) counterparts for leading workplace culture. To do that, however, CIOs must first understand how these values, mindsets and practices intersect. Leaders can directly influence how these three aspects affect behaviour and shape culture. They must also implement a tactical strategy to ensure that positive behaviours are identified, modelled, encouraged and ultimately rewarded.   

Communicate consistent, strategy-aligned organisational values 

Workplace values guide decision-making, relationships and behaviours. Organisational values must align with an organisation’s goals, and should be reflected in leaders’ everyday decisions and behaviours. Lacking or unreliable leadership modelling of values can undermine workplace culture and even harm broader strategic objectives.

Organisations cannot hope to see consistent and positive workplace behaviours until they have established consistent and strategy-aligned values. CIOs seeking to influence culture should be concerned with the IT organisation’s values in the first instance. If these group values are not clearly understood, personal values will form the basis for individual decisions and actions.

Tactically, candid conversations with stakeholders across the workplace can help. CIOs should work with stakeholders to identify gaps and problems together, and share concerns with functional leaders. The next step is determining which values and behaviours map to the organisation’s desired culture and broader goals. Most important is demonstrating behaviours that CIOs would like to see imitated by the team.

Understand and influence employee mindsets

Only 13% of HR leaders report that their employees believe strongly in the organisation’s desired culture. It’s fair to say that most CIOs don’t properly understand what their employees are thinking. While most CIOs lack the capacity to get to know everybody in their IT organisation on a personal level, they remain responsible for the organisation’s internal culture. For that reason, CIOs are advised to demonstrate accepting and inclusive behaviour at all times.

Involving all stakeholders using an “open source” approach is one tactic to ensure authenticity and promote engagement in culture shaping. Sharing lessons from failures and modelling self-awareness are some of the many critical behaviours that leaders are recommended to adopt to make themselves more approachable.

When practices don’t align with stated values, culture change initiatives are doomed to fail. Any behaviour, habit or routine will persist as long as the environment rewards and reinforces that continued action. Established routines that are inconsistent or counter-productive to the desired culture can sometimes be so ingrained in employee behaviour that pinpointing the issue can prove difficult for internal stakeholders. CIOs must evaluate their own behaviours and practices objectively if they want to identify challenges.

Even then, identifying problem behaviours remains difficult. One recommended remedy to uncover entrenched, detrimental habits is working with an independent, external partner.

Tactical culture hacks can subsequently be deployed to raise awareness, share organisational goals and break the “reward” cycle that perpetuates negative behaviours. Once these three steps have been realised, CIOs are well on their way to redefining their organisation’s culture.

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