Avanade’s CEO Emeritus Shares What It Takes To Build A Strong Culture
Ask any employee around the world, and they’ll likely tell you that company culture plays a major role in their overall experience.
But what makes a strong and effective culture? Who leads the charge?
In most cases, leaders set the tone for their organizations. As culture becomes more of a defining quality in attracting and retaining top talent, future leaders will play an even more vital role in establishing culture.
Adam Warby has been with business technology company Avanade since its founding in 2000 and became the company’s second CEO in 2008. He played a pivotal role in establishing and growing the company’s culture and turning it into a regularly recognized top employer.
Today, Adam is CEO Emeritus and Avanade has more than 36,000 employees working around the globe. I had the chance to visit Adam in the UK and interview him for my book, The Future Leader. Adam shared three skills leaders need to develop that can help build a strong company culture.
Look Outside And Be Present
For Adam, leadership starts with showing up and being present. As he travels around the world to meet with various teams, Adam throws himself into being present with each person he meets. It’s easy for leaders to get caught up with what’s going on within their own office or within their own company, but Adam believes the most effective leaders look outside themselves to truly understand what is happening in the world and with their clients and employees. They show up every day to be present both inside and outside the company.
A silly example of showing up is when Adam sent an April Fool joke to the company a few years ago that many people fell for. Adam got more than 100 responses from employees, and he took the time to respond to every message.
“That’s it. It’s a connection, it’s showing up in a place where you would necessarily expect the CEO,” he said.
Being present and looking outside themselves builds a culture where everyone matters and is seen by leaders and colleagues. Every member of the team is worth paying attention to and deserves to be seen and respected.
Balance Humans And Technology
Although Adam oversaw a technology company, he realizes that technology isn’t everything. In his mind, technology is a powerful tool because it allows leaders to focus more on what really matters, which is the people of the organization.
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Adam told me this: “I see artificial intelligence and technology as extremely positive for future leaders. It will give them a partner in the decision-making process while allowing them to focus on the most important aspect of leadership: people. I think in a world that is recently driven to technology, balancing that as a leader in humanity is important.”
Finding that elusive balance can come in many ways. As an individual, it often looks like unplugging or finding a non-technical outlet. Adam turns to gardening and calls his daffodils and roses his therapy against the world of technology. As a leader, the balance means finding the right applications for AI to augment traditionally human roles and allowing your people to thrive in other areas. For a company, it means creating cohesive automation and digital systems that help create a better experience for both employees and customers.
As technology grows, the balance between humans and technology will shift. Future leaders must continually re-evaluate how their company uses technology to ensure it is helping customers without taking over. Finding the balance between humans and technology builds a culture that values people and innovation. That culture gives employees the freedom to pursue the ideas and qualities that are uniquely human.
Practice Empathy And Inclusion
Future leaders must be empathetic and inclusive and create a culture where everyone is welcomed and accepted as they are.
“I think it’s important for leaders to be aware and very conscious of the divisive forces in the world,” Adam said. “Our social impact, our impact on underrepresented communities, our diversity — all those things are crucial to our success.”
Adam has long been a proponent of inclusion and diversity. One of the hallmarks of his time as CEO was the creation of Avanade’s corporate citizenship mission to enable young people and their communities to achieve more through the power of digital innovation.
Being an inclusive leader means not only creating diverse teams with employees from a variety of backgrounds and beliefs, but also setting the direction and framework for every voice to be heard and have an impact. Adam believes that the ability to build agile teams creates the right sort of diversity, the right levels of skills in a team, and purpose and direction for employees.
Culture is the foundation to a company’s success. Leaders set the tone for the culture, no matter if they have been there from the beginning or are in their first day on the job. Developing these skills sets the groundwork for leaders to improve and build a strong and supportive culture.
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