IT teams face rapid change. Digitisation, innovation, and Big Data may be buzzwords, but they point to real upheavals in the way IT teams work.

Many IT employees are spending more time with contacts elsewhere in the business or with external parties, and more are finding themselves tasked with leading experimental and fast-changing initiatives. CIOs understand that they need new roles and competencies on their teams to meet these demands, but they often overlook another important factor related to IT talent organisational climate.

'Organisational climate' describes a group's shared perceptions about its work. After more than a decade of IT standardisation and centralisation, IT employees' perception of what their work requires is not good. A recent CEB survey of 1,000 IT employees at large companies globally found that 94% are risk averse, process-centric or siloed. An unhealthy climate in IT creates significant problems for the CIO. Risk-averse employees hesitate to take on innovative projects or to deviate from standards, even when the potential business value is clear. Process-centric employees struggle to adapt to new ways of working, while siloed employees make IT slow and inflexible.

Our research found that a select few CIOs have created a different climate in IT – a climate that is open to business collaboration, risk and uncertainty, and new ways of working. Organisations with a strong climate of openness are 3.3 times more likely to deliver business value compared to other organisations.

Climate change must be led from the top, so CIOs and their leadership teams should personally take action in the following areas:

1. Change the message communicated by IT's scorecard and objectives

The CIO's choice of which scorecard metrics and performance objectives to highlight sends a clear signal about the organisation's priorities and shapes employee perceptions of how they are expected to behave. CIOs who routinely emphasise measures of on-time, on-budget, and operational performance, perhaps by giving monthly updates in a team meeting or email newsletter, are unwittingly damaging IT's climate because they create the perception that these measures trump all else. This doesn't mean that IT shouldn't measure operational performance, but when it comes to choosing which metrics to emphasise to the IT team, CIOs should focus on measures of speed to market, business impact and talent development.

2. Share lessons learned from failure

The majority of IT employees worry that working on a risky project that fails will have a negative impact on their career, compensation, or standing in the organisation. However, praiseworthy failures — failures that occur in complex, uncertain, or experimental projects—are an important source of learning, so when IT employees take a pass on a risky project or initiative, they miss valuable opportunities to learn. Many IT employees consider failure a rare occurrence to be avoided because their peers keep their own failures to themselves, perpetuating the stigma of taking chances and making mistakes. To remove these negative connotations, a leading media company we work with adopted a gamification approach to encourage IT employees to share their failure experiences and lessons learned. Employees win points and prizes for creating videos and case studies that describe lessons learned from failures, and for reading or viewing videos and case studies created by others. The strategy was kicked off by the CIO who recorded his own video describing what he had personally learned from failures.

3. Equip employees to adapt to change independently

Facilitating organisational change in IT should not be managed as a top-down initiative. Rather, employees must be at the centre of change and given help to access the connections, networks, and information they need to understand and adapt to change independently. IT leaders must identify the information employees need and follow up on employee strategy suggestions to ensure that employees feel heard.

4. Build networks throughout IT and with frontline employees

Approximately 30% of IT employees have sustained contact with business leaders and frontline business employees, and this number will only grow in future. CIOs must maintain and improve existing relationships, while breaking down the siloes within IT and exposing the rest of the IT workforce to colleagues elsewhere in the business. We have seen a number of techniques to do this. For example, one CIO invites business leaders to lead training sessions in which IT employees tackle real business challenges. Another promotes cross-functional interaction through desk swaps; while others connect IT and non-IT employees through social media platforms or co-location.

Getting the most out of IT talent may be the single most important responsibility for IT leaders. Creating a healthy climate is one way that leaders can fulfill that responsibility. Climate change in IT requires a concerted and sustained effort, but it will more than pay for itself in the long-term.

By Andrew Horne