Leading Queensland: Developing ICT executives across the Queensland government
How do you drive significant change at scale? One answer is to look for a point of leverage – for instance targeting a cohort of established leaders and influencers. This was the approach taken on a recent project aimed at shifting behaviour and capability at a whole-of-government level across the Queensland government’s many ICT departments.
The Queensland Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation (DSITI) sought proposals to provide a development program specifically to support Chief Information Officers and ICT Executives, the goal being to deliver “innovative ways to ensure the CIO cohort has the knowledge, skills and abilities they require into the future.” At a higher level the goal was to help build trust and increase collaboration across departmental boundaries.
AltusQ was given the task of developing and delivering this program.
The required features of the program included the following:
- The strategic focus was to be building on the existing leadership skills and business knowledge of the participants
- Delivery was to be primarily face-to-face, though optionally with an additional e-learning component (program content had to be available electronically to all participants)
- The program had to include individual coaching
- Time efficiency was particularly important due to the senior status and responsibilities of the participants, with sessions kept to no more than half a day at a time
- Content had to be flexible to ensure relevance to the participants
- There had to be agreed metrics for measuring project success.
The first step was necessarily one of research and analysis, including a workshop with sponsors and stakeholders to confirm a clear leadership vision and clear desired outcomes for the program.
The body of the program was made up of two parts:
- A series of half-day workshops adapting content from AltusQ’s existing and well-proven QLead program, and
- One-to-one executive coaching for each participant. AltusQ drew on its deep “bench” to provide executive coaches with backgrounds well suited to supporting senior executives working in a government and ICT context.
The leadership skills workshops
The workshop series kicked off with a session introducing the participants to the how’s and why’s of executive coaching, with the aim of ensuring that everyone was fully prepared to gain the maximum possible benefit from the experience. The second half of the workshop was designed to deepen the participants’ self-understanding. It introduced and explored the relationship between emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness.
Workshops 2 and 3 were on the topic of strategic planning and vision, starting with the creation process but then moving on to practical questions of maintaining strategic thinking focus while dealing with the operational pull of implementation and ensuring others (staff, stakeholders) are fully signed up to “coming on the journey”.
Workshops 4 and 5 addressed the key skill of influence, both up and down the management hierarchy. Specific skills included rapport-building, communication and conflict mitigation.
Workshops 6 and 7 covered developing strategic partnerships, with particular emphasis on trust, vulnerability and on the importance of personal positioning to influence strategy.
Finally, Workshop 8 brought all the elements together. Individual journeys were “unpacked”, shared and leveraged to enhance everyone’s learnings and insights, putting flesh on concept and strategy by examining successful and (just as importantly) not so successful implementations.
These topics provided a rich starting point for conversations and the participants appeared to derive at least as much value from peer-to-peer exchanges as they did from the formal course materials. Participants provided strong feedback that they appreciated the opportunity to gain fresh perspectives from their colleagues. To quote, “We’ve never spent much time on work on ourselves, as we’re always solving other people’s problems.”
The workshops provided unique opportunities for participants to build strong bonds with precisely the people best placed to understand their workplace imperatives and challenges. It will be interesting to see if these relationships are sustained over time and if they continue to provide the participants with a supportive peer group.
The one-to-one coaching
Each participant was allocated an executive coach to meet with monthly throughout the program, with the overall goal of using coaching conversations to help integrate the knowledge and skills acquired from the workshops. The specific content of each coaching sessions was set by the participants themselves, who tended to use their coaches as sounding boards to assist them in unpacking and reflecting upon their individual leadership challenges.
As well as the one-to-one coaching sessions each participant nominated a sponsor of their choice to participate in a “triad” coaching session. In many cases this approach proved particularly fruitful and led to powerful and practical insights.
Has the initiative been successful?
Ultimately only time will tell if this particular program has made a lasting difference to IT leadership in the Queensland – but it would appear we’re off to a good start.
Here are some comments from the participants about the training workshops:
“There has developed a sense of camaraderie amongst the CIO’s that didn’t seem to exist before. Seems to be a lot more trust, camaraderie and sharing amongst the cohort.”
“The most valuable thing was the interaction between the participants and the sharing of experiences…The combined experience of the people in the room was very powerful”
“Initially there was a big focus on why and the emotive side of leadership – I thought that was a really good focus, that has changed the way I do things.”
“[I valued] the opportunity to get away from the workplace for a few hours and immerse myself in the theory and the ability to have the discussion about the application of the theory.”
And here is some of the feedback received about the executive coaching experience:
“The thing I valued the most was having a very impartial, independent, non-judgmental person to be able to share with about my current state, my career etc. “
“[My coach] had no judgement, he was probably the opposite. He helped me really focus on listening to peoples words rather than just make assumptions.”
“Having the ability to bounce ideas and have someone challenge ideas and thinking who was independent, often having someone that’s independent to my job is beneficial.”
“Best coaching experience I’ve ever had.”
What did we learn?
There were many practical lessons from the program – for instance working within the schedules of the intensely busy program participants was tough to manage but also essential to supporting engagement and momentum – but the biggest take-aways were more profound. It turned out that the thing the participants seemed to value the most was the creation of powerful room of trust, which provided an opportunity to work openly and robustly with their peers in identifying how to apply their new skills and knowledge. Merely learning something is only the start of the journey – it takes focused conversation, be that with a peer or a coach (or ideally both), to fully explore and embed new perspectives.
While we (AltusQ) are well aware of the power of peer-to-peer interactions it was still striking how much this cohort of super-capable technologists valued personal connection and sharing.