How Equinor’s leadership principles helped me transition into the CIO role.

When I was selected for the CIO role back in 2015, I was a somewhat untraditional choice. I did not come from IT - my first job in Equinor more than 20 years ago was in fact working as a catering assistant on an oil rig offshore while completing a non-technical master’s degree. I had also spent a big chunk of my career in HR in some of Equinor’s key technology areas – earning a track record of performance and delivery, but no formal technical qualifications. On the day my appointment was made public, my team-to-be were all gathered around a computer eagerly awaiting the announcement of the new CIO. They had a very clear first response when they saw my name and picture: “This must be a mistake”.

I guess the only way from there is up, but how do you approach it? To me, the three Equinor leadership principles were a great place to start. “Shape our future”, “Empower your people” and “Deliver results” pretty much summed up exactly what it was I hoped to achieve as a new CIO.

Shape our future

But how do you shape the future in a role that is new to you? First, you need to find a challenge to solve or an opportunity that you can work with to make a difference towards the strategy or deliveries of your unit or company– be it on a large or small scale. Then you need to identify and apply the personal strengths or capabilities that will help you succeed.

My new team and I quickly saw that we were at the start of a technology shift, where the combination of our data and digital technologies from IT gave us an opportunity to engage with the business to improve safety, profitability and efficiency. And I brought my network from previous roles and my ideas on how to communicate differently to help drive this agenda.

We started a GoDigital project to identify how digital technologies could create desired business outcomes, designed Equinor’s Digital Academy and launched several new tools and technologies, such as mobile apps and mixed reality using HoloLens. We also assessed how to make our IT architecture fit for a fully digitalized Equinor – leading to the establishment of our data platform OMNIA and our strategic partnership with Microsoft (you can read more about all of this in some of my previous articles here on LinkedIn).

In short- we looked for opportunities to improve our operations and business and acted on them. We took some bets we believed would have a real impact - but at the time we were not certain how -or indeed if- it would all work.

Empower your people

What we did know was that success would require the efforts of the entire IT function. To me, this depended on our ability to empower our people – by communicating a clear direction, but also trusting people to deliver and engage across boundaries.

As a new CIO with limited background from IT, the principle of empowerment became especially relevant to me personally. I used to be an HR executive with strong subject matter expertise who felt confident that I could do any job in HR well. But now I found myself in an IT role with no network, history or formal qualifications - so I had to change my approach, trust the capabilities of my people and focus on how I could apply my strengths and experiences to clear away obstacles to help them deliver. This has probably been one of the most challenging – and useful - leadership lessons I have ever had to learn.

To set direction we designed a new IT strategy that focused less on technology, bits and bytes - and more on describing the business outcomes and value creation that we hoped to achieve. This strategy then provided the framework for the efforts and deliveries of the entire IT function. If your situation is different and our approach does not work for you, know that there are different ways to describe the desired outcome, engage and empower people - but they should be adapted to your company, situation and the task or scope of change at hand. And be aware of the risk of falling back into old patterns- it can sometimes be very tempting to move from outlining the why and what to suddenly being hands-in on the how…

Deliver results

At the end of the day, the proof of the pudding is in the eating – and to truly have impact, you have to deliver tangible results. How have we, in IT, demonstrated commercial instinct, added value and made a difference for Equinor?

We have launched our data platform OMNIA- a key enabler because it provides the data all the projects in our digital roadmap depend on to deliver. We have entered into a strategic partnership with Microsoft resulting in the establishment of 2 data center regions in Norway- driving value creation far beyond Equinor. And the digital academy that originated in Corporate IT has become the engine for building digital competence across all parts of the company. These and other actions we have taken have led to a major change in how the business views IT- where we have gone from support function to key enabler for business improvements and strategy.

We have also been given a fair bit of external recognition for our efforts. We accepted the Universum climber of the year award 2018 as a result of our work to attract students, and in 2019 we went from 12th to 4th place as most attractive employer for IT professionals- beaten only by Google, Microsoft and Other 2019 successes for Equinor IT included the CIO of the year Europe award -the highest award that IT leaders in Europe can achieve and that honours the performance of IT executives and the added value of IT to the company’s success. But this does not mean that we rest on our laurels – there are still things to improve and changes to make!

Are Equinor’s leadership principles relevant for you?

The journey with my team that started with “this must be a mistake” has taken many interesting and sometimes challenging twists and turns since then. We have learned together, laughed together – and gone through frustrations, victories, disagreements, jokes, approximately 150 kilos of sweets – and survived! Today, there are actually team members who will state that having an HR background is a great starting point for taking on the CIO role - proving the point that diversity in the form of different backgrounds, perspectives and experiences creates business value.

To me, our story demonstrates that Equinor’s leadership principles are actionable enough to help someone outline a course for how to succeed in a new role. This showcases one of the many strengths of Equinor: that our values and leadership principles are an integral part of who we are and can be actively used to guide us. And I truly believe that the principles of “shape, empower, deliver” can be useful to you as well- regardless of what company, role or career stage you are in. I hope that sharing our story through this short article can motivate you to start applying them in your daily work and wish you the best of luck in your journey to shape the future, empower people and deliver results!

This blogpost was previously published on LinkedIn.

Åshild Hanne Larsen at the 2020 GRIT Awards

Congratulations to Åshild for being a winner at our 2020 GRIT Awards and Best Energy Workplaces this Tuesday. She was recognized in the Executive category for her admirable leadership at Equinor. Watch the recording of the awards show here.

Related Posts