Jarod Greene on Shifting Culture to Drive Digital Transformation

Apptio is always pleased to talk to IT leaders who know the pressures and difficulties in trying to align IT leadership with business partners. In this interview, Jarod Greene, VP of Product Marketing at Apptio, discusses the concept of culture hacks and their impact on organizations driving digital transformation.

There was too much good stuff to limit it to one interview. Keep watch for part 2 in the coming weeks.

First, thanks for taking the time to talk to Apptio.

No problem.

We will get to your point of view on culture hacks and growth mindsets in a minute. Can you start off by giving us a little bit about your background?

Sure. I’m the VP of Product Marketing at Apptio and before taking this role I was a Gartner research analyst. I worked at Gartner for ten years and learned the IT leader’s point of view firsthand — I was then able to offer a unique point of view on how IT leaders embraced people, process and technology related challenges.

Gartner taught me to look at things from the lens of people and process first, not always technology. Typically, technology automates a process you establish for the people you’ve hired, right? So, you know, bad people, bad process, bad outcomes.

I’ve spoken to thousands of organizations who have had bad technology outcomes. Leadership and guidance and culture are the overriding themes in successful organizations. No one organization defines digital transformation the same as another.

Many organizations aren’t consistent with what digital transformation is. Some will frame digital transformation as leveraging new and emerging technologies to generate new sources of revenue and develop new business models. Others will simply optimize existing processes. From that lens, your digital transformation is what you say it is. Like, “We’re going to do driverless trucks.” And as a company, if that’s your digital transformation that’s awesome. But you can also say, “We’re going to implement a new SaaS-based ERP solution.” The common denominator must be the discovery questions about the people on board and the processes people follow.

Ultimately, you’re going to throw a lot of money away, on not just the technology but the implementation providers, consultants, integrations, and support. It’s not an insignificant undertaking when you start talking about any technology initiative.

Talk a little about the pressure of driving digital transformation and the stakeholders involved.

IT leadership must accept that a commitment to digital transformation means more scrutiny. Digital transformation becomes a board-level initiative that drives project ‘X’ and results in a ‘Y’ set of outcomes. That transforms IT from something that used to be below-the-line (“Did we implement the new help desk system?”) to above-the-line value (“No, this is the thing that provides our competitive differentiation, and if we miss this, it’s all going downhill”).

It’s a good news/bad news scenario. The good (and bad) news is you now have a seat at the table to impact digital transformation. You’ve got to walk the walk and talk the talk.

Yeah, it’s a bright light. Do you want that light? You got it. It’s bright; everybody sees it, and you can wilt under the pressure. We can get into a debate about who’s driving these things: is it the CIO, is it the CTO, is it the CDO? Regardless, the common denominator is whether the people involved have the right skills, wherewithal, and fortitude to make a difference.

So now we are getting into the area of people fit and aptitude.

Absolutely. Do they have the qualities that will fundamentally make their digital transformation successful? That’s difficult to gauge. Many people have tribal, institutional, and technical knowledge, which is great. But digital transformation asks people to do fundamentally different things. Do your people have the skill set for that?

And the organizations must embody that too, right?

For sure. And it’s incredible because, again, you can’t just say, “I don’t have the right people on board so let’s just fire everybody.” A lot of the skill sets you need are in short supply. If you bring in new people without changing the institution, new hires will shape their behavior to fit the organization.

It’s an interesting challenge that I didn’t think is being spoken to enough. A consultant comes in and says, “If you just did this, this, and this, you’d have the transformation overnight.” Well, if it were that easy, we’d already be there. There’d be no Gartner. If it was easy to just buy the technology, implement the technology, and see the results the whole solution integration industry would be a lot simpler—and smaller. But it’s not that simple—people make things more complicated.

Do they have the willingness to succeed? Do they have the right skill sets? Do you have the right leadership vision that people can follow? How do you manage people along the journey?

And the naysayers?

You will always have those. Judge leadership by their response to them. The voice that says that change won’t work connects to experience with the last person who tried and failed. What do you do with those people? Sometimes they are the people who have the right knowledge and skills. Culture hacks shorten the length of the digital transformation journey and cultivate a growth mindset. That’s something we embrace at Apptio and have adopted as a rallying cry.

