By Peter High, President, Metis Strategy
This article is by Featured Blogger Peter High from his Forbes.com column.
Like many executives at Procter & Gamble, Linda Clement-Holmes has had a wide array of responsibilities at the $76 billion Cincinnati, Ohio-based consumer packaged goods company. She has been the chief diversity officer, the senior vice president of global business services, and the global information & decision solutions officer. This is emblematic of the way in which P&G thinks about talent management. Once a rising star has been identified, provide them both depth and breadth of experience. When Clement-Holmes became CIO, she had been groomed for years for this post, and came to it with a much deeper understanding of how value is created within her enterprise than most new CIOs.
Clement-Holmes managed a rare feat for a new CIO, as well, as she was already a board member of a multi-billion dollar public company, Cincinnati Financial Corporation, before she became chief information officer. For those who might wish to follow in her footsteps, she attributes not only the diversity of her experiences within P&G, but also her willingness to spend time on non-profit boards in preparing her for her for-profit board experience. Clement-Holmes goes on to describe the substance of her first IT strategy as CIO, the methods she has used to encourage future female leaders in IT and beyond, and the technology trends that particularly excite her.
(To listen to an unabridged audio version of this interview, please visit this link. This is the 15th interview in the Board-Level CIO series. To read interviews with past interviewees, please visit this link. This is also the 29th interview in the CIO’s First 100 Days series. To read interviews with past interviewees, please visit this link.)
Peter High: You were groomed for this role for some time, and your ascension in many ways is a sign of great continuity between your predecessor and yourself. You had been part of the leadership team that formulated IT strategy before you were CIO, just as you now lead a team doing the same. Given the lead time you have had, how did you use the time to prepare for this role?
Linda Clement-Holmes: I had a great mentor in Filippo [Passerini], who did a great job. Like you said, it was not a case where I came in behind somebody who was asked to leave and so forth. He had been CIO for well over ten years. It was much more about understanding more about what we needed to do going forward, and how to lead an organization or an IT function of IT professionals in a way that keeps us moving and relevant as we had been the last ten years.
At P&G because we promote from within, it is not abnormal to have what happened to me happen to anybody because we have a process of senior leadership looking at a regular review of succession planning that includes everything from whether we have a diverse pipeline, and whether our leaders have the right experiences that we need them to have going forward. They do that in conjunction with looking for where the business as the whole needs to go. They do that constantly. It is not a one-time thing. That is what happens when you have a “promote from within” type company.
Every now and then, we may have a specific unique set of skills needed that are in short supply. For example, I just hired our Chief Information Security Officer from the outside because the world changed so much in the last two years when it comes to cyber security. Those skills are not ones that we naturally have internally and have grown up with. In a case like that, we went outside and hired our Vice President for that. Our two legal officers were the same thing. We needed people with specific types of experiences. We will do that when necessary, but for the most part we try to groom and grow our leadership from within the P&G pipeline of talent because we have such strong talent to begin with.
High: The succession planning process involves a lot of grooming, and rounding out one’s skill set before they ascend to new leadership roles. What was the process like for you, and how has it translated to the leaders who are currently targeted for future leadership roles?
Clement-Holmes: I have never been one to say “What am I going to do in five or ten years?” I have been with the company for 32 years. A long time ago, I decided that the company and the leaders of the company knew better, and had a broader perspective, than I have. I put my trust in them to help decide what experience I needed.
When you look at that background, it twists and turns. One of those twists was being the Chief Diversity Officer as part of the HR function. I did not aspire to that role. That is not because I thought it unimportant, but I did not see it as an option in my narrow view of the world. The leaders ahead of me had a bigger view, and that bigger view included experiencing another function in the company at the same time as developing a strategy for the company as a whole. I put my trust in them to do that. I am doing the same for the employees behind me, and I counsel them in that manner. I tell them to trust me on this when I say this is a good thing them to do. I have to make sure that I help them understand, coming out the other side or going into it, what this will do for them and what skills and experience it will bring.
High: How did you spend your first 100 days as CIO in order to set yourself and your team up for success?
Clement-Holmes: My first hundred days was spent listening. I did not say a whole lot on purpose. The reason is because people, in general, have so many diverse perspectives about things that you learn a lot. I asked the same five questions of every single person, whether it was somebody low in the organization, high in the organization, peers, other function leaders, consumers, or suppliers. “What is working well? What is not working well?” Those are the standard kinds of things. But, I also asked them “What is the one thing, whatever you do, that you would say please do not change this”. Another one is “Whatever you do, please DO change that”. The last one is “What would you do if you were me?”
