Leader profile: Carol Simic-Marotta of Kyndryl

Senior partner for culture and development leads culture transformation at IBM spinoff

Leader profile: Carol Simic-Marotta of Kyndryl

Carol Simic-Marotta says it’s been a highlight of her career — leading the culture transformation in Canada of a startup company that already has 90,000 people globally.

“Having an opportunity to really create something unique and special, taking the best of what I had experienced for the last 35 years — that sense of pride, that dedication, devotion — and then trying to transform and create something really unique and special for Kyndryl, that's been my high point.”

Created as a spin-off of IBM, Kyndryl launched in November 2021 and is the world’s largest IT infrastructure services provider, doing business in over 60 countries. The company designs, builds, manages and modernizes enterprises’ complex information systems.

3 decades of experience

While it’s a new role for Simic-Marotta, she is more than familiar with the territory, having begun her career back in 1986 when she joined IBM Canada as an information specialist. Over the years, she progressed through various management positions.

“From administration to delivery, leadership, advertising and promotions, I’ve done a little bit of everything in my career at IBM,” she says. “It was interesting, a lot of the roles that I held inspired me to lean towards people and supporting people and putting things in place to keep people engaged and inspired and opportunities to get involved.”

In the summer of 2018, Simic-Marotta became chief of staff to the general manager for global technology services (GTS), where she could better appreciate the opportunity to do more for employees.

“The leadership team decided that they wanted to invest in somebody to lead culture and lead culture transformation, especially when we transitioned to become Kyndryl,” she says.

In 2019, Simic-Marotta took the title of culture and development leader for GTS. And soon after, she started on a new adventure in moving from IBM — after 35 years — to the newly formed Kyndryl.

While the position sits outside of HR, it’s very aligned and works very closely with the team in HR, she says.

“We want to make it an amazing place to work for our people… it almost gives me a little bit of an unbiased view to what's going on in the organization, and I can pull in the necessary parts of the organization, as programs are put together to focus on our people.”

Cultural transformation

Culture transformation is a very personal journey, says Simic-Marotta.

“It is a journey. It's not something that ‘Hey, one year we're done’ and check the box. It's ongoing [with] lots of challenges.”

One particular challenge? Kyndryl’s early days began during the height of the pandemic, “so trying to keep employees engaged, motivated and inspired, trying to transform and basically building a brand new culture while people were remote was a huge challenge,” she says. “But I'm really happy to say that I think we did OK, I think we did a good job.”

The executive’s role is also focused on education and development, and Simic-Marotta says there’s a tight linkage between culture and skills development and training.

“Watching people grow and develop and evolve, the investments that we're making in the population, and just seeing people succeed and getting that feedback through our engagement surveys to see that what we're doing is really making a difference, and getting that direct feedback from employees — that just makes my day.”

As part of that, Kyndryl has launched a “people first” program that’s meant to enable managers to be the best they can be in arming them with a kitbag that covers areas such as employee development, recognition, coaching, mentoring, and feedback, she says.

“[It’s] giving each of them the opportunity to talk to their employees on a regular basis to focus on their individual development plans, their career goals, and how do you enable your employees to get there.”

The Kyndryl way

One of the bigger global initiatives at the new company is “the Kyndryl way,” which is the foundation of its culture and speaks to its purpose and mission in working with customers and communities, and in organizing itself. That includes being “restless, empathetic and devoted,” along with being “flat, fast and focused on delivering exceptional service,” says Simic-Marotta.

“I get a lot of input from the global level in terms of corporate-wide programs that we're going to do, but how we actually implement them, roll them out and promote or develop local things, I've got the freedom to do that within Canada, which is great… we want to put our own spin on it.”

An important element is the “balance pledge” at Kyndryl, which is about empowering employees to be flexible, when and where they need it. It also means being courteous and respectful, such as scheduling meetings or sending and receiving emails during core business hours whenever possible.

Staff are also encouraged to dedicated Friday afternoons to personal development, and to take vacation time to ensure balance in their lives, she says.

“If we're not doing something the Kyndryl way, call it out. We encourage our employees to raise the flag; if it doesn't feel like it aligns with our pledge, then raise the hand.”

Simic-Marotta also says a network of cultural ambassadors are a great help in garnering feedback and leveraging the management team across Canada.

“It's a personal journey, not everybody handles change in the same way. Some people are like, “Yeah, bring it on, give me more’ and others are like, ‘Whoa, let's just take this one step at a time,’” she says.

“But, at the end of the day, I think one of the key things is make it fun, so try and incorporate some fun into the seriousness of the business.”

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