IT leadership: 6 CIO habits to develop in 2021, from Bay Area CIO of the Year winners

From staying connected outside your organization to deeply supporting your team, consider developing these habits in 2021 to be a better IT leader
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The clean slate of the New Year offers a natural time to set new goals and build new habits. 

We caught up with CIOs who recently won the 2020 Bay Area CIO of the Year ORBIE Awards to find out what habits they believe will be important in the year ahead. The awards were presented by the Bay Area CIO Leadership Association, a professional community that annually recognizes CIOs for their excellence in technology leadership.

Common themes from their suggestions include being change ready and more deeply supportive of the people you lead. 

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Read on to learn the key habits these CIOs believe IT executives should cultivate to adapt to our new normal.

Encourage downtime

Large Enterprise Bay Area CIO of the Year 

Jacob Sorensen, EVP & CIO, Bank of the West: “In the year ahead, it is extremely important that CIOs are intentional about checking in on the wellbeing of our teams and individuals. The pandemic has challenged everyone in many different ways, and IT leaders must be proactive about checking in our team members regardless of how they’ve been impacted. Many of our team members are working long hours in an ‘always on’ mode. Other team members may be living alone, while others may be feeling isolated from the rest of the team. 

As leaders, we must ensure our team members are getting the required downtime to ‘recover’ from the long hours working from home. Make it a habit to encourage your teams to set aside time for their healthy habits of choice, whether that’s exercising, doing a hobby, or spending time with loved ones – preferably away from a screen. Frankly, this is something I am still trying to improve myself. 

Ultimately this downtime makes for a more productive and effective person. It helps avoid burnout and fosters more creative and innovative outcomes. By being consistently deliberate with these well-being check-ins, CIOs will build a more stable, supportive IT culture that will better serve everyone in the future.”

Be intentional with your empathy 

Large Corporate Bay Area CIO of the Year 

Todd Wilson, Senior Vice President of IT, Clif: “As Heraclitus said, ‘the only thing constant is change.’ This has never been more true than in 2020. As CIOs and technology leaders, change is a given, but generally far out of the comfort zone of most. To adapt to the “new normal” we are adjusting to a state of constant change. As technology leaders it is essential for us to keep a people-centric focus as we digitally transform. We can promote an attitude of adopting this new norm of constant change, even championing it to disrupt our organizations and industries for the better, while keeping people top of mind.

Clif Bar is a values-based company intentionally focused on sustaining our people, community, planet, business, and brand. It begins with our people. For IT leaders, driving change and adding value across the organization must revolve around our people and their needs. This includes asking some key questions, such as: How will our people respond?  Will they adapt? How do we create quick wins to provide a beacon for adoption? We must be intentional in our empathy while evangelizing the tremendous value we are unlocking. To be an effective technology leader in this new era, we must put our people at the center of our strategies while promoting, championing, and embracing a world of constant change."

Deepen your understanding of your personal values

Enterprise Bay Area CIO of the Year

Kirsten Wolberg, Chief Technology & Operations Officer, Docusign: “Habits are our behaviors. For me, how I behave and show up in the world is tied to my values. In 2021, I believe CIOs and IT executives will be well served to get really clear on their values and what is truly important to them and to their companies. Importantly, DocuSign has company values that are consistent with my personal values – trusted, loved and responsible. These values were essential to guide me and my team to do the right thing for our fellow employees and our customers when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It was challenging to move everyone to remote work, and for many CIOs it will be even more difficult to navigate bringing employees back to the office. There will be hundreds of decisions to make, and thousands of lives will be impacted. Staying focused on ensuring the company values guide the way will simplify the move back to the office and help tackle every new obstacle that 2021 brings.”

Stay connected outside your organization 

Super Global Bay Areas CIO of the Year 

Sally Gilligan, CIO & Head of Corporate Strategy, Gap Inc.: “As technology continues to accelerate the pace of change across industries, it is important for CIOs and IT executives to stay connected outside of your organization. This habit helps to foster an agile learning organization that is aware and can respond to change. By having that external orientation, it also allows the organization to have awareness of any emerging innovation that may shape industries and shift underlying economics. Additionally, this helps leaders understand where to invest. As a leader, this understanding informs where you need flexibility, where your strategy needs to evolve, and the talent you need to grow and deliver.

The pace will continue to accelerate. CIOs and IT executives will need to be integrated into a broader ecosystem of innovation to participate in the broader conversation. By cultivating the habit of seeking outside opinions, it allows you to understand what you should be considering and how best to navigate the emerging landscape. Talent will continue to be one of the most critical aspects of your ability to deliver the business needs. When you understand what is possible and what is emerging, you can also develop and invest in your teams today to be able to deliver tomorrow.”

Scout change patterns and adjust quickly  

Global Bay Area CIO of the Year      

Adhir Mattu, VP & CIO, Marvell: “CIOs are leading a world where a multitude of changes are happening around us – from emerging technologies, such as 5G, artificial intelligence and edge computing, to industry model changes like autonomous vehicles, online retail, and Industry 4.0. We’re also leading in a time when there are ever-increasing cyber security challenges, as well as changing environmental and geo-political situations. As business models continue to adjust amid these myriad changes, it will become increasingly imperative for CIOs to reimagine and rescale IT accordingly, enabling profitable growth for their firms. 

In the year ahead, CIOs must develop the habit of constantly looking out for change patterns and make quick adjustments accordingly. While every industry faces its own unique set of challenges and opportunities, as CIOs, we all find ourselves in a position where we must focus on innovative ways of supporting the business in the most scalable and cost-efficient manner, all while still offering high-performance IT services with excellent user-experience. CIOs who remain adaptable amid all of this change will add more value to their organizations in the years ahead.” 

Encourage self-care 

Nonprofit/Public Sector Bay Area CIO of the Year 

Rob Lloyd, CIO, City of San Jose: “2020 proved the importance of people and trust. For CIOs, we saw our organizations (and communities) turn to us in a true moment of need. How powerful it was that we solved keeping people collaborating and working remotely in days/weeks, that they openly invited us to help redesign business processes for an instantly digital work. How meaningful it is that we are tending to new, transformational challenges facing us together and with more empathy than ever before.

That ability of CIOs to think operationally, tactically, and strategically at the same time has translated well. We've helped our organizations address how to pivot today's work, how to organize tomorrow's work, and how to prepare for what's important on the horizon. I've never seen so many leaders from across organizational disciplines take the time to appreciate how the IT team has kept things running, kept people connected, anticipated change, and listened deeply to work with peers/partners to solve big, new challenges in novel ways. This will continue to be useful in the year ahead as we face even more economic uncertainty, deep challenges to people's lives and livelihoods, and bonds of community.

One area where I need to improve my abilities is in how I help our people take care of themselves. Making time to reinforce interpersonal bonds. Protecting our people from falling into over-working and over-meeting. Providing time, space, tools, and guidance for people to take care of their minds, bodies, and families. Leading by example in setting new norms for work-life integration. Finding recognition and team building rituals that work in hybrid work environments. I'm convinced the best of us in the CIO and IT executive community will be the ones who can lead in terms of that mental, physical, and family well-being."

[ How can automation free up more staff time for innovation? Get the free eBook: Managing IT with Automation. ] 

As community manager for The Enterprisers Project, Ginny Hamilton helps build the site's community of CIOs, IT leaders, and readers. She is responsible for helping tell the stories of leading IT executives – showcasing the projects, experiences, and challenges they're facing in their roles as IT leaders.

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