Last week we discussed the role values play in your decisions. Your values move beyond your personal choices and are naturally applied in your professional position. I will use my own story to bring living values to life.
Let me begin….
One of the most impactful experiences of my career was working under Dean Seavers when he was the President of Simplex Grinnell, a wholly owned division of Tyco International, in the early 2000s. Dean took on our division at a trying time in Tyco’s history, immediately after the Dennis Kozlowski debacle. The “debacle” became my secret code word for referring to the arrest and the impact it caused the 250,000 Tyco employees, countless customers, and investors.
Before the debacle and Dean, I was out of integrity with my values. I was very conflicted due to loyalty to my manager, and my team. My direct manager was a man of high integrity, and I loved the commitment my team had to the company, their job, and me. It was the company itself I was struggling with.
Without getting into the dirt of it all, the culture of the division and the company was in a bad state. It was toxic. Simplex was a staid, low–risk, high integrity organization mashed by Tyco with Grinnell, an organization willing to take very high risks, push aside principles, close their eyes to impropriety and ignore boundaries for the sake of EBIT. The “Bring me the money” culture came down from Tyco International itself. I could not see how I could influence a change in culture, but I could see my executive manager trying with very little positive change occurring. Then the debacle happened.
To give you a little background, I was initially hired as the head of IT Infrastructure in late 2001. I jumped into this role with blind trust and without due diligence. It took me less than a week before I was questioning my decision. The Head of Applications, Jim, and I were tasked with integrating the two companies. We did not have a CIO, and they did not see the need for one. Jim and I agreed. Our executive manger expected us to act as a joint leadership team.
At first, it seemed like an impossible expectation. Our styles couldn’t have been more different. Our approach was often the root of clashes that we struggled to hide from our employees. In other words, we sucked in our leadership behaviors at the time. Fortunately, we discovered common values in our caring for the organization and our teams; and got our act together before permanent damage was done.
From then on, it was us against the district offices, who fought us in our mandate to rationalize infrastructure and application technology platforms. Looking back, I have to laugh. Jim and I would purposefully trade off playing the good cop/bad cop to get something done. It was not laughable at the time. Jim and I were under tremendous pressure.
Along the way, Jim experienced a severe life–threatening health issue. After his recovery, he asked for my help in facilitating his move into a less stressful, but still impactful role. My caring and concern for Jim far outweighed the personal impact his request would make on me. Together, we formulated a proposal for backfilling Jim along with a graceful transition plan. We took our proposal to Bob for his approval. He surprised us by saying he would have to think about it. Jim and I were stunned as we had grown used to Bob trusting our joint judgment.
The next day my executive manager asked to see me. He told me that he had given our proposal consideration and had discussed it with the President, but they wanted to take it in another direction. He would approve Jim to move to the new role, but the company would not backfill him in the current capacity. It was time to add a CIO to our executive team and he offered me the position. I quickly and politely declined. You see at that time I was a relatively recent widow of a CIO. I already knew how hard the role of the CIO would be. My reaction was to debate their decision to add a CIO.
My executive manager immediately let me know that the decision to bring on a CIO had been made. It would either be me or someone from the outside. For emphasis he added that, if I didn’t take the role, my influence would be with the new CIO, not him. I could have taken that as a threat, but I took it as a fair warning. He asked me to go home and think about it. I thought about it all night. I arose in the morning convinced about my decision, and apprehension knows that introducing a new factor into the mix was not the right answer from my team or the organization.
Yes, I took the job, with what may seem like an unusual request. I asked to continue to report to Bob. My respect for the current division president and several of the executive team members was low. As a new CIO, I knew I needed Bob to act as a filter if not downright protection. Thus, my career took on a new turn as a CIO in a tumultuous company.
As I knew it would be – it was a tough job made even tougher without Jim as my partner. I found myself nose to nose pushing consolidation, rationalization, and standardization with equally determined district managers. They had existed over a hundred years without standardization of practices and could not see the value in it now. Think about this – it was the early 2000’s. I was a woman, and I was in IT. I was relatively new to the company, with a new untested title, and with a contentious and disruptive rationalization mandate. To add to the struggle, the President was dictating cost reductions through rationalization at the same time the District Managers were claiming they were told to ignore the mandate if it meant impacting their numbers. In other words, they were given an excellent excuse to ignore me. It was damn hard. I was feeling kind of sorry for myself.
I needed a break and took one. I was on holiday in Europe, contemplating my future. One beautiful Sunday morning in June I picked up the newspaper outside my hotel door to see the headlines announcing Kozlowski’s arrest. OMG! I called back to the US to talk to Bob and the person I left in charge and I flew home a couple of days later.
Our world went from a summer thunderstorm to a whirling hurricane. Within a short period of time the then President departed (along with many others), and a new President came on board. He invited me to the table, and I gladly took a seat. I will share all my mistakes and lessons learned at another time. Right now, I want to focus on Dean and the contrasting cultural impact he brought with him.
There was no denying there was a new Sheriff in town. Dean Seavers was a man of integrity who informed us of his expectations early on, including intolerances, and what would happen if boundaries were breached. We were given a chance to be on a full–fledged team working towards common goals. I truly learned what it meant to sit at the table, along with the responsibilities.
Dean was fair man who unapologetically made critical changes in the leadership team for those unable to get in the game. He stood by his principles. He openly engaged us in planning and owning the success of our organization and objectives.
He was also humble and caring. One morning I was scheduled for an early 1:1 with him and saw him walking away from his office. I called after him, “Hey, you are going in the wrong direction.” He called back to say that he was going for coffee and to join him. I scurried down the hall to catch up with him, enjoying our casual banter on the way to the break room. In the break room he pours three cups of coffee, hands me one, and is carrying two – one with cream and sugar packets on top. At first, I was thinking, “Geez, he must need coffee this morning.”
Before I could tease him, he stops at one of the accounting clerk‘s cubicles, steps in, and sets down the coffee with the cream and sugars on her desk. He said something to the order of: “Hey I saw you struggling with the coffee pot this morning. That is no way to start your day. Here is your coffee, not sure how you take it, so I brought cream and sugar.” He not only took the time to bring her coffee, but he put the coffee on to brew as well. He made a difference to the clerk that day and to me. Trust the whole office heard about her experience before the day was done.
I learned so much from him, and you can trust my values grew in the right way. My biggest career regret was resigning while he was still at the helm. He accepted my resignation with both of us in silent tears. I did not leave him or the company, I went to realize a bucket list job dream. He is only one of two former managers I would ever consider working for again. That is saying a lot – I don’t believe in regrets or in following you’re a boss around.
The moral of the story is – culture starts with the leadership – not the board, not the customers, not the market, and not the economic climate. It is the leadership, starting from the top. As a leader, you are accountable for the organization‘s culture. Culture is grounded in the values of the top leader as instilled in the organization, along with their behaviors. Changing culture requires each leader walking the talk with authenticity, starting from the top.
We will continue our discussion next week by looking at building your communication strategy.
Until next week!
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