What makes a CIO successful, particularly one who has recently joined a company? Darlene Williams, CIO of Rocket Software, an enterprise software company based in Waltham, Massachusetts, argues the key is forging genuine relationships with colleagues across the organization.
Williams, who has more than 20 years of IT experience and joined Rocket Software this year, spoke with StrategicCIO360 about why CIOs should be as focused on culture as they are on digital transformation, why they need to keep their eye on business outcomes and what attracted her to Rocket Software.
As recently appointed CIO of Rocket Software, can you share advice and lessons learned for CIOs starting out at a new company?
I first joined Rocket Software in December 2021 as interim CIO and was later named permanent CIO of Rocket in April 2022, and the biggest advice I have for CIOs starting at a new company is to make it a priority to get to know your colleagues. It can be overwhelming when you join a new organization—there are a lot of things to learn, trainings, materials to read, etc. With so much information to absorb, it’s easy to forget to make time to connect with people who are the heartbeat of the organization.
It’s important to see your employees not just as colleagues, but as individual people with lives outside of the workplace. Building relationships at work is part of being an effective and successful leader. It allows for your employees to feel safe and comfortable speaking up about ideas or issues they want you to be aware of. Doing so has helped me tremendously in connecting with my peers and feeling thoroughly integrated at Rocket Software, as well as establishing myself as CIO.
Aside from leading strategy and execution around the technology needs of the organization, what are other areas CIOs should be focused on?
Along with developing and executing digital transformation strategies, I believe CIOs should play a role in delivering business outcomes and strengthening company culture. One of the reasons I was so drawn to Rocket Software was its efforts around building a culture of inclusion and creating an environment where team members have a sense of purpose and opportunity for career advancement.
I’m very passionate about cultivating a work environment where my employees feel excited and valued—one where they understand the company’s strategy and know how they contribute to achieving company objectives. I believe our people deserve a workplace where their leaders are actively and purposefully engaged in their development so employees can realize a path to long-term career success at Rocket Software.
What is the CIO’s role in improving company culture?
CIOs should make it a priority to play an active role in improving their company’s culture. Traditionally, the CIO role is mainly focused on information technology initiatives and strategy, and overseeing IT budget, staff and goals. However, employees often look to the C-Suite to implement a strong, equitable company culture and that is why it’s critical CIOs take part in contributing to the success and well-being of all employees.
Just as we drive innovation in our digital transformation strategies, we should also drive innovation, experimentation and a growth mindset in our company culture.