Those same five questions are applicable to anyone that I talk to. You will see the things that come out of that and the thread of what we need to do. When you get to the business leaders and ask those questions, that is when I get this feeling around the trends and the opportunities that we have. What do we need to do to deliver in terms of skills and experiences for our talent to be able to deliver that for the company? What is the expectation on us? To me that is huge. That is why I think, for example, that for our business of soap, diapers, and shampoo, technology is going to play such a huge role. Well, of course, we are the IT professionals with business expertise, which allows P&G to be able to do that. A lot of that comes from those conversations.
High: I wanted to ask you a bit about the role of Chief Diversity Officer. It is not a role that a lot of companies have. You operate within a function, IT, that historically has not necessarily groomed a lot of female or minority talent. What are some of the paths that you have seen work well to ensure that there is the appropriate amount of diversity, not only enterprise-wide, as was your purview, but also within IT more specifically?
Clement-Holmes: A lot of it is making sure that we are asking the “why” and “why not” question a lot of the time. Digging down, as leaders, our goal is to make sure that we know the people in the organization. We need to know them two or three levels down, not just the level below us. As humans, sometimes we gravitate towards those who are like us, not consciously, but maybe sub-consciously or unconsciously. That means you have to force yourself to work your way down.
I try to spend a lot of time with people at the lowest levels within the function so that I know them. Those people know a lot, by the way. They know a tremendous amount. You get to know those people, and then you have a different perspective around that. That way, when my leader says “We need a person for this role” and that person’s name has not come up, you can say “Why not so-and-so”. Ask the question why not, because sometimes it is a matter of stretching somebody’s thinking to understand that there is more than what is in your view or perspective to see that difference.
When I was the diversity officer, we spent a lot of time talking about unconscious bias. We spent a lot of time with a professor out of Harvard, and her whole premise is around dealing with unconscious bias. We all have them. It is a matter of whether you recognize them or not. I think we need to do that, particularly in a technical function. Are we stretching our own thinking to give that person a chance at responsibility? A lot of times, we have not done that. I have seen that happen a lot of times.
When you think about it, particularly from a gender standpoint, culturally and socially women tend to carry more of the burden socially when it comes to the household. Whether that is right or wrong, that is not the point, but socially that tends to be the case. If you translate that then to the workforce, and you think about it as women and men on the same starting line of the race, a male employee may have a spouse at home taking care of everything and they may have the same skills of the woman on the starting line. The woman may begin the race wearing a backpack, which contains arms and legs of kids and husbands and other kinds of things, even if there is somebody at home helping out. It is a social dynamic that we live in culturally as well. If you think about taking that backpack off that woman, think about how fast they would be. By nature, gender-wise, women have a lot of capacity to be able to carry things. Getting people to think differently about it is what I do a lot of times.
High: What are some aspects of your first IT strategy as CIO?
Clement-Holmes: First and foremost, we are moving pretty aggressively towards the cloud. I think the cloud gives us a lot of capability and avenues that we have not yet been able to take advantage of at scale. We have shared services and this is scale at the next level. It has been the case that you can do a lot of things quickly that, before, would take us a long time to do.
We are spending a lot of time, also, from an information security standpoint, as everybody is. Cybersecurity is a big deal for us, as it is for everybody. Making sure that we have all the right things in place for us to detect, defend, and respond is another big priority for us.
Operational excellence continues to be a priority. At the end of the day, we are not a tech company. We are a consumer goods company that sells soap, diapers, and shampoo. For us, it is all about how we use IT to sell soap, diapers, and shampoo to more customer better and more effectively. We are not a tech company, but our team is P&G’s tech company. We are the ones that, as IT professionals, should be able to provide IT capabilities better than anybody else could hope to because we understand the business and we understand technology at the same time.
High: This is a famously innovative company, and IT has been at the heart of a lot of innovation in recent years. Data analytics is a prominent example of this. You have mentioned a couple times, for good reason, the increasing importance and urgency of security. If you think about the balance between innovation, which is about risk-taking, and security, which is about risk mitigation, how do you get that right? How do you ensure that one is not out of balance to too great an extent?
Clement-Holmes: You have to think about security from the beginning. Security cannot be the afterthought. That is when the balance gets out of whack. If you are only doing innovation without any thought to security at all, then when it comes in later the balance is out of whack, and it feels punitive. Instead, building it in from the beginning, and thinking about it from that mindset from the beginning, the balance is there all along. To me, you can do both, but you have to do both together at the same time. You cannot do one without the other. You also cannot do only security without thinking what is coming along later. You will have the balance out of whack at that point as well. Everything will be tight and locked down, and you will never do anything ever. It has to be a partnership together the whole way so that you innovative and iterate in a secure way.
High: Security threats are becoming so much more complex. Regarding the rationale in bringing a CISO on now, is it to have a dedicated individual and team whose sole focus is only that, rather than making it part of everybody’s job?
