3 keys to Vanguard’s successful IT culture

Vanguard CIO John Marcante shares how to cultivate a culture that breeds collaboration and respect
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In any organization – public, private, profit, or nonprofit – people are your most important resource. This is especially important today, in the wake of the unprecedented amount of press being dedicated to the future of artificial intelligence and its potential to replace people.  It’s common for businesses to acknowledge the importance of human capital, but it’s less common to see a true, concerted effort to cultivate a culture that breeds collaboration and respect through all levels of the organization.  

That’s something that our IT group at Vanguard strives to do, and it’s paying off. In 2017, we were named one of Computerworld’s Top 10 Best Places to Work in IT.  Today, our employee engagement is higher than it has ever been, and this is in the midst of tremendous organizational change.

[ See our related story, Top soft skills for IT leaders and how to master them. ]

While these accolades are reassuring and reinforce our commitment to our crew (employees) and our culture, none of it has happened accidentally. At Vanguard, and within our IT department, three elements have been key to our success.

1. Cultivate a culture of caring

Vanguard is a genuinely caring organization, and our IT organization is no different.

Vanguard’s client-owned structure is unique, and it encourages a “client first” philosophy which resonates with our mission-based crew and attracts like-minded individuals from the outside.  Like most large organizations, in order to exceed our client’s expectations, we must undergo digital transformations.  These transformations require new skills, new technologies, and new, modern facilities to enable success.  Our philosophy has been to fill teams with a blend of both new and existing talent.  Investing in the growth of our existing crew is paramount to cultivating the culture of our organization. Digital transformations also need to encompass the entire team – end to end. Excluding parts of the organization can lead to an undesirable – we/they – culture, between those who are involved with the transformation and those who are not.

Culture isn’t controlled by the top of the organization. It starts with the team of people you interact with every day.  They’re the people you rely on when you need help, and they’re the ones who help even when they don’t have the time.

Finding and rewarding people who care matters.  It reinforces which competencies and behaviors are important in an organization.  One of our most popular recognition programs is one driven solely by peers.  Each quarter, crew submit recognition awards for the peers who go out of their way to help.  

2. Deal with speed bumps 

Teams can’t always solve every problem on their own. We call these types of problems “speed bumps.” Teams need to have a systematic way to identify these speed bumps, be empowered to tackle them, or recognize when a problem is out of their control.

"Working with our Chief Legal Officer, we quickly created a fast-track review process to get legal reviews completed right when we need them."

When a speed bump can’t be resolved by the team, they elevate it to their management team and it becomes our responsibility to solve the problem and report back progress to the team.  Think of it as another illustration of servant leadership.  Here is an example:  Being in a highly regulated environment requires our teams to have expedited legal reviews, but it’s impractical to have a lawyer on every team.  Working with our Chief Legal Officer, we quickly created a fast-track review process to get legal reviews completed right when we need them.  Speed bump solved!

This is all part of a program called “We Care,” which helps to fortify our company culture and boost engagement. It’s about making the management team accessible, and it’s about listening and taking action to solve problems that are slowing us down.

3. Go lean and focus on outcomes

Many of our businesses are embarking on a digital transformation, and part of that transformation has included implementing the lean methodology. This includes creating cross-functional teams that are focused on business outcomes and are empowered to quickly experiment and pivot.  

One culture change has been to focus on the role of the management team.  For example, how do you encourage leaders to stop asking about time, schedule, and cost, and instead measure the team through outcomes? We want leaders to shift their thinking from, “Are we on time with this project?” to, “How is the team progressing in achieving the stated outcome? Are there speed bumps that the team is struggling to solve on their own?”

When leaders focus on outcomes, this leads to data-driven decision making. In combination with encouraging team experimentation and empowerment, you stop building what you think your client needs, and you start building what your client actually wants.

Recruiting caring team members, eliminating speed bumps, and promoting the lean methodology throughout the organization helped us improve both client-centricity and crew satisfaction. We will continue to strive to be the best place to work for our employees, while transforming our organization, and empowering our crew to continue delivering innovative business solutions. 

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John T. Marcante is Vanguard’s chief information officer and managing director of Vanguard’s Information Technology Division. Vanguard is one of the world’s largest investment management companies. As of May 31, 2021, Vanguard managed more than $7.9 trillion in global assets.

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