The challenge for CIOs is how to look within the organization when identifying, recruiting and developing talent.
Innovative CIOs link business success to the ability to develop and manage in-house talent. Here are some best practices from CIOs who are doing this:
1. Clear your calendar for talent management: At innovative companies, identifying talent, recruiting and ongoing skills cross-pollination are at the very top of the CIO’s strategic priority list.
“Spending time on the people piece has to be very deliberate,” says Emad Georgy, SVP of global software development at Experian Marketing Services.
“Your priorities are where you spend your time. You can say people are the priority, but if you’re not spending at least half your time there, it’s not a priority.”
Georgy’s priorities focus on what he calls “recruiting introspectively,” creating a pipeline of talent within the company and discovering so-called “hidden gems.”
These priorities are dependent on knowing what skills the company has on hand with its current employees. Much of this information is acquired during a once-a-year career development conversation with each employee and during once-a-month check-in meetings.
Georgy, who holds dual degrees in computer science and organizational development, also insists that technology-oriented staff are fully informed of the business implications of their technical contributions.
“Years ago it may have been okay to be isolated in a lab coding away. But developers today have to be able to tie their work to the business value,” he says.
After each release of a product, the development team goes out to customers to learn first-hand how those customers are using new software features and functionality. This works to more deeply intertwine technology and business knowledge in IT employees.
“I’ve noticed more of a desire in the [software] development community to be relevant,” Georgy says. “It’s no longer enough to be part of a cool technology project. Developers want to know more and more how what they’re working on is affecting the market,” he says.
2. Teach the skills you require: At The Vanguard Group, an investment management giant with more than $3 trillion in assets, “you have to be passionate about technology to be in IT. No one gets a pass at being a technologist,” says CIO John Marcante.
But, he quickly adds, “They also have to have an understanding of what technology can enable for our businesses. It’s when you combine those two that you get very innovative and creative solutions. The industry is struggling to find these individuals, so you have to develop them.”
Vanguard offers a two-year technology leadership program focused on business acumen and professional development.
“You start with that raw talent and then build it up,” Marcante explains.
The financial services company also regularly rotates IT professionals out to the business and through Six Sigma and other leadership programs. Just recently, an IT employee moved into corporate strategy at Vanguard.
“There’s no better place to get a broad view of what Vanguard does,” he says.
An especially novel offering at Vanguard is its in-house MBA program through which IT and other employees can take most courses required for an advanced degree, on-site. The program is offered in conjunction with Drexel University in nearby Philadelphia.
The company has also rotated business leaders into in-house technology programs.
“You can get them to understand technology – probably not to the same level as a computer engineer – but they get the process by which we build technology and the innovation cycle and they get what technology can enable in the business, which is where you want everyone’s mind to be,” says Marcante.
Similarly, several of the IT professionals working on Vanguard’s trading desk are earning their certified financial analyst credentials.
“They get business and they get IT, which is critical for innovation.”
3. Ditch the niches: Too many IT professionals remain in subject matter expertise silos, which thwarts speed and innovation, says Andres Mendes, director of global operations for The Broadcasting Board of Governors in Washington, DC.
Meanwhile, “there is such a commonality of challenges and such a commonality of technologies that those separations no longer exist,” he notes. “People still want to feel comfortable in their niches, so there’s a dearth of people who are generalists who understand an infrastructure system end-to-end and who can operate strategically.”
As Mendes sees it, it’s the CIO’s greatest responsibility and challenge to merge technology subject matter expertise and business knowledge among their ranks.
“Because of the CIO’s helicopter view of the organization, with a view of everything from supply chain to customer relationship management, the CIO has an understanding of the entire organization unlike any other CXO,” Mendes says.
He suggests CIOs drive change in HR procedures, so that initial hiring criteria includes a candidate’s potential for development and focuses less on a high-degree of specialization.
“When it comes to hiring, I have been a longtime proponent of hiring talent and potential and molding people, and now, more than ever, I fall on that side of the spectrum,” Mendes says. “If you hire people with open minds and a high degree of intellectual horsepower and curiosity, you can bring them in two to three years into a very high-performance.
4. Build a culture of collaboration: Dave Finnegan, CIO at Orvis, a $240 million multi-channel retailer based in Manchester, VT, says he wants “to build a team of strong business people who know how to use technology to get problems solved.”
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To do so, he is casting the recruiting net ever wider so that many on his team are or will be working from remote locations.
“We have people all over New England and down the east coast, so the one thing we’re really focusing on is our ability to collaborate and build a culture and a team who can work under pressure and get really creative, even when spread around the country,” he says.
Increasing team diversity is another key focus, says Finnegan, who also chairs the CIO Council of the National Retail Federation. The NRF, for example, has created a women’s coalition, chaired by Carter’s CIO Janet Sherlock. The coalition is tasked with bringing more women executives into technology, which Finnegan says would benefit innovation greatly.
“Women are over half the workforce, but we under-index for women in executive roles in technology, and there’s a big opportunity for us to change that.”
The NRF, he says, is also reaching out to universities to find ways to create so called on-ramps to the corporate world for both business and technology students.
The bottom line is flexibility, which is the key to innovation and CIOs need to build their staff of smart people who can be applied in multiple ways.
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