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The Grill: Maridan Harris, VP of IT at Philips North America

Mary K. Pratt | Jan. 15, 2013
Maridan Harris, vice president of IT at Philips North America, shares her ideas on how to build teams that enjoy work as much as she does.

The enthusiasm that Maridan Harris has for her job, and for technology in general, is clear after talking to her for just a few minutes. Her philosophy: "You should love what you're doing or find something that you do love." The vice president of IT at Philips North America in Andover, Mass., which develops lighting, lifestyle and healthcare products, Harris welcomes opportunities to share her ideas on how to build teams that enjoy work as much as she does. She spoke recently at a Women In Technology International panel on the need to balance execution with a need to have fun at work. Here she offers more of her thoughts on the topic.

Maridan Harris

What's your role in ensuring this balance in your team? Everyone has something different that motivates them. I like bringing in improvements that help people do their jobs better or get them information to do their jobs better. I like seeing people's faces light up when I bring in something that makes their jobs easier. I find it fun to give people tools that help them do what they do better. And I think that IT people get excited when you use products that they created. So I've always believed that they need to know they're making a difference or leaving a legacy. But when you're working with an internal IT group, they're not so close [to users] that they know how something gets used. We use an agile environment, so they work closer with the business, they know their product is going to be used, and they get to see it used.

How else do you motivate IT people? It's important to celebrate success. Acknowledging people's accomplishments is extremely important. It's great as a leader if I do it, but when the business and the people using a product tell someone [that his or her work] was fantastic, that means a lot more.

You've talked about delivering operational excellence and high performance.How do you define and measure those in your IT organization? Operational excellence is the ability to take things into a steady state while still being able to improve them. You have to have the stuff working to have a foundation of trust. And you have to be predictable, deliver on your promises and do what you say you're going to do. The more motivated and engaged your team is, the more high performance your team is. Then you have to set goals for yourself, and they have to be stretch goals. You need to strive for improvement.

What do you mean when you talk about focusing one's personal positive power? It's taking all that positive momentum you've got and using it. It's taking your positive energy and focusing on those strengths. I do some coaching for a volleyball team, and I look at what each girl brings to the team and I put them in positions where the skills they have are used the most. I wouldn't make my best passer my middler or hitter. So it's [understanding] the diversity of the team and playing to their strengths. Rather than making everyone good at everything, take the people who have certain skills and make them great and improve what their strengths are and not focus so much on what they're not so good at. If you look at IT, you don't need a person who is good at every single technology. You get the people who are really good at the skill set you need, and whatever their skill is, that's what you put them in there for -- and then continuously develop them.

 

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