Vanguard CIO: 3 ways to boost employee engagement

Vanguard CIO: 3 ways to boost employee engagement

John Marcante explains why building an engaged workforce has a lasting, positive effect on the business. He shares three areas to hone in on.

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Early on, technology organizations were used to drive efficiency. Today, technology has become a driver of company strategy and top-line performance. Given the critical role that technology plays, it’s even more important for technology employees to be engaged.

We’ve made many strides at Vanguard toward delivering business value at startup speed, adopting microservices, and innovating on creative ideas. The one common thread that makes all of this possible, though, is the engagement of our crew members (“Vanguard speak” for employees). It may sound cliché, but we have a firm belief that people will serve clients better if a few things happen:

  • First, we want our teams to be passionate about the business and the mission of the organization, and we want them to feel good about the work they do. 
  • Second, we want to foster a workplace where peers feel they can lean on each other. 
  • Finally, we believe that crew will serve their customers better if they work for an organization that values them and creates an engaging environment. 

Great organizations are mission-based, they listen to clients and their employees, and they react to feedback quickly. Vanguard has successfully increased employee engagement over the past several years to world-class levels, which we measure through internal surveys and external benchmarks. Looking forward, we are using three tactics to drive future employee engagement.

[ How do your people skills measure up? Read our related article, 8 powerful phrases of emotionally intelligent leaders. ]

1. Communicate a compelling transformation and mission story

Years ago, if you asked me what the role of communication was, I would not have said “change management”— I may have said marketing. Change management is about getting people prepared for and excited about the future. 

Years ago, if you asked me what the role of communication was, I would not have said “change management”— I may have said marketing. Change management is about getting people prepared for and excited about the future. 

Recently, we invested in a small communications organization inside IT to tell a consistent, compelling story about our storied past and bright future. We are focusing our communications and story on a simple framework we call “5-1-5.” 

The story reads like this: there are "5" enduring truths in the world of technology (e.g. of an enduring truth – technology continues to change and innovate at a staggering rate) that we must face as "1" IT organization with the ultimate goal of driving "5" key outcomes for Vanguard (e.g. of a key outcome - deliver business value faster). Hence the "5-1-5." 

This messaging helps align what employees do every day with our continued focus on improving outcomes for clients, who are also our owners. Aligning technology transformation with that mission is something that excites our teams.

Let’s face it, talented people want to work for organizations which reflect their values. They want to know that their work is positively driving good outcomes for others. When the organization’s mission and values directly influence every decision made, it’s a winning recipe for employees and clients.  

2. Embrace modern ways of working

Modern ways of working are ultimately about creating cross-functional, co-located, outcome-oriented teams that leverage modern management techniques and processes. Our industry would call that “agile” while operations might call it “lean.” We’re using these modern techniques to empower teams to iterate quickly and gather and react to client feedback. We have already seen this approach generate better client experiences.

You can’t create this culture through the IT organization alone; it’s a cultural, agile enterprise initiative the company needs to embrace, from the CEO and executive team down to the developer.

You can’t create this culture through the IT organization alone; it’s a cultural, agile enterprise initiative the company needs to embrace, from the CEO and executive team down to the developer. Several years ago, we decided we had to convert the way our organization worked to remain successful and attract the best talent.

To successfully adopt the modern practices and techniques, you also need the right technology to support employees. With an empowered team, everyone is talking to clients, experimenting, building MVPs, gathering feedback, and iterating their way to the outcome. You must have the infrastructure and technologies to enable teams to move fast. 

You can’t have quarterly releases and expect agility. Before you put these empowered teams together, concentrate on delivering the needed cloud infrastructure, agile workflows, continuous pipeline integration, analytics, and machine learning capabilities. 

3. Activate new ways of leading

The future of leadership hinges on empowerment and removing obstacles. The days of command and control are over; instead, we need to focus on diversity, people development, and candor to build trust and high-performing teams. 

The future of leadership hinges on empowerment and removing obstacles.

When teams are empowered and in control of their own destiny, they’re setting their own milestones. Leaders aren’t telling them how to achieve the outcome — they’re defining the outcome and empowering their teams to work toward it. 

We also know that diverse teams make better decisions, so actively focusing on the creation of diverse teams is important. We also need to focus on employee’s development — not only career development, but understanding and encouraging the integration of work, home, and community.

Finally, leadership is about Radical Candor (a term coined by Kim Scott in her book of the same name). Radical Candor is a management philosophy based on caring personally about someone while challenging them directly. Challenging directly means that everyone is open to discussion and changing their mind. That’s true for every team member, no matter your level in the company – you must check your ego at the door when you badge in every morning. 

Engaging your workforce can be the catalyst to success

Building an engaged workforce has a lasting, positive effect on the business. Developers, for example, have a great deal of choice when it comes to their next career move because there’s such a war for talent. They can work wherever they want and even get a role that pays more — but will they find an organization that truly values them? Will they go to bed at night feeling good about the impact they have had on the community? Did they disrupt something and improve someone’s life? Can they count on their peers to pick them up during rough times? That’s the environment we all need to create in order to attract and retain the best talent.

Building an engaged workforce has a lasting, positive effect on the business.

That’s what we’re working toward at Vanguard — engaged, empowered, fulfilled crew members who love the work they do and wouldn’t want to do it anywhere else. Of course, we are not perfect; we make mistakes, but striving to create this culture throughout the company remains our North Star. I firmly believe that the engagement of our crew is the catalyst to our success. 

[ Are you leading culture change? Get the free eBook, Organize for Innovation, by Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst. ]   

One comment

My compliments to Mr.

My compliments to Mr. Marcante. His comments about a compelling story, modern ways of working and leading reminded me of another great company I worked with, Southwest Airlines. They had these three attributes, but were always looking to take things to another level. So they liked what we now call "economic engagement". We worked with them to bring the economic alive, in what they called Plane Smart Business. These Forbes and Harvard Business Review articles provide more background: https://hbr.org/2018/01/more-than-a-paycheck http://www.forbes.com/sites/fotschcase/2016/05/31/engage-your-employees-...

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 December 31, 2017, Vanguard managed more than $4.9 trillion in global assets.

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