When James McPartland took on the CIO role at Torchmark Corporation in 2014, he had a big task before him: Show the rest of the business that IT could help drive growth.
Feedback is a Gift
Corporate technology teams have survived over the years with the mantra: “Silence is golden.” If you don’t hear from your users, then you must be doing something right. But in the Age of the Enterpriser, user input is a necessary ingredient for success.
“We like to say that feedback is really a gift because we can take that internally and act upon it,” says Cynthia Stoddard, senior vice president and CIO at data storage and management firm NetApp.
Feedback can be used to foster collaboration across business units as well as to garner support for technology initiatives. In its 5th Annual Digital IQ Survey, PwC (formerly PricewaterhouseCoopers) found that companies considered to be “strong collaborators” often report “higher performance vs. their peers” and “tend to be more confident than other respondents in their revenue growth, profitability and market share.”
The survey, published in January, also revealed strong collaborators’ IT initiatives are more likely to be “on time, on budget and within project scope.”
Open Up The Floor
Stoddard, who regularly solicits comments about her performance as well as that of her team, considers feedback a unique opportunity to have a constructive dialogue. “It takes a lot of courage from both the person requesting the feedback and also the person giving the feedback to have those open and transparent conversations,” she says.
To set up an environment conducive to feedback, Stoddard leads open sessions such as brown bag lunches and coffee talks. “I like to go around the room and actually find out from people what is on their minds about a particular topic,” she says. “I get a wealth of information that way and bring it back to my staff. We talk about it and then we act on it.”
She acknowledges that opening up the floor makes the feedback you get unpredictable. “We get into very detailed conversations about changes we have made and questions about the company strategy and where we are heading,” she says, but adds it leads to “an amazing experience.”
Innovating through Feedback
Tom Soderstrom, CTO at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), also is a proponent of feedback. He asserts that asking for input leads to greater innovation and improved collaboration. Without a feedback loop, he worries the organization’s culture would slip back into one that innovates separately and doesn’t take advantage of the new IT and business relationship.
To properly accept feedback, Enterprisers must have what Soderstrom calls a “consultative mindset” that listens first. “Innovations that matter come from the business side,” he points out.
Oftentimes feedback isn’t in the form of a survey or a conversation. Instead, if Enterprisers look around, they’ll observe users responding to IT’s performance by utilizing unsanctioned technology.
Savvy technology leaders will pay attention and figure out how to safely enable and support the user’s goals rather than shutting them down. JPL, for instance, partners with the business side to develop prototypes based on new technologies or business objectives. Together they determine if it makes sense to invest more money to take the project forward and eventually make it part of everyday business processes.
All Feedback is Good
Enterprisers shouldn’t fear negative feedback. It’s best to know early on if a new application, service or device isn’t resonating with users so you can either make adjustments that would boost adoption or switch gears to avoid wasting time and money.
“I encourage people to go get the feedback and take it to heart,” Stoddard says.