Antonio Neri BoB 2018When today’s leaders talk about the importance of culture, listen carefully and focus on how culture is impacting productivity.

At the recent Best of Breed conference, the CEOs of HPE and Aruba, an HPE company, surprised the audience with their comments about how much they are focused on the topic of company culture. This was not your typical squishy talking point produced by a PR specialist, but a sincere commentary on the importance of company culture by Antonio Neri and Keerti Melkote, the respective leaders of HPE and Aruba, an HPE company.

Both CEOs spoke at BoB, an invitation-only event that brings together C-suite leaders of vendors, tech suppliers and IT integrators to discuss the latest tech trends and how they impact the indirect sales channel.

Of course, there was plenty of tech talk along with comments about the importance of partnerships to deliver tech solutions to midmarket and enterprise customers. But both executives stressed how they were focused on culture as a key driver of their companies’ long-term growth. In addition, both viewed their ability to dial in the right culture as a way of recruiting and retaining talent.

If these executives have such a focus on culture, then maybe every senior IT leader should also be taking this topic much more seriously. You could sense that both viewed culture as a key differentiator more than any of the products or services they offer vs. the competition. It was quite eye-opening.

Neri takes culture so seriously that he is involved in designing the interior of new offices and workspaces for employees. “I am focused on culture to an extreme” he said.

Neri is continuing the company transformation started by previous CEO Meg Whitman, who split the company in two. He knows well that a big part of his job is creating a new culture for his organization. His focus now is to create a culture of innovation and execution for the 60,000 employees who have a “totally different perspective” of the company than they did just a few years ago.

What binds Neri’s work on culture to every CIO or IT leader reading this blog is the environment we all find ourselves in today. We are all competing in an era of fast-paced change, disruptive technologies, managing super smart next-gen workers and their career expectations, a tech skills shortage and a low-unemployment rate.

Everyone is struggling to fill open positions, so culture matters. As a result, things are not that much different for Neri or the average midmarket CIO. Both understand that the right talent in the right culture can make a big difference in driving sales growth, reaching new markets or reducing costs.

Still, there are many other factors at work when it comes to getting culture right. Leaders tell us they are focused on inclusion and diversity as a culture driver. And rightly so given the empirical evidence that diversified teams produce better results.

I have been thinking about Neri and Melkote’s culture comments quite a bit lately and how they relate to today’s midmarket IT leader. Here are few things to consider. Some may be obvious, but worth revisiting. Others may be eye-opening.

  1. The IT department’s culture must move from a tech-centric to one focused on business results. What’s your plan to transform your department culture?
  2. Do you really understand the company culture? To do so means spending time with business leaders along with employees outside of IT. How much time are you spending with non-IT employees?
  3. Make sure your CEO articulates the company culture to the IT department. If the CEO isn’t focused on culture, when they are asked to discuss it with your team, they will be forced to think it through.
  4. Understand how culture impacts performance. There is a great deal of commentary today backed by research that finds diverse culture produces better results. Look at how diversity and inclusion can play a bigger role in your IT department’s performance.
  5. Don’t fake culture. If you pay it lip service, then you will have the same old results. If you take it seriously and engage with your employees about the type of culture that they want, things just might change for the positive.
  6. Keep in mind that company cultures are rapidly evolving. Companies that once defined themselves as a sales culture or engineering culture for years are finding their cultures are changing more rapidly than ever. It is no longer a static state.

Finally, John Regula, SVP and CIO of the Woods Organization, had this to say about culture. “Business needs to recognize the value a positive, mindful, organizational culture plays in building client relationships and internal effective and efficient teams. Do the right thing and for the right reason. Success will follow. At Woods, our culture is great. It is what called me to join Woods a year ago. It is positively evolving. It is so important that we have recently added a chief culture officer and appropriate teams to continue further support our mission.”