Inspiring a High-Performing Team

Tomika Russell

Head of Technologies for Sales, Marketing, Finance, Data Intelligence, Enterprise Architecture, and IT Sourcing Strategies at Daimler Trucks North America

Learning Objectives

Please Join the Head of Technologies for Sales, Marketing, Finance, Data Intelligence, Enterprise Architecture, and IT Sourcing Strategies of Daimler Trucks North America, Tomika Russell in this Executive Interview where she will discuss the ideal balance between leadership engagement and autonomy within an IT team. She will also share a few of the best leadership practices that have proven to be effective in her organization.


"We're all professionals, we're all adults, so let people be adults. "

Tomika Russell

Head of Technologies for Sales, Marketing, Finance, Data Intelligence, Enterprise Architecture, and IT Sourcing Strategies at Daimler Trucks North America

Transcript

Britt Erler

Hello everyone and welcome to the CIO VISIONS Leadership Virtual Summit hosted on Quartz Network. My name is Britt Erler un executive correspondent, thank you so much for joining us. I am pleased to welcome our executive speaker Tomika Russell, Head of Technologies for sales, marketing, finance, data intelligence, enterprise architecture, and it sourcing strategies for Daimler Trucks North America. Today, she will be providing her insights on how leaders can inspire high performing teams in a competitive landscape. Welcome.


Tomika Russell

Thanks for it. I’m happy to be here. It’s great to see you again.


Britt Erler

It’s a pleasure to have you here as well and thrilled to dive into this topic today. But before we do so, if you wouldn’t mind providing the audience with some context around your background and your current role?


Tomika Russell

Sure. So I have been with Daimler Trucks North America for the last 16 years in a variety of roles, I’m largely focused in North America. Yeah, as a Detroit native, I said, I would never work in automotive Never say never. But I will say my career has largely been focused in healthcare software as a service. And now commercial vehicles, always in it, but in many different capacities. And I will say, I’m one of those people that is lucky enough to enjoy what she does every day.


Britt Erler

I love to hear that not many people can say that. And that clearly makes you extremely successful at your job. And you have seen from all of your experience, what truly makes an amazing team, not to mention a high performing team. So I really want to start there, you know, based on everything that you’ve been throwing in, you’ve seen in your career, how do you personally define a high performing team? And why is this a leadership priority?


Tomika Russell

Yeah, so I’ll maybe start with at the tail end of that question first. And that’s because we’re really in a war on talent. And it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about frontline workers, or if we’re talking about it, and especially with emerging tech positions, we’re really in a war on talent and talent, whether we’re talking about seasoned talent, or if we’re talking about new employees that are entering the market, they can really decide where they choose to go. And we really seen an uptick on this during COVID. Most people are very surprised to learn that people can easily jump ship and go to other companies. But this is very much what we’ve been seeing in our organization. And I know that the trends show that it’s happening across the globe, not only in the US, but literally across the globe. And so we’re definitely in a warm talent, and we should expect that it continues. And so you know, when we talk about definitions, inspiring teams, it’s very much like Cloud or digital transformation. One of those terms that is very popular, I’ll say in use very heavily. For me, it really comes down to core principles. And so I would largely define those as the team has some clear goals and priorities and a common purpose that everyone can feel connected to what so why are we here, so that the team is engaged and committed towards that common purpose. And then lastly, there’s autonomy, they can function as entrepreneurs, or entrepreneurs, and really feel very committed and have some independence towards working towards those goals.


Britt Erler

Mm hmm. That’s fantastic. You know, and I speak with a lot of executives every day, and everyone has their own leadership style, the way they like to personally lead their team. And what you just described there really kind of goes against and conflicts with traditional leadership methods, generally speaking, is there an ideal balance between the level of leadership engagement and autonomy within a team?


Tomika Russell

Definitely. Because you, you want to make sure that you give the team enough autonomy, but also stay really connected, where they feel supported, and you can clear those roadblocks which is our jobs as leaders, it starts with a one size fits all model will not work. You really have to use my favorite tagline in both personal and professional lives, which is know your audience and really get to know each person in the team and know the strengths and also know the opportunities and the team. This This works well and a hyper high performing team. The team begins to learn how they can help to support each other so they function well as a unit and they will support each other moral independence and accountability is very key. We win as a team and we also Phil isn’t?


Britt Erler

Sure I completely agree. I think for a lot of leaders, their biggest concern is how do I acquire candidates that fit this concept of a high performing team? Are there certain qualities, certain characteristics that you personally look for when hiring?


Tomika Russell

Yeah, definitely look for individuals that are more interested in the common good, then the individual, I’ll say, wins or moments to be on the stage, if you will. Other strengths are really, how can I contribute my talents towards uplifting the entire team, my contributions as a whole rather than individual self, and really just the, the opportunity or the interest in being a part of something greater than sells? Right?


