As the first Chief Information Officer (CIO) for Huckabee and Associates, Gale Moericke has contributed immensely to the company’s rapid growth. He explains that shortly before his arrival in February 2014, the architectural services firm had grown to such a point that “they probably weren’t thinking about technology the right way.”
A longtime acquaintance of Huckabee’s Chief Executive Officer Chris Huckabee, Moericke says that this expansion and the introduction of a CIO started with Huckabee, who decided that the function of information technology (IT) should be much more than simply keeping the computers working. The leadership realized that “not only does the company need to run more effectively as it gets bigger, but there were also some things we could do with our clients that would really start to differentiate us in the marketplace,” Moericke said.
This thinking started the conversation, and initially Moericke thought he would be a sort of consultant, helping Huckabee to find a CIO. But as the conversation continued, they decided, “this could be a bigger, more impactful thing,” Moericke said. It only made sense for him to join and be a part of this deal if he got a seat at the table. “There is a lot we can go do, but somebody’s got to drive it,” he said.
Huckabee’s marketplace is kindergarten through 12th grade education, so the group specializes in school buildings. Moericke explains that not only do they design buildings, but also assess the current condition of buildings and “give you report cards on the current condition of your school. We found that we can introduce some technological tools that really help our clients not only get through the process of assessments, but also understand the information.”
This is new for Huckabee, and along with working to figure out how to better run the growing company internally, Moericke says, “what we’re finding as they bring me in [is that] that technology can… bring a whole other value to our clients that they didn’t have before.”
Moericke, who says he runs a small shop, has brought in some outside talent to complement his team. He uses a lot of consulting help, and this works well because their work is very issue specific.
“Many are a one-trick pony, but when I need that trick done, I want it done very, very well. But I don’t need that trick done all the time, so I have a lot of one-trick ponies,” he said.
Another way Moericke makes his shop run smoothly is by ensuring each person is “in the right seat on the bus.” Putting talent in the right role is a big part of what makes things run efficiently.
“There are times when somebody doesn’t really belong on your bus, and there are times when they do belong on your bus, but they’re in the wrong seat on the bus; they’re good people, but they’re just not in the right role.”
Moericke extends this concept to his own role in the company. As the IT leader, he explains that he should not be deeply involved in the day-to-day issues.
“If I’ve got to stay down in the details, then something’s wrong here with the way we’re going about it,” he said. “I’ve got to get that fixed, I’ve got to get that right sided. The model that needs to be in place is that I’ve got staff members in the right seats on the bus.”
In choosing outside partners and consultants, Moericke stresses the importance of choosing organizations with the right values. “I tend to look at outside people the same way I look at inside people,” he noted.
While technical skills are a necessity, of more value to him are things like honesty and integrity. “If that word ‘partner’ is going to actually mean anything, I really tend to look at it from a values proposition. Will you keep your word? Will you treat my business respectfully?” Ideally, outside partners will think of the business as their own and be appropriately invested and thoughtful of it.
“I don’t necessarily have to have the smartest technical resource. Sometimes I can take the resource that might not be the sharpest technical resource, but they’re the smartest partner for us,” Moericke said. “I’d rather get somebody of higher integrity over technical skills, as long as their technical skills can get my job done.”
Growing Into a Leader
Moericke knew early on in his career that he wanted to follow the leadership path, and he credits a former boss with helping him learn just what it means to be a leader and manage others. Shortly after promoting Moericke when he was a young professional, this boss, Bob Kibler, “took me on as a mentoring project,” Moericke said.
In one of the first conversations the two of them had, Kibler explained that management is difficult work and that there would be quite a bit required of Moericke, contrary to Moericke’s initial thought that his role was mainly to ensure that people doing the real work and have what they need.
“[Kibler] began to help me understand what it meant to be a manager at that time and, in a larger context, what it means to be a leader. I like to think that I might have been successful otherwise, but it sure was a bonus for me to have the good fortune to get taken on by somebody who took the mentoring role so seriously. I’ve always been grateful to him.”
Another important takeaway from Kibler has been that leadership is an ongoing thing and that no one is ever done learning. Moericke says he makes a concerted effort try to become a better leader, by reading, attending workshops and joining professional groups, for example. He reaps benefits from the organizational involvement and spending time with other leaders, acknowledging, “I’m still impressed by how bright some people are.”
Throughout his career, Moericke has learned the importance of understanding what needs to be done, even when that isn’t always clear. Things can’t always be articulated in the most understandable way, and when Moericke discusses issues with his team, he says, “A lot of folks will give me an answer, and if I just respond to that it may very well be that that’s not really what they needed at all. It’s simply the best and only way they could describe what they wanted. And my job, my duty, is to understand the actual need, and not just respond to the stated need.”
Figuring out how to do this has been a challenge, but also a great learning experience. Failing to get to the root of the issue often leads to negative outcomes of lost company time and money. Hearing that a final project does not serve a client’s need is so disheartening. As a leader, Moericke is continually working to accurately assess the necessity of his team’s projects. He also strives to understand when to say no to a project without stifling creativity or innovation. This can be a balancing act.
“As a leader,” Moericke said, “I’m still learning when to cut it off, when to push back and say no or temper expectations.”
Moericke always knew he wanted to grow into a leadership role, and his advice to young professionals is to make sure that the role they pursue is the one they want. “I think some people get confused sometimes, and what I mean by that is they equate success with some sort of box on an org chart.”
No one should pursue a job simply for want of a title. There is great success to be found in jobs that are not formal leadership positions. “So my first counsel to young people when they say they want to be a leader is to ask, ‘Why do you want to be one?’” Answering this question about oneself can be the first step toward a satisfying career. ♦
Time Span of Discretion
One model that Moericke has looked to for guidance in assigning his team to the right roles is Elliot Jaques’ concept of the “Time Span of Discretion”. This idea suggests that each one of us is able to deal with a certain degree of ambiguity in the decisions we make and the discretion we have over our jobs. And different jobs require a certain amount of ability to think forward in time and deal with ambiguity and the unknown.
According to Moericke, “This is a model that has really always worked for me to try to help me understand whether or not I have people in the right seats on the bus. We may have people who are really smart, but I’ve got them in a role that’s not challenging for them, or I’ve got them in a role that is too challenging and they’re not being successful.”
He continues with an example: “If I take IT people, there are people who are really awesome systems administrators. They’re smart, technical and know their subject matter. They can make this stuff work. But they don’t do well in a strategic planning role. So if I take that same smart guy and say, ‘I need you to become our IT strategic planning guy,’ then I notice I get really crummy answers from him. What he does awesomely is the here and now. He does the stuff for today, for this week, for this month. What he doesn’t do well is when you ask him to sit down and contemplate where are we going to go over the next two years.”
The reason this person struggles so much in the new role is because he’s been put in a different time span. “I’ve just found that this frame work really works for me,” Moericke said.
“When I’m evaluating talent and I’m trying to figure out in my own mind if people are in their right roles, one of the things I really look at is what is the level of abstraction that this job requires—how far out in time does it require for the common kinds of things this job involves.”
Gale's Key Partners:GreenPages (IT Consulting) | Catapult Systems (IT Consulting)
Latest posts by Amy Fisher (see all)
- Leadership Development Inside and Outside of the Box - November 9, 2015
- Using Engagement as the Key to Unlocking Potential - November 5, 2015
- How to Take on a Newly-Created Position - May 12, 2015