Knowledge Institute Podcasts
Deverre Lierman on the Creation and Vision of Infosys' Raleigh Innovation Hub
Deverre Lierman, Vice President, Delivery Head, US SE Region and Raleigh Innovation Hub discusses designing strategy, vision, operations and culture in a way that drives enterprise-wide initiatives for both employees and clients.
Hosted by Jeff Kavanaugh, VP and Head of the Infosys Knowledge Institute.
“It's really about making sure that we're in the right places to really build that diverse talent and that we're inspiring our people to carry the torch and help build that cohort.”
- Deverre Lierman
Deverre talks about her professional career and background
Deverre talks about workforce transformation
Deverre talks about Raleigh and explains their choice of RTP (Research Triangle Park)
The need to create talent and where to find the candidates.
Creating diverse and inclusive workforce.
Establishing values, culture and communication channels.
When you hire many people, and a rapid pace, what are the challenges?
What made the biggest impression on Deverre at the World Economic Forum in Davos?
What’s Deverre’s current favorite book?
Jeff Kavanaugh: Welcome to this episode of The Knowledge Institute where we talk with experts on business trends, deconstruct main ideas and share their insights. Today I am very happy to be joined by Deverre Lierman, vice president and delivery head of the US Southeast region for Infosys, global leader in digital services and consulting. Welcome, Deverre.
Deverre Lierman: Hi, Jeff.
Jeff Kavanaugh: One of the things before we get started, wanted to give people a sense of your background.
Deverre Lierman: So I'm a little over 25 years in a digital transformation. Somewhere after 25 you stop counting the specifics. Vast majority of that time spent at IBM, few years ahead of that at Arthur Anderson, but always focused on change and driving transformative change for enterprises, be it my client or my company.
Jeff Kavanaugh: And this technology hub that you lead, it's in Raleigh, is that right?
Deverre Lierman: That's right. Lived in the Raleigh area now for little over 10 years. It's called Innovation Hub for a reason, right? We mean to live up to that name. It's a place where we find problems. We ideate with our clients, we co-create with them in design thinking sessions where we pilot concepts and where we deliver digital transformation work. So it's truly end to end. It is a place of continuous learning.
Deverre Lierman: So one of the things that's so important to us in order to ensure we are constantly fresh is to make sure that we're bringing the outside in. Our outside influences are some of the most important things that we experience at our innovation hub. We bring monthly thought leaders from universities and from client industry in to talk with us about what they see in their industry, the technology trends, what matters now, constantly challenge ourselves. And it's just the right environment to do that in an open, agile environment where we're meant to bump into one another and collaborate and be inspired by each other's work. It's a place where truly we can be inspired to do the next great thing.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Many people talk about workforce transformation, but you're one of the few who's actually living it. You're actually creating a new organization from start-up to I think 2000 employees planned.
Deverre Lierman: You're right. My objectives are to ramp up significantly our workforce, 2000 in North Carolina alone. And we need to do that while growing profitably. I like to liken this to running a start-up inside an $11 billion company. And just like a start-up, the pressure is on. Our investors are anxious to see our results. So while we've got this long arc of investment in talent and in the innovation space itself, still month to month and quarter to quarter, I've got to make sure that we're driving revenue at great margins, that our people are utilized. And so it's been a labor of love as we've really seen this thing grow from seedling to where it is today.
Deverre Lierman: It's funny because at the same time that we're hiring all these people, we also had to stand up a new building. And at first we had very little, we had desks, we had coffee, we had internet, and that was about it. And a typical day for me could involve anything from selling a CIO on our vision and the value proposition that this innovation hub and all this digital talent meant to them, all the way to deciding how many trash cans we needed on the floor and where they should be located so that people can make good choices about recycling. So it's a little bit of everything. You have to wear many, many hats as we went through these early days. And it was exciting and every day, every moment really has been different.