Britt Erler

I could see that. And I think I think that’s really the two as well, because we’re seeing so much new hiring going on now that everything’s semi going back to normal. And I think a lot of leaders are looking for that insight, as they rebuild their companies and decide how to move forward. And I want to quit, excuse me, I want to shift gears here a little bit, as well and talk about this competitive landscape that we mentioned at the very beginning, and the speed to market for rapid prototypes and minimal viable products, and how the digital services significantly impact the success of a digital transformation journey, which we are now seeing more than ever within the industry. In your opinion, what is the connection between a high performing team innovation as well as digital transformation?


Tomika Russell

Ooh, that’s like one of my favorite questions. Because we need the team to help us get there. Like the days of having this waterfall methodology where the leader has to be the smartest person in the room, and the leader has to tell the team what to do those teams, those days are long beyond us, we have to have those ideas also generate within the team, where the team has the flexibility and also the freedom to come up with new ideas to try and fail fast. If and just take the the take the responsibility to come up with new ideas to challenge and, you know, I don’t like using the terminology, long leash, if you will, but really give them the opportunity to be successful, a lot of times and traditional leadership, we’re so used to having very tightly controlled processes, that we really don’t give a lot of freedom and flexibility to be successful. And that doesn’t work in an environment where you’re really trying to inspire creativity. We’re all professionals, we’re all adults, so let people be adult.


Britt Erler

I think that’s so key. I think there are so many leaders that never want their team to fail, but they’re really hindering them on a lot of different levels and not giving them that creativity, that freedom that you mentioned. And I think another thing that hinders as well is also that autonomous feeling, and also that feeling of them, that they contributed to something right, if they’re just completing those day to day tasks, they don’t feel any personal gain with that in any connection to the company as a whole. So I think that’s so key that you mentioned that as well. And can you share some personal experiences from your current company Daimler as to best practices, what you’ve seen work and what’s been effective for you? Yeah,


Tomika Russell

so it’s great. Um, so I just launched a program called gearshifts. And that’s really to get the team to think a lot bigger, just in general. And so just some observed behaviors where I didn’t necessarily think that we were thinking big enough, in all cases, or maybe in other cases, I want us to be able to learn the basics of how to tell a story. It people aren’t all creative people, not every one is a UX designer, for instance. So how do we craft a story or a lot of the things that we do is like in these monthly town halls where I talk about economic indicators or how the market is doing, because I don’t want us to just show up in a meeting and talk about, you know, metrics or other things, I want us to be able to connect those dots, because if we’re closely tied to the market and our customers and our dealers and we can craft better solutions. And so a piece of that is helping the team get more closely connected to what we do. And then we can help innovate towards a better solutions. But some of it’s also pretty basic. I had two guys in my team so we sit on these types of calls all day. We have Team of Teams fatigue and zoom fatigue and pick a platform your favorite one Right pick one more fatigue, and we’re not really getting worked on. And they approached me about having a meeting free day. And they presented in my leadership meeting and they said, Hey, thanks for listening. And I said, guys, we’re not done, you didn’t come to just present. Now let’s talk about how we make it happen. And we did that. And that night, I sent out an invitation to my entire organization. And we now have meeting free Wednesday afternoons, this actual working time. And I told them be prepared, because I’m going to name drop, I’m going to put your names in those emails. Because I want the team to know this is what it looks like. And I also listed in that same invitation, it’s experimentation, meaning it doesn’t have to be perfect for us to start, we just have to start. And so those become the building blocks, we take those examples, and we start building on them with more and more examples of how we start to reshape the organization from within. It’s not one person that changes a culture, it’s a group of people.


