Ben Wilson: [00:00:00] Mark Settle has a rather unique background. Becoming a CIO is an incredible career achievement for anyone. It’s often the end result of decades of work. So it’s pretty remarkable that Mark has been a CIO seven times. He’s worked at big companies, small companies and everything in between. Mark understands better than most that being a CIO of a large organization is different from being the CIO of a smaller one. So just how is managing the employee experience different when you reach that cruising altitude of 30,000 employees or above?
Mark Settle: [00:00:33] So I’d say there’s, so there’s two dimensions there. So one is pretty obvious. I think it becomes, um, obviously progressively harder to deliver a really kind of personalized customer interaction. Right. With one of the staff members or employees in the company. The farther you get away from, you know, the real working, operating arms of the company, and you sit off on the side and try to deliver service. It just becomes increasingly difficult to maintain that personalization. And then I think the other problem you have is, is signal to noise problems. And so one of the ways to deliver great service is to proactively go out and look for problems. And the bigger the organization, you know, but with the wider, the noise aperture that’s out there um becomes again, progressively harder just with the size of the organization
Ben Wilson: [00:01:25] Welcome to Cruising Altitude, a podcast about employee experience lessons from leaders at companies with over 30,000 employees. When you’re managing 30,000 employees, things look a little different, just like reaching cruising altitude at 30,000 feet. On this podcast, we bring you insights from the leaders who inhabit that rarefied air. On this episode, we are joined by Mark Settle, a seven time CIO for companies like Okta, Arrow Electronics, and Visa. Mark is also the author of Truth from the Valley a practical primer on IT management for the next decade. On this episode, he talks about how to build a great employee experience, how to improve employee onboarding, how the role of the CIO needs to change in the coming years, and much more. But first, a word from our sponsor. This episode of Cruising Altitude is brought to you by SocialChorus. SocialChorus is the creator of FirstUp, the platform that makes the digital employee experience work for every worker. FirstUp brings personalized information and systems access to every employee, everywhere. No matter whether they’re wired, distributed, or on the front line. That’s how we help Amazon, AB InBev, GSK, and many others stay agile and keep transforming, learn more at firstup.io. In all that complexity that comes with being a big time CIO, it’s easy for the employee experience to get lost. But according to Mark, enabling your employees to do their best work is a core function of the CIO.
Mark Settle: [00:02:54] Well, you’re always going to have, uh, you can also be hyper focused on productivity tools that people have. You know, you’re sorta like the quartermaster, you know, you’re the technology quartermaster for the army, and you’re just trying to give everybody the kit that they need, both at a generic level, hopefully we’re all going to be on one email system in the company, and then a kind of a more functional level that’s responsive to the needs of individual departments or work teams or things of that nature. And so in the larger organization, that’s just a bigger set of demands on you and the kind of problems you run into is to try to introduce change in a way that doesn’t inadvertently, you know, impact others adversely. And Kathy Southwick who’s the CIO over at Pure Storage, she, she used to work for AT&T and now she works for a smaller company. And when I asked her a couple of months ago about like, what’s the difference about, you know, making IT changes at Pure Storage? She said, well, at AT&T the blast radius was much larger. Right? So, so I could just do something that was relatively small. You know, maybe I was going to roll out some kind of a patch to the laptop operating system or introduce an upgrade for some kind of productivity tool. You know how all the different employees, I think they have a quarter of the employees of AT&T, anticipating every possible side and aftereffect of making a change like that becomes effectively impossible. So, you know, you do some testing and then you flip the switch and then you kind of hold your breath and then you start to look at what’s happening at the service desk and what kind of complaints and issues are being reported. So let’s Institute that blast radius concept. That’s what you have to manage as the company becomes progressively larger and, and geographically dispersed. So it’s not just a question of total number of FTEs. But the greater their dispersion, different time zones, frankly, different cultures as well, the way they react to different things, um, that, that can all have a big impact on the effectiveness of the things that you’re trying to implement.
