The COVID-19 pandemic and other social, economic and political crises have revealed the limitations of many traditional leadership and measurement techniques, including those that CIOs use.
For example, many enterprises that are returning to on-site work or are no longer offering the option of hybrid or remote work are struggling to retain and recruit in an increasingly tight talent market. Often, these enterprises are attempting to revert to the traditional management relationship. But that isn't working, and business and technology leaders need a new leadership playbook.
In order to excel, CIOs in particular -- many of whom have been long accustomed to such traditional management relationships -- need to shift their mindset and their measurement techniques for the hybrid future of work. Outcome-based and real-time metrics are increasingly important, while health and wellness metrics have taken on a new meaning.
Here are four ways IT leaders can adjust their metrics for the new workplace.
1. Focus on outcomes
During the height of the pandemic, many Gartner clients asked how to assess remote workers -- and some organizations even started using employee monitoring software to do so. Yet, at its best, remote monitoring only tracks activity -- not business outcomes. At its worst, this type of tracking can appear intrusive to employees, while also supporting an outdated version of leadership and management that mistakes activity and time online for meaningful outcomes.
Instead, IT leaders should create new metrics for employees that directly connect with enterprise performance objectives, rather than simply tracking activity. All metrics should be cascaded down from those that are used to measure senior enterprise executives. For example, maybe the board has set objectives for the CIO to reach a certain revenue growth goal and achieve a customer satisfaction rating of some predetermined percentage. Then, the CIO should set objectives for the next IT management layers that reflect those standards.
2. Challenge assumptions and scale leadership
When the pandemic hit, many executives discovered how older paradigms are holding back reinvention. For example, prior to the pandemic, a major fast-food chain had been focusing their efforts on promoting the in-store customer experience, having assumed that a significant store footprint was important to their customers. But, upon examining the data, the company realized that most of its orders pre-pandemic were for takeout. This led them to close hundreds of locations and instead create stores with a smaller footprint designed primarily for pickup and takeout.
By challenging a longstanding assumption using data, the company was able to not only reduce costs, but also provide a better experience to meet changing customer needs.
In tandem with the rest of the C-suite, CIOs should study existing enterprise data with a fresh perspective and consider whether the enterprise has previously had blind spots based on assumptions.
In a disrupted, virtual world, data also becomes more important than traditional management experience. Analytics enables management to track the success of both business processes and personal performance -- the combination of which leads to the best desired outcomes. Rather than relying on traditional hierarchical organizational structures based on experience alone, IT leaders should consider using performance management analytics as a portal and platform to scale leadership.
3. Track enterprise wellness
One of the greatest inhibitors to remote work has been the false notion that working at home leads to less work and lower productivity. Enterprise leaders are learning that remote workers often work more than they did in the office setting. While this may seem like a productivity win, it can also be a symptom of employee stress related to disruption, which can lead to worker burnout. Additionally, mission-critical IT employees who have continued to go to their traditional job sites or who are in the process of returning, such as data center managers or IT service desk technicians, are also experiencing their own stresses.
To manage these challenges, CIOs should focus on employee wellness. Encourage IT managers to monitor and measure their team's morale to ensure that employees are positively engaged, rather than simply completing tasks. Creatively use activity and incident metrics as lead indicators of employee potential burnout, and make workplace adjustments as needed.
For example, one CIO put this into action by using activity tracking to identify employees who were working excessive numbers of hours. He then counseled them to shut down earlier, while examining the distribution of workload and staffing levels and adjusting them accordingly. It's important that leaders shift the metrics lens from problem areas to indicators of wellness risks and find opportunities to proactively manage potential points of stress.
4. Design for resilience
Many enterprises are designed primarily to maximize margins, meaning they are heavily focused on efficiency. Others are focused on innovation and entering new markets, leading to complex organizational structures. Both efficient and complex enterprises can be inflexible and brittle, which leads to a lack of resilience during times of disruption.
IT leaders must refocus their enterprise metrics on both resiliency and efficiency to determine how to best engineer flexibility and durability among their teams for future periods of crisis. Consider questions that can help measure resilience:
- Where are our single points of failure in supply chain, staffing and distribution?
- What are our key business vulnerabilities, both competitively and from an ecosystem perspective?
- How many options do we have to keep our operations going in a crisis, and how easily can we switch from one option to the next?
Review leadership metrics and investments, retaining or adding those that support a resilient enterprise. Track key points of vulnerability and single points of failure, and measure progress toward removing enterprise fragility and creating resiliency. It's also important to reward enterprise leaders for long-term resiliency, rather than simple cost cutting.
Enterprise metrics take on a new level of importance during times of crisis. By reframing and adjusting metrics to prioritize flexibility, resilience and wellness, IT leaders can position their organization to weather the storm of ongoing disruption that will continue to impact businesses for years to come.
About the author
Tina Nunno is a distinguished research vice president and fellow at Gartner. Her research focuses on helping executives understand and deal with organizational politics and conflict management, both strategically and pragmatically. See additional analysis on trends of importance to CIOs and IT leaders as part of Gartner IT Symposium/Xpo 2021.