Plante Moran: One firm, one focus on innovation

2018 Best Places to Work in IT: Without chargebacks and other organizational constraints, IT is free to focus on innovation and creating value for the business. 

Plante Moran

What does it take to create a challenging and engaging place to work? According to Paul Blowers, CIO of Plante Moran, there’s no secret sauce, but there are a few critical ingredients.

Recognizing and developing staff, promoting growth and camaraderie, and encouraging individual freedom are among the top principles Blowers and other company leaders emphasize to nurture an inclusive culture for Plante Moran, a professional services firm with nearly 2,500 employees, 71 of those in IT. And those initiatives contributed to the Southfield, Mich., firm being named the No. 3 midsize company on Computerworld’s 2018 Best Places to Work in IT list.

“There is no shortcut to get to a caring, inclusive, growth-oriented culture — you have to talk about it, believe in it, and live it out every day,” Blowers says. “We are committed to providing staff with an open and transparent IT environment. There are few rules and there’s no real project or initiative that is off limits.”

One way Plante Moran breaks through conventional organizational restraints is through its “one-firm firm” principle, in which the company is viewed as a single entity and not a collection of profit and loss centers that are measured and rewarded independently. That makes it far easier for the Plante Moran IT department to allocate resources to initiatives that deliver optimal value to the business as a whole compared to conventional structures, where specific IT investments are measured against the performance of the facilitating department or P&L center.

“When you live and work in IT, this resonates — we don’t do allocations, we don’t do chargebacks, and we don’t portion out technology costs to different practice or geographic areas,” Blowers says. “This gives us tremendous freedom and flexibility. It’s like rocket fuel for focusing on value-added activities, not IT housekeeping.”

Plante Moran’s IT organization even has a specific role, solution specialist, whose sole purpose is to partner with the business to explore how to best exploit technology for competitive advantage. “We wouldn’t be able to do that if we focused on back-office accounting,” Blowers explains. “It becomes a big barrier in terms of how you justify the cost of innovation and digital transformation.”

Transparency and accessibility to top management is another hallmark of the Plante Moran culture. Blowers conducts semiannual town hall meetings for the entire IT staff to cover technology strategy and firm updates, and he routinely makes himself available for impromptu hallway conversations with staffers — “Paulway talks,” as many IT employees call them.

plantemoran blowers paul Plante Moran

Plante Moran CIO Paul Blowers is known for his "Paulway talks," impromptu hallway conversations with staffers.

Blowers describes his management style as “servant leadership,” which he underscores by trying to have direct conversations with IT staffers and by sitting on as many advisory teams as possible, allowing him to stay actively involved in mentoring and employee coaching. “A key part of my job every day is to serve the staff I’m privileged to lead,” he says. “There is no hierarchical nature — I make connections with staff at every level.”

Danielle DeLonge, technology training and change manager at Plante Moran, is a fan of the hands-on management style of Blowers and company leadership. Having easy access to mentors who provide perspective on far-ranging issues, from whether to take a stretch assignment to how to handle vendor relationships, has been a real boost for career decisions, she says. At the same time, she enjoys the myriad opportunities to engage with her IT peers, from the weekly “Breakfast Club,” where staffers take turns bringing in breakfast for the team, to the companywide family picnic that happens every summer.

DeLonge also welcomes the opportunity to work with state-of-the-art tools and on innovative projects such as KnowledgeShare, a digital intranet platform that blends cloud, mobile and social technologies and helps far-flung Plante Moran employees collaborate and share expertise. KnowledgeShare was recognized among CIO’s 2017 CIO 100 winners. “I’m always surprised when I talk to people in larger organizations who are using outdated tools or not doing a lot of innovative work,” she explains. “We get to do so much experimentation — people have a chance to be exposed to different things.”

It’s the way Plante Moran encourages employee collaboration and knowledge sharing that resonates most with DeLonge. “People who have a lot of passion are able to give voice to it and influence the [direction] of a project,” she says. “It’s not just a hierarchical organization where the person here the longest wins. We all learn from each other.”

More about the Best Places to Work in IT:

Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.

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