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Struggling to get people aligned behind a initiative? Assess their ability to handle ambiguity. Be transparent about your goals. And tap the power of diversity to generate new ideas.
By Katrin Schulenburg, Senior Director of IT, AMD
I find the biggest challenges are never just around the technology. There are many people who can master the technology. The biggest challenges are always in communication and aligning teams around a common objective. Teams accomplish amazing results when everybody is ready at the right point in time to leverage the technology or embrace the changes being made.
My approach is to try to find common ground, to align on a common goal and objective. You do that through listening, but also sharing and spending sufficient time with peers, especially business partners, and teams that you want to orient around the same goals and objectives.
I also try to be very transparent about the objectives that I want to push forward to make sure that there’s a lot of authenticity.
It’s important to understand how ready all the players are to deploy a certain technology, and what factors play into that level of readiness. With COVID-19, for example, we’ve seen an acceleration around the readiness of the end users to leverage some of these toolsets when it comes to video conferencing remotely, or calibration in a work from home environment like we’ve never seen at any scale in the past.
Can the team handle ambiguity?
More generally, I try to understand how good a team is with ambiguity. Some are much more comfortable getting it all laid out in black and white.
Careful handling of ambiguity is especially important in change management. You never have all of the answers at the beginning, so you need to make sure you communicate thoroughly. This at least allows everybody to make some level of progress. It’s important not to have half of the team three miles ahead of the others, so you make sure you’re evenly paced.
You have to meet teams where they are. Sometimes that means that the IT side will have to slow down. Sometimes it means we need to accelerate. It’s important that you understand their relative readiness levels. These you need to monitor on an ongoing basis, because they can continue to change as the business needs new functionality and seeks help.
Often the IT teams will be frustrated and say, “well, we’ve told you already,” or “we were ready when we came three months ago, or maybe even a year ago.” But that wasn’t when the business was ready. Or the IT teams get frustrated if the business comes to us with a super urgent ask and they say, “well, if you had told us six months ago, we could have done all of these things for us.”
I also try to get everyone to focus on the matter at hand. As IT people, we are technologists, and we solve problems, or we figure out a way to deploy technology or how to leverage it most effectively for the organization. As long as you have something that you can keep the teams engaged in, it makes managing through change a lot easier than just trying to talk about it theoretically.
Diversity as a secret strength
Of course, not all of this communication about change is just sharing news – some of it will require decision-making. With that, I have found, diversity can be very helpful.
Sometimes if you have too many of the same kind of views, your approach becomes very narrowly focused and you can miss valuable ideas, whereas if you have more folks around the globe, you can be much more successful, especially when it comes to global projects, global implementations, or leading global teams.
In my view, there are enormous benefits and more energy unleashed when individuals and teams rely on their strengths rather than work to improve areas in which they are weak. This can foster better collaboration and communication with others who have the complementary strengths that are needed. Valuing and building on each other’s strengths binds us together.
I’ve also worked on several projects where having a woman, or multiple women, on the team has provided a different perspective, or has even balanced out some of the approaches on how to solve the problem itself, how to organize a team, or how to bring a big program together.
As an added bonus, diversity is also often fun. As a youngster in East Germany, I never envisioned calling Austin, Texas, AMD’s headquarters, my home. But I love the experience of living here – the music, the diversity, and of course the hi-tech business environment. I also love working with my global teams, which have given me some very rewarding experiences. I’ve met countless amazing people, many of whom are now good friends. With a great team culture that values diversity in its many forms, we’ve accomplished great things.
Working around gender bias
Earlier in my career, I faced some challenges in convincing people that my being a woman added something positive to the mix. Still, I recall in my first job interviews after college, I was told that I was overqualified as a woman. Surprisingly, some of the pushback was from other women within the IT sector.
At AMD, though, I found an underlying understanding that as long as women delivered, met and/or exceeded their goals, and provided the same type of performance that male peers did, a job opening would be as available to women as to men.
Later on, I was surprised to be given an opportunity to be a first-line leader – I was still fairly young. But the trust my managers gave me prepared me well and helped me rise to the challenge of the role.
To other women interested in a leadership role in the semiconductor industry, I would say: Stay curious. Be yourself. Be authentic. These traits will help you as you progress in your journey. By staying engaged and staying focused, you will be able to evolve with the technology as long as you keep an open mind and leverage the opportunities.
Communication and alignment are always the biggest challenges for an IT manager.
Pay attention to how good your team is with ambiguity. Some people embrace ambiguity while others need things spelled out.
Diversity can help break deadlocked discussions by introducing new points of view.