The Table Group: creating cultural competitive advantages
Rick Van Arnam, Principle Consultant at The Table Group, describes how he has helped Quontic Bank to unify its culture and focus its corporate vision.
“People today want to make a difference. They want to know that the company they're working for has a unique purpose to which they can contribute,” states Rick Van Arnam, Principle Consultant with The Table Group. In 1997, this is exactly what the company set out to do: help executives and teams cohere, define their corporate vision, establish a unified identity, and encourage innovation through outstanding culture. Van Arnam, an independent contractor working exclusively for The Table Group, enjoyed a 30-year career in the US Army before retiring as a Colonel. With a diverse set of skills under his belt, he found that The Table Group presented him with an interesting new challenge: “In addition to the consulting arm, the company is actually more of an idea factory around all things related to organisational health. It’s improving the world of work.”
Helping leaders across several industries, The Table Group’s consultants engage with them to master four core disciplines: build a cohesive leadership team, create organisational clarity, over-communicate that clarity and reinforce clarity through simpler and less bureaucratic systems and processes. Markedly a culture-focused approach instead of technological, Van Arnam says that there is a good reason for this: “During the 2008 recession, we discovered that companies were investing a lot of time and effort in the ‘smart side’ of the business. However, everybody actually has access to a lot of the same technology. Therefore, if you're going to win, you're going to have to do more; you need to transform the organisation itself and operate differently.” In his view, it is people that make the difference and The Table Group promotes an approach which minimises politics and confusion while increasing accountability and honing in on what a company holds to be truly important.
One company which has truly taken this advice to heart is Quontic Bank. Having known Patrick Sells, CIO, for a decade, Van Arnam states that the company is uniquely positioned as an organisation attempting a method of operating which breaks away from industry preconceptions. “We helped Quontic Bank answer six simple but critically important questions: ‘Why do we exist?’ ‘How are we going to behave?’ ‘What do we do?’ ‘How are we going to succeed?’ ‘What's most important right now?’ and finally ‘What are our roles and responsibilities?’” It was by honestly and rigorously finding answers to these that Quontic Bank was able to meet the correct cadences in its actions, resulting in purposeful meetings, discussion of the right topics and ultimately arriving at the right decisions.
Van Arnam believes that Quontic Bank’s wholehearted receptiveness to The Table Group’s ideas has distinguished it as one of its closest collaborations. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to uproot global economies and reshape market conditions, he feels confident that the two companies will continue to enjoy a fruitful and enduring collaboration. “Quontic’s emphasis on culture is going to be really important,” he concludes. “I think it’s going to help them attract talent on the heels of what has been a war on talent. Continually revisiting the six critical questions, maintaining core values and onboarding people the correct way will help position it to meet the upcoming challenges.”
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.