Ben Wilson: [00:04:55] Of course, all this is easier said than done. So let’s dig into how Mark actually did it when he was CIO. Let’s move into our first segment, the flight plan. Mark told us why the CIO needs to be involved in the employee experience in the first place.
Mark Settle: [00:05:16] Everybody is using IT in one fashion or another to get their work done. I mean, it’s, you could be delivering milk on doorsteps and inevitably your delivery schedule and stocking of the truck, and everything has all been planned. And you’re going about your day using some type of set of it resources. And so, you know, they’re just pervasive and they’re going to be part of everybody’s employee experience. They can, they are always IT capabilities and satisfaction with IT. I think as a universally included all employee engagement surveys that I’ve ever been exposed to. And so that’s a pervasive capability that can influence employees. However, I want to show some humility here as well. There are many other aspects, obviously, around pay and benefits, commuting times, satisfaction with your boss, the relationship with coworkers. And probably 12 other things I’m forgetting that can have a major impact on your productivity and the perceptions you have about the work environment and workplace and your willingness to promote or recommend employment there to your friends. And so I, I would challenge people, you know, you could have a Nirvana type set of IT enabled experiences, but if the company doesn’t meet your expectations in some of those other dimensions, you’re going to be very unhappy employee.
Ben Wilson: [00:06:35] To make things even more difficult for IT, more and more employee experiences are moving to the digital realm. According to Mark, creating a great digital experience is about more than making sure people have the right software. It’s about making sure they have easy access to the right information.
Mark Settle: [00:06:52] So there’s a couple of dimensions. If I, you know, have a, a complete white board here, because when that question comes up, you can say, there are forums that I participate in. Most IT folks go right to their comfort zone and talk about the operation of the support desk that people call into. And can we automate some things there in terms of a request to manage them? Possibly. Can we open up a concierge walk up desks, that’s more convenient for people to drop off laptops on their way to the cafeteria and get some things fixed in that regard? But. I think if you free yourself from just, you know, the mechanics of the way IT was offered in the past, you know, two of the dimensions I would consider are first information discovery, like everybody in the world, who you spend a lot of time at work, trying to find the information that you feel you need to be able to get your job done. And gee, I can remember several years ago, I think we introduced the search engine and one of my prior companies that was probably one of most popular things that we did because it really helped to index a lot of the information that we have in a SharePoint repository and made it more accessible to employees. So that’s kind of a big win. That’s probably not the right technology solution today, but anything you can do, you know, to provide insight and availability and discoverability of information at the right time. So get away from the principle of being able to discover everything anywhere, whenever I want, and really kind of think about critical points of engagement when certain information needs or data needs are critical, are paramount to getting a job done. So that’s one information discovery. And the other is, um, automation. And so a lot of times automation gets talked about these days in terms of business process. So let’s go find a way we’re processing warranty claims in the back office, or we’re following up on leads in the front office, et cetera. And that’s all important. But as far as employee experience, some of these tools, which can now be employed with a pretty easy to use graphical interface that would enable individual employees. To identify what they consider to be the repetitive, busy work that they’re forced to perform every day and find ways of automating that away. I think that can go a long way towards reducing maybe stress, allowing people to focus more on higher value kind of things that they want to do, and just, you know, equipping them to defend themselves against the interrupt driven world in which they find themselves today and the barrage of application of the collaboration tools that they have to manipulate just to get their jobs done. So. It’d be around information discovery and busywork automation. I think placing bets in those two dimensions could pay some big dividends.
Ben Wilson: [00:09:34] Of course, having frontline workers creates a different challenge entirely, increasingly they need to have a great digital employee experience, but there is always a physical component as well.
