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Modern IT leaders are thinking beyond infrastructure and operations to offer their organizations innovative technology to drive improvements to key metrics, such as customer experience. SAP and CMS Energy, Michigan’s largest utility, recently hosted a design thinking workshop for members of the Michigan-based non-profit, We Build Character’s CIO Executive Mentoring Program. Design thinking entails a mind shift for most to solve business challenges and unlock potential through a combination of empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality to analyze and fit solutions to the context. The focus is on understanding the human side of things — what technology is and what that technology means to end users of your service- a novel and exciting concept for many seasoned IT executives.

An alumnus of the mentoring program, Sheena Taborn, had worked in management roles at CMS Energy for 28 years. A senior executive in her organization recognized her potential and sponsored Sheena to enroll in a 10 month CIO Executive Mentoring Program. After completing the program, Taborn reported that her mentoring relationship was hugely impactful on her career, “My mentor was a VP at a Technology company, primarily responsible for implementations of SaaS solutions. Interacting with someone from a fast-paced, innovative industry brought a fresh perspective to my job within a more conservative industry. I learned a great deal about evaluating risk and innovation from him.” Taborn continues in her role as IT Director at CMS and is highly motivated to bring positive changes to the organization- including innovative tools, such as design thinking.

Taborn and her team at CMS Energy realize the value of the programs offered by We Build Character in order to equip future IT leaders with key soft skills such as communication, networking and personal brand management. And they have invested in the organization at every level from funding to individual participation as mentors and sponsors. And when Taborn and her CIO experienced a demonstration of Design Thinking at SAP’s SAPPHIRE NOW event for customers this past spring, they were confident that it would be a great addition to the curriculum of the CIO Executive Mentoring Program. Taborn predicts that “It will be a tool that people will be able to help businesses address problems in a creative way- in a swift, nimble fashion.”

The regional focus of the program is not inconsequential. Governor Rick Snyder has plans to make the State of Michigan a technology hub, serving both to educate and employ STEM talent. Tracy Ann Palmer, Founder of We Build Character, considers her organization to be a partner of the State and is committed to the mission of growing and strengthening the Michigan workforce through powerful executive mentoring programs. Palmer was motivated to start an exclusive mentoring program for IT leaders and she said, “We have extremely strong IT leaders and talent in the region but we will be a force to be reckoned with if we all work together as an IT community to keep our talent invested, collaborate and break out of the traditional ways of personal and professional advancement.”

We Build Character’s mentoring program offers a cohort of 20 mentees a structured 12-month mentoring program with practical learning experiences designed to enable career advancement opportunities, develop leadership behaviors and foster community involvement. The program includes one-on-one, group, community and executive interactions involving participation from the mentee, mentor, executive sponsor and program alumni. The program brings together career-minded, entrepreneurial-spirited individuals with experienced mentors to foster talent and retain competitive human resources statewide.

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