C-suite talks HR: Dino Trevisani, president, IBM Canada

C-suite talks HR: Dino Trevisani, president, IBM Canada

As president of IBM Canada, Dino Trevisani is an expert in leading in the face of disruption and transformation – and he prefers to do it at pace.

He spoke to HRD Canada on why speed is crucial, how to adjust when plans hit a bump in the C-suite, and how to ensure success without pushing your people too hard.

First of all, why are speed and action important to you?

This is a time of profound disruption, driven by historic technological shifts. It calls for agility, not for contemplation and reflection. The market is moving fast and if you wait until everything is perfect, the market and your competition have already moved on.

Successful companies must be the disruptor, not the disrupted. Complacency makes them vulnerable – which means we cannot approach business the way we have in the past. All organizations need to embrace disruption and dedicate themselves to continual transformation.

Speed is a critical element of this. We can’t transform without speed – speed of acceptance, speed of knowledge acquisition, speed of transition and execution. Being slow to innovate or to challenge the status quo is the easiest way for your competition to speed right past you.

What’s the difference between slow and steady leadership, and fast leadership? Do leopards make better leaders than tortoises?

Slow and steady might work for some companies, but it is not the strategy for success that I believe works. I am never satisfied with the pace at which we accomplish our objectives. As a leader, I spend more time setting challenging timelines to success and motivating the team to overcome obstacles to achieve those timelines. There is no success in trying to catch your competitor, you must set the pace for your team and lead the market. 
To lead in this industry, you have to embrace imperfect data and interweave that with experience and intuition. I continually scan the horizon for external signals that indicate opportunities. A leader must anticipate the market demand and prepare their teams with skills and investments to capitalize on it.  One of my favourite quotes is “the will to win means nothing without the will to prepare”.

When it comes to getting things done, how do you, as a leader, deal with speed bumps, especially at C-suite/board level?

Technological advances are creating massive upheavals, with industries converging and companies transforming like no other time in our history. CEOs are telling us that technology leads the list of external forces buffeting their organizations, and that the trend of “uberization” or industry disruption caused by what has been to this point an unlikely competitor has become a significant concern.

Yet resistance to change is an ongoing challenge. Some executives still hold onto the “that’s what we’ve always done” mentality. To help move them away from this, I’m continually engaging with CEOs to help them better understand the repercussions of new entrants shifting their market. Companies like Uber, Amazon in retail and Netflix have had a profound impact and there are more companies out there positioning themselves to disrupt.

Not every industry or leader will be challenged the same way, but they all need to understand what’s on the horizon – the possibilities and opportunities – and plan accordingly. They all have an opportunity to reinvent themselves and need to take action before someone reinvents their industry for them.

In the technology industry, we are at the forefront of these shifts. Some CEOs just aren’t interested, but those who do want to differentiate themselves lead the market. The executives who understand that change is critical to long term survival are the ones we align ourselves with.

What are the biggest challenges in executing at speed in a large, multinational organization?

Being nimble in responding to the disruption that is taking place can be more challenging for large companies if they aren’t ready; that’s why it is so important to stay in a state of continual transformation. It is far more difficult to move in response to a new challenge if you’ve only just been idling at the starting line than if you have already been moving with speed and are considered the leader of the pack.

To navigate these tumultuous times and come out ahead, organizations of all sizes need assess their strategic directions and explore the potential for novel, non-traditional forms of growth.

For example, sometimes you need to create a separate team to lead those growth initiatives – a business within a business that is sheltered from the day-to-day processes, routines, and existing mindsets to give them the freedom to make mistakes and discover new ways of doing business.

In large organizations, it can be difficult to accept mistakes as the magnitude and impact can be significant, but now more than ever this kind of agile, testing, and learning approach to business is critical.

How does a leader identify the line between getting the most out of your people, and pushing them too hard and creating stress?

As a leader, you have to make sure you work with your teams to maintain the right balance. You want to help boost and amplify outcomes, and encourage them to persevere and perform. But you also want to make sure that you maintain an environment of trust where they feel empowered to jump in and take the shot when they see an opportunity.

The first thing leaders need to do is define a clear vision and path to achieve that vision and communicate it consistently. Maintaining consistency and focus are critical – don’t let external forces distract from that. Only your customers and employees should define modifications and enhancements.

It’s important to build not just understanding of your vision and priorities, but to build belief and excitement around them. We need to celebrate the successes and link them to priorities to show the progress the company is making against its vision. Employees need to have a clear line of sight to the outcomes of their work and subsequent successes to maintain their motivation.

What’s the difference between managers and leaders?

Good managers can also be leaders. They inspire their teams and enable them to develop the skills and expertise to be successful. They remove roadblocks, foster engagement, and motivate their teams.

However, leaders must also keep their eye on the bigger picture and anticipate market shifts. Many leaders continue to engage too tactically – that’s the role of the manager. Leaders must also bring the company’s vision to life, ensure the right resources are allocated to realize it, and help managers understand what the vision is and their role in achieving it.  One of the most difficult things for a leader to do is to win the hearts and minds of all employees around the vision and strategy – and they need their managers to help them do that.