Mark Settle: [00:09:45] Frontline workers may be getting guidance about what to expect during the day or issues that have been reported on the last shift. There could be things happening in the background in terms of ensuring that, you know, right. The right inventory is on the manufacturing floor so that, you know, we can get through the next shift and keep our productivity right up. Um, you know, We’re going to go out and install solar panels today. So some application has got to come up with the optimum scheduling route and we’re going to make sure the raw materials get delivered for the places that we’re going to go to tomorrow and install the solar panels. And so again, I think the technology is pretty pervasive. It doesn’t necessarily have to be manipulated by hand by individual frontline workers, but there’s ways that it can be used to make their lives easier and basically more productive. And that’s kind of an interesting point. This is something I wondered about for a long time, it was really brought into focus by the COVID experience. You know, you can measure the productivity of frontline workers. They’re usually doing some kind of a transactional process divided by X period of time. So if they can, if the throughput of the transactional process by to by time goes up, then they can become more productive. Whether they’re checking you out in a grocery line, putting gas in your tank or building a car, whatever that takes. I would challenge you to get into the literature. And I spent some time on this. There really aren’t good measures of knowledge worker productivity, and just to kind of be controversial for a second. Some of the companies that have been springing up their claim, that they’re going to monitor how many gigabytes of data you moved into box? How many Slack messages you generated? How many minutes of Zoom time you’ve consumed? And call that like your productivity, because like you’re knocking it out of the park. Am I not? But guess what I’m doing real work. And you’re uploading cat images on Box and you’re planning, you know, a bar mitzvah for your nephew on the Zoom and the Slack messages you’re trying to sell stuff that your nephew makes for Christmas, you know, that’s what’s going on. So yeah. Exactly the girl scout cookies. So yeah, I find this to be a very dangerous trend that I’ve really seen articles started to pop up now. And I could point some fingers at some very well-known companies that are claiming that they’re going to conduct this kind of surveillance. In fact, this is kind of interesting, I think. Okay. I’ll do more to point fingers. You know I think Microsoft was going to provide some kind of feedback about how you use different collaboration and productivity tools within their suite, because they certainly can occupy, you know, you can use those over a significant portion of your workday. And they were going to report that back, I think, to both of the employee individually, and then the employee’s manager. And they’ve had to backpedal that a little bit, and I’ll say that employees can opt into some kind of a scoreboard or dashboard that tells them what they’re doing. And I think the managers can only see homogenized data of some type rather than like, you know, average data or whatever. So, but it’s all based on this premise that manipulation of the tools constitutes, you know, a measure of productivity, again, for knowledge workers, I think that is a very hard case to make.
Ben Wilson: [00:13:04] Mark has done a great job of talking about just how complex creating a great employee experience can be. So what does it look like when everything goes right? He told us on our next segment. First class
Mark told us the three practices that have been most helpful in creating a first-class employee experience in his career.
Mark Settle: [00:13:30] One thing I’ve done is in the past is I’ve taken the service desk and I’ve segmented it into kind of sub-teams that only take calls from specific functional groups. So for example, there would be one subset of the service desk. And this is you can do this more easily in a larger company, where it’s a pretty large operation. So you might have one sub team that does nothing, but take calls from the sales team. And you could have another one that does nothing, but take calls from the software engineering team. And then you might have another one that’s dedicated to finance and or HR. Either separately or combined and kind of a back office support team. And as you can, well imagine, the kind of problems that crop up, the sense of urgency that is attached to different kinds of problems. And the problem, if you have a homogenized desk, Is, you get three calls in three minutes there’s somebody in financing, the CFO needs this report and I need you to go do X, Y, or Z. Somebody in sales says I’ve got a customer meeting in an hour and I can’t get this demo up on my laptop. And then somebody in engineering says, I can’t get to the source code repository. Something’s wrong with my authentication or my authorization privileges. And I don’t mean to be too dismissive of this, but if you’re in the homogenized desk, And you worked there for a couple of weeks, it comes across as kind of like blahblahblahblahblah and you know, like I’ll get to it, okay? You not my list, don’t worry about it. But I think, like any other support organization, you start to identify with the values and objectives. You kind of become aligned and think like the sales guy and when you’re in the sales support team. So I think that’s one practice that I would highly recommend. Another practice that I’m I’m big on is explain IT’s mistakes to your customers. So all too often, when there are IT glitches that happen, and there will always be IT glitches that happen, there’s very little communication from IT about what went wrong, the degree to which they