CFO MIT Summit: a lesson in change, according to GE’s CFO

The main message of the CFO Summit held at MIT in November: Get out of your offices and embrace change.  

SQDM shares an article published by the TechTarget portal, detailing the cultural change in a large global company.

During the recent CFO Summit at MIT, General Electric’s Jeff Bornstein says it is not uncommon for him to be wrong, uncomfortable or silent – situations that according to Hal Gregersen, executive director of MIT’s Center for Leadership, are at the heart of a successful business leader.

Gregersen said that such situations – allowing yourself to be surprised, to step out of your comfort zone and to take time to listen rather than talk – release those unexpected perceptions that help business executives ask the right questions and become better leaders.

“If we don’t systematically put ourselves in this kind of situation – especially outside our offices and with people different from us, in places we’re not normally – we’re not going to find surprising and unexpected information that will open up the future for us and our company,” Gregersen said during his speech at the MIT CFO Summit.

Was that a hidden allusion to the recent U.S. presidential election? Perhaps.  However, as was made clear in the interview between Gregersen and Bornstein, there is a lot of disruption in work environments, where technology is disrupting traditional business models, it seems, on a daily basis.

Bornstein is seeing changes at all levels at GE.

Historically, it was very rare for GE to hire someone from outside for senior management or an executive position, he said.  Now it happens all the time.  The company has also had to hire massive amounts of new, young talent to keep up with the changing demands of the industry.  This includes staff coming from Apple and Google, who contribute skills such as machine learning and artificial intelligence.

“New people come from a very different place than a traditional GE employee would; they also come with many different experiences – life and professional and that is changing the company’s culture very quickly,” says Bornstein.

Compensation systems are changing, as well as dress codes – Bornstein told a group dressed in suits that today he wears jeans to work.  The same is true for the speed of workflow and the way a company thinks about and describes success.  It is said that these changes are for the better and that they open GE up to a completely different way of thinking and problem solving.

However, changing a company’s culture is not without its challenges.  Reconciling the new with the traditional has become a must for Bornstein: “My challenge is to get those who are mid-career or already advanced across a bridge, understanding enough about technology and knowing where that technology is going, so that they can ask the right questions – perhaps most importantly, not thinking that they are getting in the way of people who do understand and are not a barrier.

Bornstein thinks that 50 percent of people will never cross the bridge, which is something he needs to address.  Merging different perspectives, contexts, intellects, and problem-solving methods in a modern GE may not be easy, but it is working.   “We do our best at GE when we have cross-functional, mission-based teams that focus on answering one question.  That question has to be absolutely clear, and when you do that, you get magic,” says Bornstein.

Read the full article, here.

For years, SQDM -Software Quality Driven Management- has advised a number of companies with professional consulting services on IT strategies.  SQDM is an official business partner of leading manufacturers in the industry including Salesforce, Microsoft, Oracle, AuraPortal and Tibco.

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