Earlier this week I talked about the value for coordination if you practice your systems savvy explicitly. Explicit systems savvy practice means that you help others clearly see that you are considering your technology and organizational options, and working to weave them together for the best organizational effect. Here we will see the value of being explicit from the perspective of helping others learn from your example. Rhonda Winter, CIO of Indianapolis Motor Speedway shares her experience. Explicit use of systems savvy is better than tacit use in that others can learn from your example.
I had seen a story about Rhonda becoming the first CIO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Indy 500, Brickyard 400). In that story she said, “The key to a good mentor is one who reveals thinking process -- someone who thinks out loud" and “Thinking out loud goes both ways...” She noted that the mentoring relationship is illuminating for both parties; her mentees often teach her in turn by reacting to her positions from new perspectives. I knew she would have a great perspective on the explicit use of systems savvy and was thrilled when she agreed to speak with me. I asked Rhonda how she came to see the value of thinking out loud. Her development of this approach showed systems savvy from the earliest days of her career.
I was managing by the time I was 26. Most other folks were older and more traditional. If you say, "can you think out loud with me" then even the most bashful will enter the conversation. We may not make the decisions that day, but we get the conversation started. [Thinking out loud is a] great teaching tool, helps make clear that it's ok to make a mistake - creates an environment where you can play with the ideas out loud; first idea may not be best, but it's the conversation starter.
As Rhonda told me how she used this approach across a variety of industries I realized depth of her systems savvy. Like many people with this capability she has a breadth of experience (including teaching) that has helped her develop and test her ideas. She started her career at a GM plant doing internal audits after graduating from GM Institute with a degree in industrial administration. Her next career move gave her the chance to see business practice in fast forward:
My plant sold and I went to an entrepreneurial company [greeting cards]. No matter what business you're in, technology makes a difference. Technology is really woven into the tapestry of our lives and the implementation of technology can impact the bottom line directly. At GM it was more parochial. I wouldn't know if we made a good decision for 18 months. [At the] young entrepreneurial firm we found we could grow at 20% a year withtout adding people. The people who were there didn't know we couldn't keep up that level of growth. We didn't have the constraint of how things had always been. We could be scaleable and we as individuals were growing professionally as we took on more responsibility, but not transactions.
This growth was the result of an explicit effort to weave the mentioned tapestry -- to clearly use the technology take on organizational effort so the people could continue to grow, be creative, and push the young organization ahead:
[We] had to get the transactions out of the control of the people so they could think. We weren't bound by a box.... Whatever you can think, you can make it happen with the technology.... If you can design a buisness process there is a set of technology tools to automate that process so you can think of the next entrepreneurial act. When you are involved in routine, you take away the intelligence of the people.
Rhonda Winter's examples show that a systems savvy approach to management is one where you use technology tools and organizational practice, together, to build the best business practice. This isn't technology for technology's sake or technology to dumb down the jobs. This is the explicit, combined use of technology and organizational practice to do great things. Next up, finding opportunities to practice your systems savvy. Comments below on examples of either low hanging fruit or biggest levers?