The latest technology is increasingly utilized as a means of reinventing management. Srinivas Koushik, CIO of the Nationwide Property and Casualty Company, is one of those leading the way. Julian Birkinshaw and Stuart Crainer report his approach.
Does this sound familiar? You are an experienced manager who has been involved in a functional speciality for the last decade. You realize that what you did in your first two or three jobs has been largely replicated in the jobs that followed. The basic levers and controls are much the same. The levers are comfortable and familiar and you have learned when to push them and how hard.
And then you move on to a new job. There are more people to manage, a few thousand rather than a few hundred, and they are dispersed. Suddenly the reassuring levers that previously brought results are less reliable and responsive. What now?
Srinivas Koushik, CIO of the Nationwide Property and Casualty Company, was in a similar situation. With 2,400 dispersed people (out of Nationwide’s 23,000 headcount), his team offered a new challenge – even for an experienced CIO. Koushik’s team supports Nationwide’s systems and technology infrastructure. Early results were good, but Koushik was perplexed by a feeling that only 20 to 30 per cent of the team were really engaged. The levers were working, but only so far, because the results were not sustainable.
“I'm a closet geek and have spent a lot of time on the Web, being one of the earlier adopters of Web 2.0 technologies and social networks,” recalls Koushik. “The connection I started making was that a lot of what is on the Web can translate into and transform daily management practices if we figure out the right way to do it.”
Once he began thinking about the link between technology and day-to-day management, Koushik went back to his early work in databases and networked databases. “Networked databases are a lot more efficient but very different from hierarchical databases,” he explains. “I started looking at them and saying, well, our traditional management model relies on hierarchy, on top-down control and so on. Yet, in Web space you’re leveraging the power of the network. Think of Metcalfe’s law: the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system. Having 2,400 people across the globe is the equivalent of a network, so what if I want to tap into the power of every node, every individual in that network?” These initial thoughts have ignited a series of experiments and initiatives in Koushik’s team that began in 2006 and are ongoing.
The starting point was to open up lines of communication. Koushik wanted to make it clear that he was personally involved and wanted to change things. In late 2006, he started an internal management blog. This wasn’t a decision-making forum, but an opportunity for people to have open two-way communications with Koushik.
Updated every two weeks, Koushik’s blog talked about different topics, such as change management, from a personal standpoint. He talked about the changes he was going through in his life and career – his daughter going to high school, his new job and new boss. The message was that leaders are also going through constant change and have to learn how to deal with it. “The personal touch is important,” reflects Koushik, while admitting it wasn’t part of a conscious strategy. “It starts removing the mystique around executives by making them look more human rather than faceless people sitting in their offices. It allowed people to just sign in and start adding their own thoughts to the dialogue.”
Koushik’s blog now receives around 2,000 unique visitors every time he uploads a post.
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