It’s true that we learn from our mistakes, but given the choice, wouldn’t we all prefer to learn from the mistakes – and the achievements – of others. Samantha Liscio, 2020 Canadian CIO of the Year (public sector), makes a powerful case for vicarious learning as a guest on ITWC’s podcast series, Leadership in the Digital Enterprise.
Series host, ITWC CIO Jim Love, opens the 45-minute podcast with an introduction to Liscio, former Chief Technology and Innovation Officer for Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, and incoming Chief Information and Technology Officer for the UK’s National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Network (CRN). A digital transformation specialist with 20 years of experience in IT leadership roles, she comes to the table with a deep love of technology and a personal playbook for success.
Communication is Everything
After sharing some of the milestones in her multi-faceted career, and lessons learned as a competitive athlete, Liscio speaks to the importance of being able to translate technical terms into business language. “One of the things I tell people when they talk about what they should do for IT training is to pay attention to their technical skills, but learn to communicate,” says Liscio. “In terms of being an IT leader, that really is everything.”
Something that Didn’t Work
When asked by Love to share an example of something that didn’t go well in her career, Liscio relates a time when she was asked to present a business case for consolidating email services. “How we explain value can be a very dangerous path for us when we try to quantify benefits that aren’t truly quantifiable,” she says. “As I’ve progressed through my career, I’ve seen the opportunity for expressing benefits differently raise its head on a number of occasions. And as you become more accountable, given your role in an organization, it becomes more incumbent upon you to say something when things aren’t happening the way that they should.”
Something that Did
Moving to an example of success, Liscio comments on the heady feeling that comes with achieving great things and introducing great systems. Looking back, she acknowledges the impact of personally recognizing those who contributed to the success, whether that recognition comes in a letter or a hand-written card. “Relating individual contributions to the big delivery always gets people’s attention,” she says. “This is something that I’ve always tried to do and it has worked tremendously well.”
And Speaking of the Pandemic…
From there the conversation turns to pandemic-related issues, including today’s reliance on digital signals, with Liscio stating the importance of automation for scorecards and KPIs. “But we also have to be talking to people and looking them in the eye and watching to see how they engage with our services,” she adds, “because what people tell you through a survey or automated bot isn’t exactly the same as the real-life experience.”
Reflecting on another area of pandemic impact, Liscio expresses concern that organizations might be motivated to return to some version of 2019 or early 2020. Her major worry is that public policy and commercial responses will drive us back to a kind of ‘9 to 5’ expectation of work as somewhere you go versus something you do. “The pandemic has allowed us to think about the nature of work differently,” she says. “If we think more about functionally, about what we need to do, and how people need to work together to do that, we’ll be able to put logistics in place to enable that.”
Liscio doesn’t skip a beat when Love concludes the podcast by asking her to share the one piece of advice she would give to new leaders. “Understand your authentic self,” she says. “Know what motivates you and what makes you tick, and express that to others in ways that can help them be successful.”