Clement-Holmes: I still think that it is part of everybody’s job. They do not get out of that. In fact, it is every P&G employee’s job. Part of bringing the CISO in was to bring an external point of view to develop an approach. You can either approach it from a compliance stance only, or from a compliance plus threat vector. We are not used to thinking of things from a threat vector. We needed that threat side of it. That was part of the experience from a leadership standpoint that we did not bring. Now we have a focused leadership that has that external experience that covers not only a different perspective, from a threat standpoint, but also from an industry that is much more focused on it but also has to deliver services to consumers. That is what he brings and that is why.
At the same time, you talked about analytics. We also now have a chief data officer whose job is to make sure that we are leveraging data the best we possibly can be in a secure way. It is not only the CISO’s job. That CDO also has to work with the CISO together. That is why they are not exclusive. It is a partnership for everybody. We have a lead technologist, who is really the CTO from IT’s standpoint. His job is the infrastructure in a secure way. None of it is independent. He can do security, but he cannot do that without the lead technologist from an infrastructure standpoint.
High: Another fascinating thing about your career is that you have been involved in a variety of boards – whether it is non-profit boards, or the board of Cincinnati Financial Corporation. I know that is an aspiration of a lot of CIOs to become more “board-ready” and to sit on boards, especially public and for-profit boards. Can you talk a bit about that journey to establish yourself within the boards of different organizations as well as the benefits you have garnered from having done so?
Clement-Holmes: Most of my experience prior to Cincinnati Financial had been on non-profit boards. A lot of that had to do with personal passion more than anything else. Because I believe in making choices, for years because I had two sons, I would only work on boards that I could do with them or for them. If it had to do with children, that is what I would do. It just so happens, I was also usually the IT person on the board as well. What it gave me was the opportunity to learn what it was like to be the IT person, or see what the IT operations were like, at a company other than P&G that does not have the resources that we do. The way I normally would do things was totally different. I had to learn that they could not do it that way because they did not have the same resources. You learn that from a non-profit. At the same time, you also learn the things that are not IT related, which is important when moving to the for-profit world.
One of the key roles that I had over the years was when I led the outsourcing to HP in 2003. At that point, I probably did ten percent IT. The other ninety percent was cocktail parties, meeting with the purchasing person, the HR person, etc. It gave me a point of view across a lot of other areas that I normally would not have gotten. Board work is similar to that, in that your job is to govern and not operate. You see across all these different aspects and areas. Working in a non-profit situation is usually in an area of the organization that delivers something that is different from what I do day-to-day. They are not selling diapers, soap, and shampoo. They are delivering services to the under-served in the community, childcare services, etc. They do that differently. There may not be IT at all. Is there talent succession? That is an HR issue. If they are having legal issues. You learn about all those kinds of things.
Those you carry with you when you start going into the for-profit world, but on a much bigger basis. Probably the biggest learning that I have from being in a for-profit is the role that you have as a director is to govern not to operate. That is tough because we are trained for years to know how to fix things. Now I must help them reach their goal strategically. I help ensure that the IT strategy is helping the company deliver the company’s goals. That also means I have to contribute to other parts of the company as well that are not IT related. You have to have had some experience, or it is beneficial to have some experience at a non-profit organization, doing that.
Running a company, there are some fundamentals. You can still do that, but the more you do that, the better. It also helps me think differently about how I do my job inside P&G because then I know what the kinds of things are that the board does worry about. It is not a perspective that I would otherwise have. Part of the benefit of having a board is to bring a different perspective, and if I did not sit on another board myself, I probably would not understand what they were trying to do. I get it now because I sit in that same seat somewhere else.
High: As you look out into the next one to three year time horizon, are there some trends that particularly excite you? We have talked a bit about some of the important ones like analytics and cloud that are already part of your strategy. Are there others that you are thinking about and contemplating?
Clement-Holmes: The Internet of Things is big for us. Think about the last five or six years and how the smartphone alone has changed the lives of our consumers. Think about how people will turn around and go home for their phone. They could leave their purse or wallet, but they will not leave that phone. We now are attached by watches because of how technology is now integrated into our consumer’s lives. This will be a big one for us, which is why we are expanding beyond our shared services from an IT function standpoint. It is into our consumer’s lives every day.
There is technology that a lot of things disintermediate from other things. If you think about the publishing or music industry, or even Uber. Those are technology based, but that is not the only thing that they do. You have to think about it in that way. I think the world is huge when I think about the opportunity that IT professionals can play, particularly when you take what we do, not only from a technology standpoint, but applying that mastery to our business. That, to me, is huge. It is not technology for technology’s sake at all. It is about how we apply that.
We think about the Internet of Things, whether it is toothbrushes that determine whether you brushed last night, and the data that comes from that, and we can determine from that whether, for example, your toothbrush should go faster. All those kinds of things make a consumer’s life better all the time and every day. That to me is a phenomenal opportunity. I feel good that we have such a great function of people in the organization that allow us to be able to take advantage of that.
Originally published on Forbes.com