Jeff Kavanaugh: You mentioned Raleigh, and comes to mind Research Triangle Park and all the technology and innovation out there. Has that been a help or a hindrance? Or how has that, being in the corner of RTP, helped you?
Deverre Lierman: So our choice of RTP was by design. It was a combination of a number of factors. First proximity to our clients, being nearby, short drive or hopefully at least a short flight from so many in the Southeast. Raleigh was a good choice from that standpoint. But what pushed it over the edge was the opportunity to be a part of the technical community there. It's a vibrant and growing technical community, really well-known across the country for that talent. And the opportunity to partner with universities and other ecosystem partners in the area as well. So our location is centrally located between NC state, UNC Chapel Hill, Duke, rich ground for recruiting new talent, and next to many of our ecosystem partners where we can further enhance our business relationships together on behalf of our clients and help further advance and grow our digital talent.
Deverre Lierman: So Raleigh was quite by design, and while it's a competitive space in the war for talent, I think we're bringing something unique to the community in the sense that we are actually creating talent, talent that our community desperately needs for their digital work. So it's been a really a strong entry into the community and one where we're being recognized for really adding in a significant way to the technical vibrancy of the area.
Deverre Lierman: So one of the things that we recognize we need to do is really to create that talent. Because you're right, there's not enough to go around and we're just passing back and forth if we hire what's out there already today. So of course when we look at campus, everyone thinks about the traditional computer science degrees, or even a STEM degrees that might play a role in digital. We need to look beyond that though. We need to look at non-STEM, we need to look at community colleges, liberal arts majors.
Deverre Lierman: These are all candidates to have a real impact in digital transformation work, ensuring that we're bringing whole thinking to the creative process and that we're designing solutions that will meet the needs of whole communities that they're meant to serve. So we need to look for new creative sources of talent, and then train that talent in order to have the skills that they need in order to be successful.
Deverre Lierman: In fact, we've developed some training programs that work essentially as technical schools. Individuals that join us go through a minimum of eight weeks of training with us when they walk in the door and it doesn't end there. We've had talent that's been with us less than a year where we're already re-investing in advanced Java or AWS or Azure or.net or Python to make sure that they have the latest technology skills they need in order to be productive for the client demands that we see in the marketplace.
Deverre Lierman: And that'll continue. The role of the corporation is such that it's impossible for us to expect individuals to keep up with the technology changes without our involvement. We've got to play a very active role in enabling people to realize that skill development in a ongoing basis. So to us it's all about creative talent sources and about continuous learning.
Deverre Lierman: So one of the most important things was to make sure that we were demonstrating some early wins. And to do that, we needed to take a very proactive approach to understanding where the client opportunities existed, whether we were going to take in this talent and actually put them to productive work very quickly. Some of that strategic planning bought us some runway in the tie up of a lot of the talent into that work so that we could continue to invest in the programs and the culture that we wanted to create as we continued to grow.
Deverre Lierman: And then, making sure we're celebrating those wins together with our people and that they're a part of the process. We don't have every moment of every day filled for everyone yet. And yet they need to see themselves productively involved in the creation of the practice that we're building. And so we've engaged our talent in every aspect of our business, from deciding what to name the conference rooms, to hosting their own learning sessions, to learning the latest digital technologies so that they could be the ones demonstrating their capabilities to our clients and other visitors that come see us at the hub. I think one of the key things is really making sure that the team feels that this business is their business, that they have a role and a say in what's happening, what's being done.
Deverre Lierman: We recently gathered a lot of our new associates that have just joined us and asked them to volunteer to take ownership of some of our technical showcases, which from the onset can be a very daunting thing. Some of this technology is, especially some of the AR and VR capabilities, some of the AI machine learning, blockchain, these are advanced technical concepts. And for somebody right out of school, this can be daunting. And yet it's exactly that kind of technical challenge that we want them to experience and start to feel comfortable with. And then the opportunity to not only learn it but then to show it to others is really the way that you cement that learning in a meaningful way and encourage that spirit of innovation. So I think the term navigator is one that we use all the time in our space, and we look for all these opportunities to help everyone on the team feel that they too can be a navigator in that sense.
