Talent Talk with Lynn Warneke

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we’re kicking off a week of Talent Talks with inspiring women in tech. Today, we are joined by Lynn Warneke, Corporate Operations Director & Chief Information Officer for the Department of Premier and Cabinet (VIC). Lynn shares her journey to becoming one of Australia’s Most Innovative CIOs and the lessons she’s learnt along the way. Let’s jump into it.


1. You were recently named one of Australia’s Most Innovative CIOs. Tell us what that means to you and the journey you’ve taken to get to this place in your career. 

The CIO 50 is such a prestigious national award, of course I was thrilled to place in the top ten, lucky number 7! It had so much meaning for me, in three distinct ways:

To receive any award is always a delight because of the recognition it confers on the work of your teams. While this award may single out the CIO, no leader can single-handedly achieve the results necessary to put you in the running, in such a competitive field – a strong team and an enabling environment are pre-requisites. This award was a welcome opportunity to express gratitude and share recognition with all those deserving of the credit.

Having worked in the "digital transformation" space long before we used that term, leading technology-enabled, business change, I've always been fascinated by emergent technology and excited by the opportunity it represents to improve ways of working, collaborating and connecting. So, to be recognized for an innovative program and mindset was fantastic. 'One of Australia's most innovative CIOs' is a huge badge of honour that I'm incredibly proud to wear.
And finally, on a personal level I was especially pleased to be nominated by a woman and find myself one of several incredible women recognised in 2020, three of us in the top 10. Apparently 2020 was the best year yet for female representation in the Australian CIO 50.

In terms of the journey to date – it's been a long and winding road, as career journeys tend to be. I've worked on the business and ICT sides of the organisational fence, as a consultant and in operational roles, for small start-ups through to large enterprises, and in many different sectors both public and private. Over a non-traditional ICT career trajectory I've been exposed to a wide range of business models, cultures, practices and challenges. I've benefited from working with and learning from some extraordinary founders, leaders and mentors, and colleagues. I'm all the richer, and more capable and adaptive I think, for that very broad cross-industry experience.

There is a big picture at work in all that diversity of experience. A few drivers have consistently informed my career choices and achievements: continuous learning; a passion for design; the desire to make a difference, to collaborate with like-minded people on big, bold visions; and an ambition to make technology (the practice and the product) useful and usable for all.

2. Tell us about your leadership style. How do you motivate and empower your teams?

In my experience, teams respond well to leaders who set a clear vision or mission, and define a strategic roadmap towards a compelling destination. Most of us like to know where we're heading, and most importantly, why. Ensuring those enablers are in place so that teams are clear and empowered to work towards a shared outcome – that's a considerable part of my leadership focus.

If that sounds like I preference tangible action and achievement above all, it's not meant to. I'm well aware leadership 'style' is also a critical, albeit intangible factor in team culture and motivation. I read widely on leadership and give it a great deal of thought – but I'd usually leave it to others to comment, since style is in the eye of the beholder so to speak. I'll just say that I hope my style is reflective of what I consider to be high-value leadership qualities – authentic, open and engaged, available, collaborative, inspiring and effective.


3. Besides the obvious skills, what qualities do you look for when hiring people for your team?

Diversity. I don't just look at the individual, I try to think about team culture and dynamics holistically when hiring.

Firstly and foremost, gender diversity. I deliberately prioritise gender because it’s clear the ICT/Digital sector still has much to do to become an attractive career option for women, and thereby realise the benefits that accrue from a gender-equitable workforce. After gender, I look for other forms of diversity, including age, dis/ability, background, culture and thought. And what are commonly referred to as 'soft' skills – or EQ – are as critical as 'hard' technical competencies, with EQ usually a greater indicator of long-term team success I've found.

Not sure if we'd all agree on the "obvious skills", so for the avoidance of doubt I'll add that no digital/tech team is complete and completely effective, in my view, without people-centred change and design capabilities embedded in the team structure, skills matrix and delivery methodology.


4. One of the most important things a CIO does is drive change. How do you do that, especially when dealing with resistance? 

Agreed. Given the acceleration of technology change and market disruption over the last 10 years, and the nature and scale of emergent technologies, staff needs and customer expectations – to be successful the contemporary CIO must, fundamentally, be an effective change agent.  

How do I do that?  Possibly it helps that I love change – enthusiasm to spare doesn't hurt. Change is often handled poorly, particularly in tech, so my view is that a role driving change comes with a responsibility to do it well.  Having an organisational change background, I resource a change management workstream as part of any major new technology initiative, leveraging established change frameworks and techniques. I also factor human centred design into ICT programs and product development: HCD is my not-so-secret sauce, and a key part of effective change. If you accept that you're a change agent, then you also have to accept you'll be dealing with resistance. That's a perfectly normal human reaction to the unfamiliar, and I'll go so far as to say it's unavoidable. The "valley of despair" in change theory is a thing, but it's treatable and rarely permanent or fatal (assuming the change is done well). Empathy and patience go a long way. Transparent communication is essential.

5. What's the best piece of advice you would give to someone who aspires to be a CIO?

Ensure you're aspiring for the right reasons, because clearly it's much more than the title. Being a CIO is a privilege, a responsibility and extremely hard work. It's a complex role that operates at the nexus of business transformation, customer experience and organisational/ employee enablement.  

So, if you're on a journey towards the C-suite, prepare by putting in the work along the way, taking every opportunity to supplement your domain skills and build those needed in any executive position: leadership, strategic thinking, stakeholder management and people capabilities. The best CIOs have an uncommon blend of strategic vision, technology nous and people aptitude.