bear the responsibility for what went wrong, how the problem was fixed, the likelihood that it will occur again, and even if you limit some of that outbound communication, just to the executive team, you’ve done yourself a great service, right? Because if I’m the head of marketing and there was some kind of a outage, on the Marquetto platform, and that had some downstream side effects but the original problem in some of its downstream impact is all going to get reported to me in a completely disorganized fashion. And it’s going to sound like, wow. IT screwed up big time. Big time. You know it could all it could all stem from the fact that Marquetto did something, they had a heavy load. They’re trying to scale the app on their app service on AWS. AWS fell over and some shoelaces. We were all at the receiving end of that and then have these predictable downstream effects. But of course in most organizations, nobody talks you know, you’ll never hear that talked about or reported, right? And some common sense is involved. You’re not going to send out a directive after every problem, but man, there’s an awful lot of credibility that just gets lost through a complete lack of communication, right. With the consumers of your service. And so I think you can do stuff like that, that way. And the third thing, I’m a big proponent of, but I haven’t seen done well, even in organizations that I’ve managed in the past is when you really do have that personal interaction with one of the employees in the support capacity, you try to add value to that interaction. And what I mean by that is it’d be, um, you know, if they call in with a problem, pass along a tip tip, or a trick or a suggestion of some type, let’s say we have that segment of sales support team on the desk, and maybe you’ve heard about some really cool new app that tells you the distance to the nearest Starbucks or, uh, there’s a funny, um, YouTube primer from somebody who’s got a great reputation in the sales field with some advice about the things to do with a tough customer, et cetera, et cetera, just pass it along and say like, I can drop you this note, like you, I want to take a look at this YouTube thing. It’s really funny. I’m like, but the guy has some really important things to say. So that’s all I would suggest is just, if you want to be treated like a service person, you’ll act like a service person. I mean, it’s like, McDonald’s. Bring me your request, bring your problem. I’ll supply it you know, and then go away. And there’s somebody behind you in line. But if you’re going to be, you know, identified with their needs to try to be more of a member of the team, think were possible to add that kind of value. Now again, with the caveat is there’ll be some people that don’t want that at all. They just want their problem solved. They’re busy. Don’t like, what’s IT doing, telling me about this, this video? Like that’s not their job. Yeah. I’m sure you’ll get that reaction as well. But I think more often than not, people will at least respect your attempt to give them a little extra help.
Ben Wilson: [00:18:16] So how does an IT leader know whether any of this is actually working? All of these initiatives sound great, but how can someone know when an initiative is paying off? Mark told us how he thinks about measuring whether an experience is working and how to measure its ROI.
Mark Settle: [00:18:31] There’s no formula. Um, I mean, it’s a good question. There’s no way of quantifying it, and you’ve gotta be careful. You can’t just proclaim you’re doing a good job. Other people have to proclaim you’re doing a good job. So, you know, that’s where the ROI kind of, kind of really comes in. And so two metrics. These are very qualitative metrics that I’d suggest for anybody’s consideration. So one is the onboarding experience I was with a company. We developed this process, we call it zero day provisioning, ZDP. And I think if we got a feed of employees coming on board, I think it might’ve been like late Wednesday close of business Wednesday. Even if they were remote workers, we would have a complete kit for them at their home or in their new office location first thing, Monday morning. So they could process them and it was all pre-configured et cetera. And it took us a while to. Solve all of the friction points, you’re trying to set up the new employee, but once we had that humming, I’m telling you the kudos we got like probably, you know, probably like three out of every 10 or more new employees would explicitly comment on what a great onboarding experience was. It was better than anything they had ever experienced before. Yeah, I’m not kidding you. I got one of the biggest cash bonuses that year that I ever got in my entire life. And it was, it was based partly on that. So I think that that’s one qualitative metric. The other reason I would focus on onboarding, if you get off on the wrong foot from an IT credibility perspective, with a new employee, you’re already like leaning into a headwind to try to convince them that IT knows what it’s doing and it’s there to help. So onboarding is pretty. It’s pretty critical. And then the other critical barometer group is the executive assistants to the people in the C suite. And if they’re not happy with IT and they’re not getting the right level of support or they complain to their bosses and like anything else in human nature, the bosses can be getting 10 good stories. But if your assistant that you spend more time with than any other single person during the day, was complaining about the video conferencing setup for your pre-board prep call, et cetera then that negative feedback gets amplified. And again, undercuts the credibility of the IT organization. So they’re there, they’re canaries, you know, they’re like canaries in the coal mine. You want to make sure they’re still singing your praises.