Deverre Lierman: Clearly, I'm a senior leader who happens to also be female in a male dominated industry. And all too often I can find myself as the only woman in the room and it can be intimidating. And so I understand the importance of ensuring that we are creating a diverse and inclusive workforce and take my role quite seriously in the ways I can help have an impact personally, and at a corporate level, to really embrace that diverse and inclusive workforce. I think in part that means I understand the importance of the concept of having a cohort, making sure that there's at least two, or even better, three in a party that can identify with one another, and making sure that we are helping people to find one another.
Deverre Lierman: I'll just use one example recently that happened. We were in this search for talent in all these new places. One of the things we went to was a recruiting event specifically for veterans. And I asked some of our veterans on our team to actually go and represent Infosys at this recruiting event. And there was a little resistance to it actually, which I found surprising initially. But I think it was out of a comfort zone. It's something the person hadn't done before, talk about the company and help sell the vision and try to recruit new people. But I pushed a little and asked them to take on the challenge even if it might be a bit uncomfortable or new to them.
Deverre Lierman: And in the end that person came back to me and said, "I had no idea the impact I could have as a veteran, explaining to other people in the military what it might look like to transition from the military into civilian life and to work in the digital field. And until I got there, I didn't know how I could help explain how those skills that they'd honed in their years of service would translate into this technical and digital world." And they were so happy that they did that and had that impact. And so now we're building that cohort. So it's really about making sure that we're in the right places to really build that diverse talent and that we're inspiring our people to carry the torch and help build that.
Deverre Lierman: So I think that's one of the things I think about most. It was interesting, we built this beautiful, open, agile work environment, a place of technical innovation meant to inspire companies and ourselves to do the next great thing. And then I got some very interesting questions. People would ask me, "Is there a dress code? Or should we monitor attendance using badge in and badge out data? Or limit the availability to open internet?" Trust me, the digital talent that we are trying to excite to be a part of our firm and we hope will stay with us, are not interested in those kinds of things.
Deverre Lierman: We really have to establish our values and who we are right from the beginning and understand that today's workforce wants motivation from within. So it's really about creating a shared vision around the image that we want to project, the values that we hold as a company, creating accountability to one another and as a team, versus managers or policies that dictate terms, and trusting people to do the right thing and addressing exceptions when they occur. But for the most part, taking and accepting that people will do the right thing and be inspired to do great things when we trust them.
Deverre Lierman: One of the other things I think about culture that's so important is recognizing the need to communicate constantly, and especially in times of great change, like what we're going through in this tremendous growth. Communication is so important and across all channels and all the time. And even when we don't have the answers. Take for example, one of the things that I make sure I do is I regularly hold town halls. Well, the first couple of town halls I held, no one would show up. Why? Where is everyone? Well, it turned out no one was checking email. They didn't know that there was a town hall that we'd invited them to. And so, we needed to reach out to people in other ways. We needed to go to the places where people are and make sure we were connecting with them there.
Deverre Lierman: So we leveraged the manager network, we made posters, we contacted people on Slack. We took advantage of all the various communication channels to make sure that we are reaching out and that we were being effective when we did. And we have to realize that sometimes people can't show up. And so we have to address that too, broadcast our events, record them, make them available for replay. Those are just some of the technical elements and the logistics of open and frequent communication.
Deverre Lierman: And I think though, one of the most important things is being authentic and being willing to admit where things are not going well. One of the great challenges when you hire this many people, and at such a rapid pace, is that you make a lot of mistakes along the way. We made a lot. We sent people to the wrong location for training. We trained people in one particular skill and it turned out the real demand was something different and we needed to retrain them. Simple things like we didn't get a laptop to you on the first day you showed up for work.
