When I was 33 years old, I achieved a career goal when I was named Chief Information Officer at a public company. While I was proud and honored to receive the appointment, I was also anxious about the road that lay ahead. I had inherited an IT department with a demoralized workforce and dismal customer satisfaction numbers. Employee satisfaction was at a near company-wide low of 28% and the team wasn’t very optimistic about the future. At the same time, internal customer satisfaction for services provided by the IT department were a paltry 24%. With a tired team and a disengaged customer base, it had become difficult to get anything done. Large initiatives stalled and existing systems showed signs of instability. I had been given the daunting task of turning a department around.
Within 18 months, the same department looked completely different. Employee satisfaction was over 90% and customer satisfaction was creeping up steadily to the same level. Almost unbelievably, key projects were now moving forward. The department had completely transformed into a success story.
The magic formula for this turnaround? Employee engagement. As the CIO, I focused on three simple areas:
- Listening: I did everything I could to listen to our team members and put them in a position to do their best work. The more I listened and acted, the more dedication and pride I saw in everyone’s work.
- Relationship Building: I helped build better relationships with our internal customers through clearer communication and accountability processes. I saw our team members enjoy more trust and flexibility as they worked to implement complicated projects.
- Recognizing Talent: I promoted some talented people into key leadership positions to help us achieve our goals, which inspired others to come to work with a renewed sense of commitment.
All of this helped me to realize one thing: It’s easy to get people engaged if you treat them the right way. It’s also easy to learn from the mistakes and successes of others if you are willing to network and listen. My LinkedIn network served as a valuable source of advice and counsel to me, either directly through advice from colleagues, or indirectly through insightful posts by other LinkedIn members and Influencers. I reached out to LinkedIn members who had successfully navigated career transitions and met a few for lunch to learn from them directly. One such person, Executive Coach Kirsten Ross, gave me superb advice as I planned my next steps.
Ultimately, I left my C-level position to pursue another dream: To become an entrepreneur, start a company and build it from the ground up. Naturally, my new company Right Workplace focused on employee engagement and workplace culture improvement. Again my LinkedIn network proved to be a valuable resource. It helped me generate awareness of the venture and ultimately some customer inquiries. When I updated my LinkedIn Profile with my career change, it generated interest from my network, including an email from a colleague whose company Future Products then became one of my first clients. It also provided me with a platform to publish long form posts about culture and leadership. The process of writing helped me rebrand myself as I worked to establish my business. It also became a tremendous source of pride, particularly when I received messages of support and encouragement from readers. Again, one of the readers of my posts became a Right Workplace client. Their company, TechWorld Language Solutions wanted to invest in a simple leadership development program for their young leadership team. It was a perfect fit.
With Right Workplace, I had now built my client base up to ten companies with a focus and commitment to improving their company culture. I found myself inspired, energized and ready to take my career to the next level with my young company.
Ironically, one of my earlier engagements turned into a full-time opportunity. CARite is a Michigan-based chain of car dealerships with locations in three states and plans for national expansion. I recently accepted an offer to join their team as CEO. With my experience in turning around a department and my latest entrepreneurial venture, I am looking forward to working with their talented team to build an amazing culture that supports a promising brand. While I didn’t expect this outcome from my bold entrepreneurial career move, I am grateful and proud to be tasked with a great challenge of being an executive again and fully expect that my LinkedIn network will come in handy along this new journey. In fact, I just made my first hire…a LinkedIn connection became our new Manager of Talent Development!