Ben Wilson: [00:20:55] Many of these issues come to the forefront, right when a new employee starts. Onboarding is one of the greatest challenges for creating an employee experience. And onboarding can be particularly challenging when it comes to frontline, non technology workers.
Mark Settle: [00:21:09] So it’d be whatever you would basically standardized or whatever the tools were that were appropriate for different people’s jobs. You know, maybe they didn’t need a laptop. Maybe they could operate with solely with a smartphone a company provided smartphone um maybe they were working off of like kiosks on a factory floor or whatever. So, um, they just have to have log-in credentials. Et cetera. So it was, you know, you that’s, what you would do is you would develop this kind of menu of requirements and the reason that’s so hard, I mean, well, just to your point, like why can’t that get done properly? And the reason is there’s no one department that really owns the problem. Right? So HR is involved. Facilities is involved if they have a desk to go to. IT is involved and there’s like two or three other people, organizations that are involved. So all this information about the new employee kind of sloshes around, and there are handoffs that occur and responsibilities to make sure that they’re ready to sit down and be productive. So it’s really instructive to get in front of a whiteboard and really start to map out that process with all departments present. You’ll find out pretty soon where some of the ball dropping is going on.
Ben Wilson: [00:22:19] We all aspire for a first-class employee experience, but things don’t always quite work out that way. Sometimes things can get bumpy. So let’s move into our next segment, turbulence. This is where we talk about how employee experience can go wrong. Mark is a phenomenal IT leader who creates great employee experiences. But that doesn’t mean everything went perfectly all the time in his career.
Mark Settle: [00:22:48] Every organization of any size whatsoever has some kind of an IT support desk for the employees to use. And what may not be immediately apparent is that in a larger company, they have different types of expertise. So basically there are sub-teams behind the service desk. Some people know a lot about Microsoft applications. Somebody else knows about the security apps that are on your smartphone. Somebody else knows about networking and wifi connections, et cetera. So when a ticket comes in, a request or an issue gets reported, whether it’s done, you know, like when you type in a ticket and you shoot it off, or you do it in a Slack message and it shows up or you call in and leave a voicemail message. Whatever channel is used, almost universally, IT needs to convert that into a ticket. So it can go into it’s ticketing process and the sub teams can start passing tickets around among themselves. So some somebody will say, well, that’s not my problem. That really needs to go to the B team because they have that expertise. So the B team looks at it and goes, I don’t know about that. And so it’s, what’s kind of funny is you go through this very fine subdivision of technical expertise with the, of the aspirational goal of resolving things faster. But if you create too many finer divisions in this, what happens, there’s a lot of ticket passing that goes around like ticket circus, and the ball gets moved from one to the other. And so you’ll end up with what is known colloquialy as tickets from hell. So if the user that submitted the problem is waiting and calling in and asking. And IT is saying, Oh yeah, we’re on top of it because it’s over here now, the Microsoft guys have it like stay tuned and, then you don’t hear anything.
And the next time you call them and go, Oh yeah, they decided that was really probably a data warehouse. And so data warehousing guys are now taking a look at that. So. That’s one of the chronic sources of angst for people. Of course after one or two experiences, then they either stop reporting the problem, they live with it, they try to fix it themselves or they go to a co-worker and try to get some local self-service from somebody that’s a member of their team. So that can be very problematical. It’s ironic that some of the ticketing systems have tried to solve this problem by providing workflow capabilities where the user can gets a report or alert every time the ticket changes hands, which is almost like triply frustrating because wait a minute, I asked for something that I presumed was not that hard and it was pretty fixable and I’m getting the 10th email saying it’s gone to the fourth team. You know, the team says we have received your problem and we will be acting on it, whatever. Then you get somebody that says you’re number two in our queue we’re going to get on it sometime this morning, et cetera. And again, in fairness, I’m kind of having fun with you here. There are obviously ways to configure the system that track the aggregate time that it’s been bounced around and a good team lead on the desk will be looking for those outliers that have starting to exceed some aggregate SLAs and not just some team SLAs
Ben Wilson: [00:25:51] What Mark is describing is the ultimate terrible customer experience. If you did what he’s describing to your customers, you’d probably be fired. And the way we treat our employees shouldn’t be any different. That wasn’t the only turbulence Mark has ever seen in his career.
