The Tried and True Discipline Of Seeing the People – from a Master CIO

Jim DePietro, CIO for Bowman Consulting, and I have known each other for over a decade. In this segment Jim shares the benefits of his approach and how it fosters collaboration, ideas, and critical commonalities and distinctions that help him draw on this knowledge to offer business units a unique perspective that spans all organizational departments.

As you listen to this short clip, I know you will appreciate how Jim’s leadership style creates positive communication channels throughout his organization.

This is another great conversation with a member of my CIO Innovation Forum community. This group provides an important source for CIOs and IT leaders to get together, communicate, and dive deep into common concerns and challenges they face in their organizations every day. They learn how to flex different muscles in their thinking and recognize leadership and innovation opportunities.

A full transcript of my conversation with Jim can be found below:

Jim:    Back at my old firm. We had a new president come in and he said he had never seen a CIO of a company visit so much. Go out and talk to people and visit… because I go out – on sites.

Bill:    I was just going to ask you that question, because you used to make those yearly road trips.

Jim:    Yes, I go to those offices. I have lunch with people and just sit around and talk. How are we doing? How’s our technology? Where you came from, how does it differ? What do we need to do?

Then I’d sit with the managers and I would say, ‘let me see what you’re doing to run your business’. What do you need to know? A lot of them had a spreadsheet to do this or spreadsheet to that.

Bill:    So, having them show you spreadsheets and things they’re using.

Jim:    Absolutely, hey these other guys in this other area had something similar. What if I was able to build something that could save you six steps every month and be able to just let you hit a button and get that data. Then that’s the evolution. It just keeps doing that. If you’re open enough to it and you get out of your office and you’ve talked to people, it’s fairly easy.

Bill:    So you have 16 sites or so? I remember that specifically-

Jim:    In my old company?

Bill:    Yes.

Jim:    Yes, they had about 16 to 20 sites. Here we have about 30 and we’re growing. So, it gets to be a bit hard when it’s nationally. I’ve slowed down a bit. We have meetings where people come in to the corporate office at times. That saves me some trips. But it’s really important to get out and talk to the people. Ideally,  at least once a year – to show your face and sit down with no agenda. Sit down and talk.

Bill:    That’s cool.

Jim:    Now I actually did this the last time I went out. I just have a page on our internet called Jim’s page of cool stuff.

Bill:     Cool stuff?

Jim:    Stuff, yeah. I cross it out and put stuff. Then I just threw up a bunch of ideas – because you know, you talk to a lot of people – and especially new employees, they don’t know what to say. You get a lot of crickets chirping.

So, I’ll throw some stuff up on the board and say, let’s talk about, CAD or AutoCAD or Civil 3D or…

Bill:    Okay, so you’re prompting some of the conversations so it doesn’t get stuck. Like, I don’t know what to say to Jim.

Jim:    Right, then I’ll have some prepared stuff behind it just to walk them through it or collaboration of all these different tools that we have. So, that does help. Once you get them talking, then it gets better. But I find that lunch is a good way. The other thing is trying to get to their parties or holiday parties and get outside of the office. As executives here at Bowman, we do get invited to most of them, pretty much all the holiday parties. I don’t get to all of them, but that was another thing earlier in my career, I used to have parties at my house and have my staff bring their families. Our kids grew up together, so people that were with me for 20, 25 years, we knew the history of their whole family and the kids and where they’re going… That is something that—

Bill:    That’s interesting. I think I remember you telling me that a long time ago.

Jim:    Well, you’ve done that too. I’ve been to parties over at your house.

Bill:    That’s true.

Jim:    I think it makes such a big difference… In fact here, we used to do parties at restaurants and stuff. We’ve started, in the last couple years we did them at my house. But since I sold my house, now we’re moving to another house, and the families are invited. I think that makes all the difference in the world.

Bill:    See that’s why I wanted to get into some of the specifics on this because I think these are little ideas that digital leaders need to, kind of prime the pump. That these are… that this is possible. Yes, you can have people over at your house and you can go visit these offices.

I think the other thing, too, is how do you make the differentiation between being a business analyst and just being curious with your conversations? So you don’t… I guess what I’m wondering is, how do you not turn into a ‘yes man’ conversation where you come back with a notepad of a hundred things to do.

Jim:    Well, and that’s why talking to multiple people and seeing what the commonalities are and where the differences are and even talking –

Bill:    So you’re trying to draw distinctions and basically you’re drawing linkages in your brain about, okay where the stuck points are.

Jim:    Right, where the commonalities are and where those exceptions are, too. Just talking to the president of our company yesterday when I was in our Reston, Virginia office and he came in and said “Here’s what I’m thinking of doing.” And he had the notes laid out and I said “Yeah, that’s great but if we were to take that and go this way, we could do this as well.” Yeah, yeah, yeah, let’s do that. So, and that gets back to knowing the business, but knowing these people and being curious, but then also bringing your knowledge to it and making something  totally potentially better than what you even originally thought of.

Bill:    Okay, I can see where that really grounds it. Then, how far down in the organization would you go? I mean, can you be a line of business field worker or are you trying to meet at the manager level or do you not really care? Or are you just trying to meet people?

Jim:    When I go to the offices, I want to meet everybody. Now, we have field people that I don’t get a chance to see necessarily. Although, I thought about going out into the field myself but I haven’t done that yet, but I do want to talk to everybody.

Bill:    Especially after you got try flying the drones.

Jim:    Excellent, absolutely. That’s a lot of fun.

Bill:    I mean, that would be kind of cool.

Jim:    That is really cool. Yes, absolutely. But I do want to hear from everyone, especially those new employees and those younger employees that come into the company. They may have been in the workforce a couple of years and I want to know from them where they were. What’s differentiated with us and how are we better? How are we worse? It’s very good to hear some… I mean, I’ve heard really good comments.

I get jazzed. I mean this company – from our technical support, our help desk, we have two guys that run it and it’s just unsolicited comments just saying, you guys are great. I’ve never had an experience like this at other companies. I think they care, they give a shit.

Bill:     Right, right.

Jim:    It’s genuine and they help people – and it’s just amazing.