Filipo Passerini, CIO at Procter & Gamble is always wondering how IT can stay relevant to the business—create value for the business.

Guest blog by Dan Roberts and Brian P. Watson, excerpted from their new book, Confessions of a Successful CIO (Wiley CIO Series, March 2014).

Filippo Passerini is group president, Global Business Services (GBS) and CIO at Procter & Gamble. He and his team of 6,000 deliver services and solutions to the company’s employees in 75 countries.

Filippo_Passerini_rnd.pngNot long after Passerini led the integration of P&G’s IT and services groups to form GBS, one of the largest and most progressive shared services organizations in the world, GBS employees posed an interesting question to Passerini: “Are we done yet?” Passerini’s answer goes to one of his fundamental leadership principles: staying relevant.

Passerini asks three major questions of his team before undertaking a major initiative.

The first is, what right does the organization have to win? When it comes to technology, too many CIOs think that buying the latest software or systems will automatically translate to business value. “CIOs will normally think, if I do what is right, it will translate to good for the business. We don’t think so,” he said. “We think you need to start with the end in mind of what is the business value, and then work backwards into all the steps that unequivocally lead to that business value creation.”

But to get to that value creation, Passerini asks tough questions. Does his organization have better skills? Does his team have more passion?

The second is, what needs to happen for the initiative to generate that business value? “What needs to be drilled in to be successful?” Passerini asked. He forces his team to look beyond vendor buzz and spin—and also to acknowledge how fast business and technology are changing today.

“The only thing we’re interested in is being relevant to the business—creating value for the business. What can we do to be more relevant? This is a most critical question, and one that we should ask ourselves every day.”

The third is the most important: What can go wrong? Passerini says he lives his life by that critical question. And it helps his team understand the concept of anticipating issues before they spring up.

With those three—he calls them the rocks of his organization—he forces a larger discussion around relevance. “The only thing we’re interested in is being relevant to the business—creating value for the business,” Passerini said. “What can we do to be more relevant? This is a most critical question, and one that we should ask ourselves every day.”

Confessions of a Successful CIOSo, when asked if the organization is done yet, Passerini points to relevance. Instead of thinking about the huge outsourcing deal that was just completed, he refocused his people on what was yet to come. They still had jobs to do, services to provide. If they could stay relevant, Passerini said, then the organization will prosper. “Our future, our destiny, is in our hands,” he told his team.

But these weren’t just casual (or popular) words of encouragement. He broke it down further—if GBS gets complacent or becomes a commodity, then they must compete with other providers in developing nations, and in the process, they’ll lose confidence from the business. That’s the opposite of the relevance he seeks.

“So the question for us is not whether or not there will be more outsourcing,” Passerini said. “The question for us is, what needs to be true for us to stay relevant in the business? Otherwise we’re at the mercy of ‘anything can happen.’”

To Passerini, relevance needs to come with a certain degree of humility. He emphasizes to his team to not act like know-it-alls, but to also have the confidence to accept more responsibility and the self-assurance to propose innovative ideas to the business.

There were plenty of positive outcomes from the massive outsourcing deals P&G cut, but for Passerini, perhaps the biggest was the capacity to focus on doing what he preaches the most: adding value to the business. That came with farming out the “mundane” IT tasks so they could focus on more strategic undertakings. “It [gives] us more flexibility, it is more strategic for P&G, it allows us to focus on bigger ideas,” he said.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that anticipating in life is fundamental to stay in control. This applies across most areas. Think about sports. Skiing, for example. If you’re falling behind, you fall down. If you’re playing tennis, if you anticipate the ball just a bit, you have much more power,” Passerini said. “It’s about anticipating what’s coming. If we anticipate, we stay in control.”

It all circles back to getting ahead of the business, analyzing the overarching global trends that affect P&G’s business, and creating solutions that keep the company ahead of its competitors. That ability to anticipate influenced his and P&G’s belief in leading any initiative with the outcome they desire. When they know what they’re after, they thrive—they play to win—and that drives how their staff reacts.

“This is what creates a lot of energy in people—they feel like they’re players, not spectators,” Passerini said. “There’s a big difference with sitting on the sidelines and waiting for the business directions. It requires different skills; it requires an agility and ability to respond. So we spent a lot of time crafting the mind-set, the skills of a successful, progressive, innovative IT professional.”

They spent a lot of time crafting the exact qualities Passerini has exhibited throughout his career—though, albeit obvious, he’s far more than an IT professional. Ask him about the latest buzzword technology, and he’ll give you an answer you won’t get from most CIOs: “I consider any technology a ‘commodity,’ unless we find a proven and concrete business value.”


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