Mark Settle: [00:26:04] Absolutely. There’s another story that I got. I got another stereo to laugh at, at a forum call earlier this week. If you go back to the large company scenario, most large companies with all due respect to Apple are still running on PCs. You’re not going to see that many Macs. And where they exist, they’re probably in some pretty specialized departments. And so almost universally, all of the tools that you’re going to deploy on your laptop fleet are going to be, be purchased with Microsoft OC and PC kind of capabilities in mind. That’s your primary, that’s the biggest part of the install base. And so whether it’s security tool or do you have like a 10, 10 million other things. You you’ll find members that will say, Oh yeah, we take care of Macs too. Well, yeah, we cover Macs that’s not a problem or whatever. And if you’re not careful and you don’t do the proper testing, you can start rolling out some of these administrative tools or these security tools to endpoints that are either Macs or, um, iOS systems instead of Microsoft OS systems and things can blow up in your face pretty rapidly. Like you can take whole teams out because of some kind of an overnight thing you rolled out and it’s. And, and when I mentioned this in this forum, like two of the other CIOs like, just friended me on zoom because this is a movie that we’ve all been to more than one time. So that’s another way you can shoot yourself in the foot.
Ben Wilson: [00:27:31] Managing employee experience is a tall task, especially when you’re at cruising altitude with more than 30,000 employees. So we asked Mark whether the CIO can really manage the whole task themselves. Or if it’s something that needs to be shared with other stakeholders and executives.
Mark Settle: [00:27:45] At the risk of repeating myself, too many IT folks will go back and look at the conventional way in which we’ve delivered service and support in the past, maybe, and try to take new digital tools to make it 20% better, right. Or 40% better. So, you know, maybe there’s a chat bot that’s going to intercept your call to the desk and effectively try to solve your problem through that chat bot interaction instead of dealing with a person or there’s knowledge articles that can be provided to you, or IT automates the fulfillment of certain kinds of requests that took longer from the past. And those are all great things to do. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you’re going to really step up, I think you’ve got to look at some of those higher order needs around um automating away, busy work, giving those employees, those kind of tools, probably thinking through collaboration. I don’t think we’re at any kind of a stasis point. We’ve got this hodgepodge collection of Slack and Zoom and Teams and whiteboard capabilities. And it’s kind of a big mish-mash of things. I think there’ll be a second or third generation of cloud tools that come out. Um, And maybe they become optimized for work in certain kinds of domains. You know, they’re not so generic is the kind of tools that we have today. So that’s a possibility. And then, then what we talked about before in terms of information to discovery, I just think you’ve got to take a more strategic perspective if you want to really do something more fundamental around employee experience, if you’re kind of tweaking or incrementally improving the kind of services and support you provided in the past. It’s a good thing to do, but you’re not stepping up to the opportunity.
Ben Wilson: [00:29:29] As Mark said, there are huge opportunities to radically change and improve the employee experience and the ways we work together. He’s a great example of how, with the right game plan, IT leaders can get impressive employee experience results over and over again.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Cruising Altitude. This episode of Cruising Altitude is brought to you by SocialChorus. SocialChorus is the creator of FirstUp, the platform that makes the digital employee experience work for every worker. FirstUp brings personalized information and systems access to every employee, everywhere.
No matter whether they’re wired, distributed, or on the front line. That’s how we help Amazon AB InBev, GSK, and many others stay agile and keep transforming. Learn more at firstup.io.