by Peter High, published on Forbes
Amy Doherty was a four year veteran and right hand woman of the CIO of AARP when she was tapped to become interim-CIO in March of 2015. Her predecessor, Terry Bradwell, was elevated to a newly created role of Chief Enterprise Strategy & Innovation Officer of the membership organization for people age 50 and over that operates as a non-profit advocate for its members and is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the United States. Following a highly regarded leader who would remain at the firm meant that there was not a mandate for tremendous change, but nevertheless, Doherty got to work at creating her own vision and leadership style.
She has focused continuing the evolution of IT into a value creator and innovator within AARP. She has creatively built bonds and lines of communications with her team through regular meetings with everyone on the team to better understand how things are progressing. Year over year delivery of projects is up ninety-six percent , and there have been thirty-four percent fewer outages. As Doherty notes in this interview, it is the cultural work that has been the secret weapon in her arsenal by driving engagement, accountability, and fun in the department. AARP leadership was sufficiently impressed by the progress to remove the “interim” title in October.
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Peter High: I thought we would begin with your tenure as Chief Information Officer at AARP. You began as interim CIO in March of 2015, and in October removed the interim title. You are now the incumbent of the role. Could you talk about that period when your rose to the role on an interim basis and then took it over permanently? What were some of the things you did during that period?
Amy Doherty: I think the most immediate action I needed to take was to settle the staff. They have a great affection for Terry [Bradwell], and a lot of loyalty. He is an engaging leader, and they needed to see me as personable, approachable, and invigorating in the way that he is. They were big shoes to fill. I needed to take some action immediately, so I amped up my personal engagement with the staff, and then I went on a tour with our business leaders talking about what my focus would be. Which was to be not the external AARP market and constituency, as Terry was taking that one, but I wanted to focus my effort on how I could make an AARP employee as effective as they could be, by providing the right technology, frameworks, etc. That was warmly welcomed.
I listened a lot, and I learned a lot about what expectations were of the role, and where they wanted the focus for now. I believe that served me well. I was able to make a few tweaks in the overall execution strategy to focus on the fundamentals and get things like workforce productivity on track. There was a focused and concerted effort to make sure that it stayed on track.
High: You were in an unusual situation. Many Chief Information Officers come in to replace somebody – even somebody who was asked to leave – and there is a mandate for change as a result of that. You not only followed somebody who was loved, but also followed somebody who moved onto a different role within the organization. As you were putting your fingerprints on a new IT plan, how much of it was continuity of what was already going on versus some new things?