3 leadership commandments for building a high-performance IT team

Softtek's US retail vertical recently hosted a virtual roundtable on the topic of leadership led by Andy Laudato, EVP and COO of The Vitamin Shoppe and author of Fostering Innovation: How to Build an Amazing IT TeamThe Vitamin Shoppe is a US-based retailer of nutritional supplements employing more than 3,500 associates across 30 states.

The roundtable of US retail executives discussed insights from Andy's book and lessons learned from years of leadership. Here are some highlights from the session, which we'll call Andy's "three leadership commandments" for building a high-performance IT team. 

Be a people-first leader

“Companies don't innovate, people do,” Andy says, quoting Tim Cook. “You’ve got to foster the right environment, for the right people, so great ideas can flow freely.” Leading people-first requires a daily commitment to listening and discovering what motivates the people on your team. Ask your employees what they want from their careers, then adapt your leadership style to align with their goals.

People-first leaders are well-positioned to put people in the right place so they can succeed. They’re quick to recognize that perhaps the right candidate for the job already exists inside the company. By listening, supporting internal mobility, and creating meaningful work on an individual level, IT organizations set themselves up for higher employee performance levels, better retention, and faster time to market.

Give fair and timely feedback

In Andy’s comical words worth sharing again here, “You wouldn’t yell at your dog during the annual performance review for going to the bathroom on the floor. You must tell your dog immediately… it’s the same with people.” Giving instant feedback is easier and more effective, and the benefits are twofold. Either the team member will strive to be better the next day, or they’ll continue to demonstrate why they shouldn’t be on the team.

However, giving fair and timely feedback isn’t always possible. As a leader manages their own workload, they can’t be everywhere at once and may not notice areas of opportunity with their team members. To combat this, Andy suggests having "a real open-door policy,” doubling down on the effort to make feedback available early and often. Enabling anybody on the extended team to meet with you may involve keeping the lines of communication open during odd hours, but is a worthwhile sacrifice, especially in an industry notorious for high turnover, competition for talent, and rigorous performance requirements.

Be a diode

Diodes allow electricity to flow in one direction but block it in the other direction. “As a leader, any compliments should flow through you to your team. Any complaints, or things that go wrong, stop with you.” Leaders that are diodes give all the praise and take all the blame.

CIOs and CTOs that embrace diode leadership hold themselves accountable for any failures within the IT organization. They seek to uncover the systemic issues holding teams back and set the foundations for success by implementing better core platforms and shared services, setting performance standards, managing the workforce, reimagining operational processes, and removing barriers. This executive leadership style allows positive change to spread throughout the IT organization, constantly improving how teams and projects thrive through culture, processes, and tools.

Conclusion

“Innovation can only happen in a safe environment. You need to reward, not punish, risk-taking,” Andy says. According to a Harvard Business survey, nearly half of the respondents stated their superiors’ reaction to trying a new idea or taking a risk would be “unpredictable,” leading many teams to simply avoid it. Technology leaders must nurture a culture of risk-taking, giving the green light to any innovative idea with a business case worth pursuing. According to Andy, “Everybody’s willing to pay a lot of money for education, and a failed project is education. If you think about it like an investment in knowledge, maybe that's how we can get people to say, ‘yeah—there's our ROI.’”

For more lessons and tips like this, visit www.andrewlaudato.com to buy Fostering Innovation: How to Build an Amazing IT Team.

 

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