Britt Erler

And you know, what you’re saying there is it’s not just listening to your team and your employees, but it’s also taking those actionable steps to show them, I hear you, I agree with you. And I think this is a fantastic idea. Let’s make sure this happens in some way, shape, or form, it can always be adjusted, but we need to start somewhere. And I think that’s really key to showing your team that you support them and their ideas as a whole. And my next question for you is, you know, for a lot of these strategies that are put in place, people think, Okay, once I’ve done it, it’s done, I can put it in the back pocket. This was just a short term plan. But you and I both know that this high performing team needs to be something that is always long term, it continues, it adapts as the organization grows, how do you ensure that this is long term, not only for your personal team, but also for the other teams within your organization? Yeah, what strategy we’re never done, right? It’s always dynamic. And so to that point, it really is not only do we put longer term plans in place to make sure we’re successful, but we also we take this from our Manufacturing side of the house where we have this called Plan, Do Check Act, which should go back and see how we’re successful, we have to go back and measure how did we do right? were we successful with the things that we said we were going to do? So we look forward, but we also look at our rear view? And did we accomplish the things that we want it to do? And so we will do that continuously on a quarterly basis over the next two years while we finish out our program? Just to hold ourselves accountable? Sure. Absolutely. And that’s another thing I want to talk about, too, is the measuring of the strategy and success of the program. You know, is it working as it was designed? What are some other ways that you measure success? Yeah, so we’re a lot slower than we want it to be. Let’s be clear. And a lot of that really is, um, we maybe underestimated the change the organizational change management piece of it. And for someone who has been doing it change for 20 years, I know better, right. Um, but it is, I will say, inherent in every part of transformation that you do, you cannot underestimate the people change side of it very, it’s a it’s a really big component. And for us, it’s difficult because we’re certainly pushing from a strategic perspective, and an industry that has yet to be transformed. And that’s everything externally with our customers and dealers. Yeah. And so for, um, so for me, you know, working in a trucking industry, and as a daughter of my father, who had a trucking company, you know, I can remember as a little girl looking at trucks and my dad looking at my sister and I and saying, you know, you guys will take over and we’re like, No, we’re not like, this is 30. We don’t want anything to do with this business. And so from a product perspective, our products have advanced with technology, like our cabins are as clean this, any passenger car, but the industry has not yet transformed. And it’s the same way with, you know, all of the processes that support that industry. And so we have to move the culture with our customers with our dealers, as well as our internal stakeholders. And so we have, you know, I have a joke that I use very often when I talk about the mainframe, like one of our oldest technologies in our organization, and I usually compare it to my age, which I won’t do it for the The viewers here, but I won’t do it today. But how do you take the people that have been in the organization for a really long time and talk to them about all of the emergent technology that we’re trying to do? It’s difficult. So it’s how we can make everyone a part of the journey and bring them bring them along. And that is something that we clearly underestimated. And as you’ve gone along this journey, you know, as many benefits as there are, there are also challenges and obstacles that you’ve faced that maybe you could have been better prepared for, or wish you would have been better prepared for, you know, asides from the change management fees that you just spoke about. Were there any other obstacles that you think executives should make sure that they put into their strategic plan? Yeah, I mean, this is one that we all deal with daily, and there is no, I’ll say there’s no right size answer. And one, it’s just legacy technical debt. It’s the balance between the Old World and the New World. And we all face it on a daily basis. And with limited resources, which we all have, it really becomes how do you manage your current world that you have, while making sure that you’re investing what we’ve done in my organization, is we’ve introduced what’s called the RCO model, or real cost of ownership. And what I’ve all I want to say agreed to with my stakeholders, but there’s probably a different way that they would describe it. But it’s really to have a conversation doesn’t matter what organization you’re in, you can be with all of the tech giants, the most profitable tech giants, there’s never an endless supply of resources, time, money, and people. And so how do you change the conversation and make sure we’re investing in the right things? And so there’s real cost of ownership model looks at how much does it really cost us to run an application? And full dollar amount? How much does it cost? And is this where we should spend our money? Yeah, is it worthwhile, I think that’s going to be unique for every company to as a whole, they have to look internally and really make sure that they’re separating those resources and investing in the right areas. For them. I don’t think there’s a one size fits all framework for this either. And, you know, yeah, and as we wrap up this conversation today, you know, you provided such incredible insights for executives and organizations that are not only maybe at the beginning stages of trying to put some sort of framework like this in place, but maybe they’re halfway through and they’re thinking, Okay, how do I make sure that now I’ve got this fabulous team in place? How do I make sure that they’re constantly moving forward and moving the business along as well, final pieces of advice that you could give them? Yeah, I would say, um, the, the measurements are piece, key pieces of insight, making sure that you have the catalyst within the business, organization, as well as it for the engagement, it’s also really key. And I’m very big on looking for inspiration outside of our walls. I think when we’re too, inwardly focused, we miss our opportunities. If you’re yourself, and you think you’re great. Always be great, right? You have to look elsewhere to really see how you’re doing. And never be afraid to have big ideas. People naturally are afraid of change. But if you really dig deep, and people look at you crazy when you have those really big ideas, rinse and repeat, I often say well, you just have to be persistent with the ideas and the vision. And if people can’t see it, or initially, as long as it makes sense, and you keep planting those seeds, eventually, they will come, they will come. I love that in a fantastic way to end this interview. And I think the insights you provided today are going to be so crucial for helping these businesses move forward and not just you know, in it aspect of their organization, but all teams across the board. So to me, thank you so much for being here. It’s been an absolute pleasure. And thank you to everyone who has joined us today as well. If you do have further questions, not to worry, there will be a discussion forum underneath this presentation. Thank you again for joining us and enjoy the rest of the CIO VISIONS Leadership Virtual Summit. Thank you


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