“Control your own destiny, or someone else will,” said Jack Welch, the iconic CEO of conglomerate GE. Welch was referring to the destiny of companies, but Welch’s words have more meaning today than ever, because unlike during Welch’s impressive tenure at GE, every individual has the ability to control their destiny. As a result, a business leader has to be very aware of how empowered their team members are.
In the early years of all our careers being with the right organisation, securing the right title, progressing to new responsibilities were vital steps. The map that shaped our careers has been torn apart, there is no linear route from programmer, the head of Development, PMO and onwards to management. Because, unlike the career paths we followed, today an individual can step outside of the organisation and form their own business and learn everything they would have done on that linear career path, and much much more.
Digital technology is changing the shape of technology in not only our organisations, but also society. In the CIO community we debate a great deal about how the current wave of technologies is enabling the CIO and their team to move away from being a necessary cost centre to a revenue enabler.
That same empowerment exists not only for you as the CIO and your department, but every member of your organisation is empowered to harness that technology and reshape their career.
As business leaders this poses a new challenge. An empowered workforce can no longer be used as commodities to be burnt, shaped or shifted at the will of an organisation desperate to meet a target. Today every member of the team has to be seen as an asset and treated with the same nurturing respect and care as that asset we all worry about daily – the family home. We all know that if you neglect your house, if you treat it merely as a commodity it will quickly fall into disrepair and costs will radically shoot up. We care for and tend our homes as we would a much loved plant, pet or family member.
That team you are responsible for has the same needs. As the nation struggles to understand and debate freedom of movement, we must understand that in our organisations there is total freedom of movement, created by the digital technologies we are integrating to keep pace with rivals.
If an organisation believes it can ignore poor performing teams, if a CEO looks at a team member and believes that can shift them to a different role with no consultation and transparency, if as a team leader we tell key staff one thing and believe or act in another way, then do not be surprised if you see valued members of the team leave. And do not be surprised if those key team members arrive at the door of a rival, who is then empowered with the good ideas and a new willing to blow your bloody doors off. Or do not be surprised to see a former team create a startup that takes a valuable 2% off you. At first 2% may not make a difference, but over time it does and all along the savings you make are festering a further disrespect for your poor leadership.
So when Welch says “control your own destiny”, your destiny is tightly bound to the happiness, abilities, ambitions and destiny of those you are leading. Forget their destiny and your horizon will narrow and as Welch says, “someone else will” take control and they may not appreciate your personal needs.
Welch’s words were brought to mind by former CIO John Thorp in his new and well worth reading book Three Funerals and a Wedding. Thorp gives a wonderful insight into four business he led technology and change in and his insights are valuable for all of us business.