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The secret of developing a culture of innovation? Hint: It's free!

How CIOs are changing corporate culture. Communication and transparency are the secret to developing a culture of innovation.

What's the CIO's most important job? Is it to stay on top of industry trends? Or maybe securing the data of the organization? Or perhaps you might argue that the most important role of the CIO is to work to deliver value back to the business. All of these are vital components of being a CIO. But one of the most business critical elements of CIO success rarely gets mentioned and yet, can make or break a company. The CIO is responsible for developing a culture of innovation and engagement within the company.

Wendy SchuchartWendy Schuchart,
Site Editor

Whether accurate or not, developing a culture is one of those soft skills that CIOs aren't stereotypically known for possessing. CIOs tend to be more comfortable with math and hard sciences -- those are some of the things that attract people to the CIO role. But think about it. As employees engage or disengage with their roles, there's one key component in their work life -- technology. CIOs have an opportunity to start changing corporate culture in a positive manner when doing something as basic as introducing new technologies to their user base.

We're getting ready to open nominations for the 2013 SearchCIO-Midmarket IT Leadership Awards. One of the awards recognizes CIOs and IT executives who have been instrumental in developing a culture that drives innovation, offers exemplary reward and recognition for team members and delivers a high level of employee engagement. The Culture Award is always an eye-opener.

Young people leave managers -- not leaders.

Thomas Walter,
CEO, Tasty Catering

I had the opportunity to chat with Thomas Walter about what CIOs can do toward developing a culture that has a high level of employee engagement. Walter, CEO of Chicago's Tasty Catering, consults business leaders on developing a culture through corporate values and leadership. His new book It's My Company Too! details ways IT leaders are changing corporate culture through employee engagement.

When it comes to developing culture, the most crucial element, Walter said, is transparency. "CIOs deal with communication. Communication is a culture driver and the 'need to know basis' is a culture killer. Employees spend about 8% of their day thinking about their actual jobs. The rest of the time they're thinking about other sorts of things, like wondering if they're moving up, wondering what they're going to be doing tomorrow, that kind of thing. If you keep everyone in the need to know basis, then the employee is filled with negative thoughts."

It comes down to a change in our generational wisdom. Management techniques that work great with baby boomers can grate a Generation X or Millennial worker. "Children of army veterans in WWII learned to do as they were told without question, because their parents knew that you did what you were told or you were killed by the enemy. A 55-year-old does what they are told to do without questioning it. A 25-year old does it -- but needs to know why."

For more about corporate culture

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When it comes to the importance of developing a positive corporate culture, Walter said, young people leave managers -- not leaders. That's something our 2012 IT Leadership Culture Award winner understands completely. Paul Harder, the director of technology of a Minneapolis non-profit agency, doesn't have a significant budget to devote to rewarding employees with incentives or compensation. Harder must use creative employee recognition. His secret is developing a culture that is familial and engaging.

Nominations for the 2013 IT Leadership Awards will open next month. Reading through the IT Leadership nominations is one of my favorite parts of my job. I'm really looking forward to seeing how our judging panel recognizes as exemplary IT leaders. I can't wait to get to know the next great midmarket IT leaders who are changing corporate culture to increase employee engagement. I hope you'll start thinking about nominating your peers or yourself.

Technology can be the path to developing a culture of innovation and employee engagement and in the midmarket company, it's never been more vital. Your corporate culture is already there -- it's up to the CIO to take the reins toward changing corporate culture for the better.

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