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PwC’s CIO on the power of collaboration

Brian Watson | May 4, 2016
Sigal Zarmi’s experience leading a pan-European system rollout taught her valuable lessons in building consensus, working through cultural differences and implementing the right change-management policies.

Early on, Zarmi realized the importance of bringing the team together. She reached out to every member and asked what was important to each of them. Everyone needed to have a say, Zarmi believed, and facilitating that would be the only way to drive agreement — whether or not each member got what he or she wanted. 

That involved a whole lot of listening, which Zarmi says is critical in all projects, but especially in that one. “Listen more than you talk, because you never know what you will find out,” she says. “Sometimes people just want to talk to get things off their chest, and then they’re OK with what you decide. Sometimes they just want to be heard.” 

She likens it to negotiation: Leaders must listen well, understand what’s important to other people, and get them to talk about what’s really non-negotiable to them, she says. 

That was the team-building aspect. At the same time, Zarmi had to build relationships with the business leadership teams in the different European countries. One reason for that was to ensure that, as Zarmi recalls, “we had the right people at the right level at the right meetings to make the right decisions.” To succeed, she needed the best mix of influencers in each country, and across each function in those countries. 

Finding that mix wasn’t easy. Zarmi couldn’t be in multiple places at one time, but she had to learn and understand the dynamics on the ground in each country. At times, she acknowledges, the cultural differences posed too many obstacles, and certain people had to be moved off of the project. 

But building relationships with leadership teams was critical for another reason: She had to make sure they would be supportive of the new system not just in IT, but on the business and functional sides as well. 

In the end, the project team succeeded, rolling out a new equipment listing system across Europe in nine months. The initiative saved $20 million for the ongoing operation, from a combination of process changes, system retirements and opportunity costs. 

Not long afterward, Zarmi was promoted to CIO of GE’s Financial Guaranty Insurance Company. She later went on to become chief operating officer of GE Energy Financial Services, CIO of GE Corporate Financial Services and, finally, CIO of GE Capital Americas. 

Technology is the easiest piece 

In recalling the European project, Zarmi doesn’t say much about the actual technology. There’s a reason for that. “Technology is only a very small piece of implementing a complex project. Actually, it’s the easiest piece,” she says. “It’s the change management that’s hard and will determine success or failure.”  


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