We recently spoke with Jill Dyché, an internationally recognized author, speaker and business consultant. Jill was partner and co-founder of Baseline Consulting, the premier provider of specialty consulting for business analytics, data governance, and Business Improvement program management for executives at many Fortune 500 companies.
Her latest book—The New IT: How Technology Leaders are Enabling Business Strategy in the Digital Age—offers fresh frameworks for transforming enterprise IT organizations. It also features case studies of executive change agents across the technology and business divide, all profiled in Jill’s irreverent voice.
Her contagious sense of humor is an excellent reminder for anyone on the front lines of change to invite fun and laughter into what can sometimes be a daunting process.
How long have you been working as a change leader?
JD: I’ve always said there’s a fine line between change leader and rebel, in which case I’ve been a change leader nearly all my life. (Laughs.) Seriously I think that leading change is about providing an example of what change looks like. When I work with our customers, I steer clear of discussing change as a process—I’ve found that every company’s change process is different. Instead I focus on what change looks like. I give examples of what successful companies have done to cultivate change, what my team and I have done, and hope that it sparks some new ideas.
What are a few things you know now you wish you knew when you were starting out in your career?
JD: I wish I knew not to sweat the small stuff.
I wish I knew that I didn’t have to participate in anyone’s drama.
I wish I’d really gotten that I’d not only have multiple jobs, but multiple careers. It would have taken the pressure off.
I wish someone had told me that my success and credibility with my colleagues would have very little to do with what I said and everything to do with what I delivered.
How do you handle failure in your career?
JD: Women friends in my industry help. You need someone to commiserate with. And if there’s wine, then that’s even better.
But seriously, I think there are daily “learning moments” and failing at something is an opportunity to take stock. What role did I play in the failure? And are the types of people I’m choosing to surround myself with supporting or sabotaging? If I’d behaved differently, would the outcome have mattered? On that last point I’ve always liked the quote, “If it doesn’t matter in 5 years, then it doesn’t matter.” I think Cher said it. But it’s actually really profound!
What are some of your greatest accomplishments?
JD: I’ve written four books. One of them, The New IT: How Business Leaders Enable Strategy in the Digital Age (McGraw-Hill, 2015) just made the Top 5 list in “Best Business Books for IT Leaders” list, which was gravy. My work has been featured in an array of media, from Harvard Business Review to Bitch Magazine (yeah, I know, but the article was super-popular, and I’ve kept some of the emails!). I’ve rescued hundreds of dogs who were at-risk for euthanasia at public animal shelters. I’ve lived all over the world. And I have an amazing posse of friends. They know what kind of wine I like.
What skills are needed for successful change leaders?
JD: Perseverance, for one. It’s not enough to describe change, or to have a meeting about it. Change should be systemic, and for that you have to repeat behaviors and continue to bang the drum. Patience is also crucial. You might have to answer the same “Why?” question a hundred times. But eventually people will start to use your vocabulary themselves. That’s when you know you’ve turned the corner and that change is starting to stick. And humor is a definite advantage.
What should we be teaching college students interested in IT?
JD: These days the standard answer to that question is “storytelling.” It’s true. Being able to tell a story is more than just relaying a personal anecdote—it’s about metaphor. That entire Joseph Campbell hero’s journey thing is very useful in business. I think it should be required reading. And then follow up with The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field, and throw in some Robert McKee. It’s all about people relating business issues to their own lives. It sounds lofty, but it works.
The other thing I’d teach college students is how to write. Believe me, I’m a huge believer in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education. But I also think there’s an important place for a liberal arts education. I ask every single person I’ve ever interviewed to give me at least one writing sample, regardless of the job they want. I can teach you how to create a Baysian predictive model. (Actually I can’t, but there are plenty of people who can.) What I can’t do is teach you how to be coherent with the written word. That requires critical thinking and some verbal prowess. You either get that by the time you hit your twenties, or you’ll never have it.
What are some of the biggest barriers to change and innovation in an organization?
JD: The biggest barrier is leadership without vision. If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got. (I think I learned that in Weight Watchers.) Show me a leader who is risk-averse, and I’ll show you a company that’s losing market share. Show me a leader who’s not willing to invest in change—literally, with money, and figuratively with his or her time—and I’ll show you a company that’s not inventing anything new.
Here’s a story. When I had my consulting business we landed an engagement with a major automobile company. The Vice President who hired us said, “I need you and your team to tell me what I have to fix, and how I should fix it. But,” he added, “don’t touch my organization.”
Huh? He wanted to drive change, but he didn’t want to dive into the often-muddy waters of organizational restructuring, new job roles, newly-agile delivery processes, or difficult conversations with under-performers. He wanted a checklist so he could tick-off the boxes and call it a day. I tried coaching him to at least let us make some recommendations. I even offered to “Let me be ‘the bad guy.’” But he didn’t want to stretch that far. So he got a roadmap and he tried to deliver against it. But the people were the wrong people, and the rules of engagement between teams were broken. We knew how to fix both of these problems, but our client wouldn’t let us. He wasn’t willing to risk that much.
What is the New IT?
JD: The New IT depends very much on the Old IT. In other words, leaders need to figure out where they are and who they want to be. Understanding that gap informs the new IT. And that gap varies according to the company’s industry, its breadth, its internal structures, and its incumbent culture. Every company is different.
Having said that, there is a general trend toward IT as less of a centralized organization and more of a marketplace. This means that business units will use IT less as technology owners and more for technology procurement and maintenance. IT becomes the broker on behalf of the company to its outside vendors and partners. It’s a scale-able model that has a lot of value.
What does meaningful collaboration look like when balancing corporate strategy and IT strategy?
JD: This struck me as a trick question at first, but it actually has a pretty straightforward answer. Collaboration means making sure that corporate strategy DRIVES IT strategy. In other words, corporate strategy is broken down into a series of initiatives which are typically enabled with technology. It’s not a balancing act so much as it’s a pitcher-catcher relationship. The trick is absolute clarity around where the company wants to go so that IT can help it get there.
This usually involves a few key leaders collaborating then sharing their work with others. They sit down together, roll up their sleeves, and jointly determine what success looks like. And yes, this might even involve wine.
Speaking of wine, what's your favorite?
JD: It depends on the time of day…and the season….and my mood….and who I’m drinking wine with! Right now I'm sampling a really nice Carmenere from Chile.