Deverre Lierman: Some of these might seem like small irritants, but if a lot of them are happening, they add up over time. And we lost some people along the way as a result. And to continue to be open for feedback so that people can tell us about the things we didn't know we were still doing wrong so that we can address them. It changes the equation.
Deverre Lierman: So as I reflect on the workforce that we've hired and some of the maybe more surprising aspects and perhaps that others might get wrong too, is this thought process of the degree of independence and resilience that recent campus hires should be able to be expected to have in the workforce. The reality is today's workforce, it's just different than we've been in the past. There's a much higher degree of engagement that's required, a much higher and continuous process of feedback that's required.
Deverre Lierman: It's interesting, some of our agile practices that we follow really enable that continuous check-in, that continuous feedback loop, whether it's the daily stand ups or the retros and the showcases we do that ensure that we're on path and that we don't go very far down the tracks before we find out whether we've done the right thing or not. But even that's not enough, right? Individuals seek that feedback, "Am I personally doing the right thing? Am I spending enough time? Am I doing the right things?" And so we can't underestimate the amount of engagement that is needed from leadership together with our workforce and ensuring that they are heard and that they hear from us.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Deverre, you recently represented Infosys at the World Economic Forum in Davos. What made the biggest impression on you?
Deverre Lierman: So outside of some of the incredible discussions and presentations regarding humanity and social causes, which I'll never forget, I think from a business perspective, the thing that stood out to me most was how central this workforce transformation concept was on everyone's minds. We're there to talk business and how can we do deals and grow business together? And yet somehow the conversation keeps turning back again and again to this workforce dilemma. How will we ensure that we've got the right skills of the future? How will we ensure that we are growing inclusively as we create this fantastic digital future for ourselves? That we are closing that divide in society and not increasing it as a byproduct of our digital technologies.
Deverre Lierman: And so companies, their leaders are searching for ways to impact this. And I was astounded at the direction our conversations took time and again to understanding what can we do to make a difference to abridge the skill divide, to grow inclusively and to ensure that there's enough talent in the workforce to realize our digital future? And many had questions but not many had answers. It was one of the things that I think I was most proud of Infosys about at the time actually was we may not have all of the answers, but certainly we are making progress on so many fronts.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Well, I know that you've got a flight to catch, Deverre. I really appreciate your time. Before we wrap up, what is your current favorite book?
Deverre Lierman: Well, right now, I don't know if I've got a favorite at the moment, but I'll tell you what I've picked up most recently. I'm currently reading Brene Brown's Dare To Lead, and something I shared with several of the women leaders that joined us at our International Women's Day celebration. I think it's going to be inspirational in terms of challenging ourselves in order to get out front and be bold even in the face of uncertainty and grow as we go.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Lastly, if people want to find you online?
Deverre Lierman: Well quite simply you just need to know my first name. My Twitter handle is @Deverre, and my LinkedIn URL is LinkedIn/In/Deverre.
Jeff Kavanaugh: Well, thank you very much. It's been a pleasure talking.
Deverre Lierman: Thank you, Jeff. Pleasure talking with you as well.
Jeff Kavanaugh: You've been listening to The Knowledge Institute where we talk with experts on business trends, deconstruct main ideas, and share their insights. Thanks to our producer, Catherine Burdette and the entire Knowledge Institute team. Until next time, keep learning and keep sharing.
About Deverre Lierman
Deverre is an innovative transformation leader. She brings together a passion for IT and people to deliver awesome results.
She is also a Fortune 50 digital transformation leader, driving strategy, business and organizational change for her clients and her company. She is an experienced leader and coach of large, global engineering teams, responsible for bringing new technology and ways of working from idea to implementation. Deverre drives continuous value delivery through Agile practices and development and deployment tooling that reduces risk, increases quality, and speeds time to market. She is a global people person, cultivating talent, creating a great working environment, and inspiring innovation and collaboration that generates critical business results.