This sounds like a definition of a growth mindset.

When we run into something new and different and weird and scary remind yourself that “I do have the ability to learn new things, I do have the ability to adopt a new skill set.” It is scary, but we all come out of the other side of it in a better place. More informed. More knowledgeable. And better prepared for what’s next.

Everybody says, “I have a growth mindset now.” Even if they don’t, the socially acceptable answer is to say you do. What characteristics indicate a growth mindset? What does that hiring profile look like?

Try this question:
“Show me an instance where you’ve done something that’s just scared you to death, you’ve done something you didn’t know how to do, you walk into a situation pretty… not blind, but you walk into a situation with full understanding of your shortcomings and your inability to drive the thing at scale, but you were given the trust, the resources, the tools to drive the change forward?” That’s a pretty good place to start.

And then the follow-up question—what did you learn? Because a lot of time a growth mindset isn’t always tied to success.

Absolutely. We get caught up with, “Oh, I did it and it was awesome.” I’d rather see somebody do it, understand where it went array, and make sure they don’t apply that same mistake again.

I try to un-pick the thought process. I think it’s one thing for us to get into, “Well, I’ll read a book and become an expert.” But I think it’s another thing to figure out that people have done something before. How do I learn from those people? How do I ask those people questions? How do I humble myself to take the feedback I might need as I move along this process? Those things are in the emotional intelligence realm that spells out a person’s ability to succeed.

Because I also know people who will say, “Oh, I’ll take on new challenges.” And the minute it gets hard they quit. Or the minute somebody comes along and contradicts them or undermines them or tells them it’s the wrong thing to do, they throw up their hands. But it’s really the perseverance to say, “I’m learning a new thing. I’m going to be so much more dangerous when I’m done. And along the way, I’m picking up a skillset of just stretching the mind.” Like the central point of “The Opposable Mind” by Roger Martin: holding two contradicting thoughts in your head at the same time.

A traditional cost center view of IT involves a judgment of SLAs, downtimes, and five nines availability. This could be perceived as a fixed mindset. In contrast, a growth mindset could be framed as an advocate of TBM to enable digital transformation. These may be natural bedfellows in the same organization. But they often aren’t.

I’ve worked with a lot of infrastructure and operation (I&O) types who often live the mantra “I’ve done my thing, my SLAs are green, leave me or let me be.” But then the question is what’s the business value of all SLAs being green? Are the SLAs for five nines availability the right quality bar for a specific business service?

So, it’s the appropriate KPIs you select too, right? If you’re looking at MIPS, you aren’t looking at business value. Growth mindset-orientated KPIs reward, analyze, and track business expansion. Looking at Apptio’s Top 10 KPIs for strategic planning, you could use % of project spend on customer-facing initiatives as a barometer for how seriously you treat the digital experience for customers vs. the five nines in the back office.

Sure. But also, to make a tradeoff in accordance with the business goals. If the goal is to maximize the customer experience have a conversation about tradeoffs that impact the customer experience.

It’s the growth mindset folks who say, “Let me talk to you about the risk and the leverage and the brand impacts of these things you want to do.” I look at it from this point of view of the back office I&O person. They understand risk differently. They look at a CMDB and understand all the dependencies and all the touch points of the cat’s cradle infrastructure.

What’s the forum for those discussions?

I had a client who had a meeting every Monday called the Change Advisory Board. They sat down and went “If we make this change, what’s the impact? Let’s document the rollout plan because if that fails, we recognize there is a high-risk change.” Nobody in that meeting had a conversation that applied a business value lens to it. They just reported out which applications were tier one, tier two, tier three or tier four. A lot of times you move through these change advisory board meetings and go, “The risk is low, the dependency is low. Yeah, change approved.” But there is a business-level conversation follow-up of “this is a customer-facing application, and we can’t afford to have a customer issue right now,” or “Our competitors are making moves here, so we need to do x, y, z.” Typically, the business makes those decisions. I think IT needs a group mindset of offering input into those decisions.

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