In this third installment in our series of Q&A interviews with New Relic’s new CIO, Yvonne Wassenaar, we cover her top focus areas, perspectives on building a great team, and how she measures success.
See parts one and two of the series:
- Meet Yvonne Wassenaar, New Relic’s Very First CIO
- New Relic CIO Yvonne Wassenaar: How We Use Our Own Technology
New Relic: As the newly minted CIO, what are your top focus areas?
Yvonne Wassenaar: My charter is to take New Relic’s internal Data Nerd capabilities and culture to the next level. The idea is to drive internal benefit for New Relic and external benefit for others who can learn from our experiences. Clearly a tall order, and delivering against it requires balance across investing for the future, delivering today, and cultivating community and culture.
I am building out our IT strategy—“Vision 20/20”—which is intended to frame our future investments. My observation is that people often build out technology solutions looking in the rearview mirror. By the time the technology is delivered, it is often outdated. To avoid falling into this trap I am spending time framing where we see ourselves in 3 to 5 years and how technology and data can be a catalyst in that journey. Vision 20/20 is about building out a holistic view of the data and technologies required across the company, our enterprise architectural needs, and a scalable approach to governance and prioritization.
As Vision 20/20 comes together, I am working to educate our stakeholders on why change is required and their role in the journey. Obviously, we have a lot to be proud of concerning where New Relic is today and how we got here. At the same time, it is important to challenge the status quo and embrace valuable change.
Delivery is also a big focus area, one that inevitably becomes more challenging as companies grow. To address these challenges we are doing a variety of things: working to increase visibility to the company’s overall technology and data road map, adopting standards to better run large cross-company projects, and bringing on board individuals responsible for managing our broader enterprise architecture. I see hitting key road map delivery dates as essential to drive short-term business value as well as to build trust with our stakeholders and get their active support for further changes.
My third area of focus is building community and culture internally at New Relic and externally with core members of the technology/data marketplace. As I look back over my career there are various examples of companies investing vast sums in promising new technology solutions and ending up with little to show for it. I am working to avoid this situation by starting early to build and cultivate a strong New Relic community around collaboration, communication, and curiosity. This work includes thinking though change-management requirements and strengthening the bonds linking our technology and data teams with the business teams by being good listeners.
New Relic: Beyond community and culture, how are you building out your own team?
Yvonne: Obviously, I am not alone in my ambition to attract and keep great people—it’s a very competitive market. I am excited about the talent I have on my team now and I am focused on attracting even more.
My talent strategy focuses on three things:
- Vision internalization. My observation is that when people understand the bigger purpose behind their work, they are able to engage more deeply and work through challenges more effectively. Helping people make the connection between what they do on a day-to-day basis and our bigger mission is essential. To make those connections clear, I rely on thoughtful communication, open discussion of our challenges, and joint celebration of our successes.
- Joint-contract investments. We work to create open and honest dialog around how people are performing and invest collaboratively in accelerating their growth and contribution. This means we don’t shrink from the hard conversations with people on their development areas, that we take calculated risks to expand people’s skills, and that we invest in their skill development. In return we expect our people listen to learn, that they become comfortable asking for help, that they work hard to deliver their best every day, and that they invest deeply with us on their skill development.
- Willingness to part ways. Sometimes, it’s important to recognize when there is no longer a good fit between the person and the role and/or company. Many people are starting to adopt a “tour-of-duty” framing around employer/employee contracts. Fast-growing companies experience a lot of change and the requirements for the future may be very different than those in the past. Some people have or want to develop the skills required in that future world, while others may prefer to leverage their existing skills in environments that more highly value them. I believe allowing people to leave when it is time and/or asking people to leave when there is no longer a good fit is healthy and important. This approach allows the organization to thrive and, when done well, can help it build up a strong network of connected players outside the organization.
New Relic: So, how do you measure your success?
Yvonne: Clearly, tracking how the business is performing against standard metrics like cost, up time, and delivery against road map commitments is a core requirement. The next level of sophistication is to add a strong focus on tracking innovation and the health of our stakeholders.
To help us focus on innovation we look at our division of effort across projects that allow us to drive top-line revenue, those focused on supporting the scale of the organization, and those focused on cost reduction. Today we are working hard to support the scaling of the business. Increasingly, as we build out our data and analytics layer, I see us doing more to support top-line growth and innovation.
Tracking investment is an important leading indicator of impact, but not a guarantee. So we are also building out our capability to assess true business results delivered, customer engagement feedback, and market comparisons. I have found that maintaining an external view of how we run the business helps keep our perspectives fresh and innovative.
The final area I look at is stakeholder health, including business partners, consumers, and our team.
- Business partners are the leaders around the company who can benefit from technology and data enablement. Business partner health is based on delivery against top-priority demands, happiness with existing solutions, and confidence in our team to strategically partner with them.
- Consumers are the business users and customers who engage with our technology and data solutions. Consumer health is based on use of the systems relative to expectations, service levels around delivery, and satisfaction with the solutions.
- Our team is comprised of the designers, builders, and operators of the technology and data solutions. Our team health is based on our ability to attract and retain the best talent; our ability to grow our team’s capabilities to build, deliver, and operate world-class innovative solutions; and our employee Net Promoter Scores (eNPS).
Ultimately, I will measure our success in two key ways: First, when our business stakeholders and the marketplace credit our innovative use of technology and data in driving competitive advantage. Second, when other leading companies increasingly want to poach our talent for their ability to solve hard problems in innovative, collaborative ways—and when the top talent chooses to stay put.