How to Develop your IT High-Potentials

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Intel’s Kim Stevenson on the Five Attributes of IT Leadership

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A few years ago, in 2012 Kim Stevenson, CIO of Intel, had a revelation: “IT executives are leaders just like any other function, and conventional leadership development competencies apply, but there is something so unique about the way technology transforms the business that we need to give our IT leaders something more.”

That thought prompted Stevenson to create Intel IT GeMs, which is shorthand for those in the Intel IT department who have GM (aka “General Manager”) potential. GeMs is a leadership program where Stevenson and several of her senior staff meet face-to-face with prospective leaders for one or two full days, five or six times during an 18 month period. “This is a chance for me to get to know my senior team, which is helpful to my coaching them outside of the GeMs program,” Stevenson says.

Four Areas of Concentration

One of the major concepts that Stevenson promotes during the program is that IT roles generally fall into four areas with an emphasis on either development or operations.  “You are either in application development or application support or you are in infrastructure engineering or infrastructure support,” says Stevenson. “IT leaders must have depth in one of these areas, and awareness of the other three. You cannot have awareness in all but depth in none; nor can you have depth in some while lacking awareness in others,” she says.

During the GeMs program, Stevenson encourages her team to think about those four buckets and where their passion is. “If you have a passion for application development, then spend time in infrastructure engineering so you gain that awareness,” she says.  “This discussion starts to shape the kind of experiences they will seek over the next few years.”

Five Attributes of IT Leadership

The rest of the curriculum is organized around the five attributes that Stevenson believes her team needs to achieve to become effective IT leaders. These are:

1. Broad perspective: “As an IT leader, you need a very broad perspective about the market, the journey your company is on, and who your customers are,” she says.  “The challenge is to take that perspective and turn it into knowledge your company can act on.”  People lower in the organization lack a broad perspective on corporate strategy, “So you have to become an outstanding translation engine and translate your perspective into knowledge that they can use.” But translation to your team is not enough.  “You also need to take the knowledge your team possesses and translate it back up to the CEO,” says Stevenson.  “If you don’t develop the ability to translate perspective into actionable knowledge in all directions, you just slide along and become a coordinator, adding little value.”

2. Company first: A Patrick Lencioni fan, Stevenson borrows from his concept of “company first” in her leadership program.  “The team you are on is more important than the team you lead,” she tells her senior leaders. “In every IT transformation, you make major tradeoffs between current and future functionality, and you have to be able to let the company’s needs drive your decisions around strategy, investment, and the sequencing of change. It’s company first, your organization second, and you as a leader third.”

Stevenson cites budget management as a classic example of when “company first” should come into play.  A few years ago, she and her executive peers saw that data science was a big area for Intel, a function that would add a lot of value for the company. But IT had a deficit of data scientists and algorithm experts, so Stevenson decided to invest in that talent and fund 80 new resources. “That meant I had to take resources away in another area,” she says. “I had to say, ‘you need to reduce your teams, while at the same time, we are going to hire 80 people out of the market.’”  Stevenson’s bet paid off as data science drove an additional $350M in value to Intel over the next three years, a result of her prioritizing Intel over the needs of one particular team.

Likewise, after years of investing in Intel’s supply chain, the company saw its ranking in supply chain excellence rise dramatically, an achievement of which Intel was particularly proud. “But when I looked at how our product roadmaps where changing, and how our customer base was expanding, I knew we needed a sales force transformation,” says Stevenson. “But where would I get the money?”  She told the supply chain team that moving from #5 to #4 in supply chain would not create as much Intel value as a sales force transformation, and that she would be moving some supply chain budget to sales.  “The supply chain team was shocked at first, but then became willing participants,” she says.  “I am proud of them because they saw the value of the decision. They are Intel first and supply chain team second.”

3. Systems thinking: “The world is a system with patterns and engagement points, and you as a leader must recognize those patterns first,” says Stevenson. “Identifying patterns is where we create competitive advantage.”  While one could certainly look for patterns in business processes and sales data to create value, Stevenson illustrates systems thinking with a talent acquisition challenge.

“At Intel, we are changing our products and that means we need new skills, for example radio frequency and machine learning,” she says.  “What universities do these people attend? Are we recruiting from the right places?  Where does the talent want to live?  What attracts them to that place? We are trying to figure out the patterns so that we can be successful in hiring the best talent for our future needs.  We have intuitive knowledge about hiring great manufacturing people from the Midwest. But we don’t necessarily have that with these newer skills. We have to uncover the patterns.”

4. Change agent: “By its nature, IT drives transformation and as an IT leader, transformation must be a part of your DNA.” says Stevenson. “Do you have a large capacity for change?  Can you handle unexpected events? As CIO, you are in a constant state of transformation and must be good at leading during periods of ambiguity.” 

For example, several years ago, social media was gaining traction among consumers, but most corporations had not yet embraced it. “I believe IT professionals should be early adopters of new technologies and services, and as the CIO I needed to role model the way,” says Stevenson who had had a Twitter account for a number of years, but wasn’t actively tweeting at the time. “I first got active and then encouraged my direct reports to get engaged on Twitter and LinkedIn.” This led Intel IT to evolve the company’s internal social platform to better facilitate collaboration. “Intel employees now use our internal social platforms to share documents, plan, or to find and share information, which improves their productivity.” Intel IT also worked with the marketing group to revise the company’s external social strategy, building a real-time dashboard and market sensing platform. “In one year, we went from having a minimal social presence to millions of fans on Facebook, and the Intel brand has been on the rise since that time.” Intel recently moved up 30 spots in BrandZ’s Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands.

5. Courage:  For Stevenson, all of the other competencies lead up to this: “As CIO, you are the first to step into traffic, to stand alone during a period of change before people come on board.  That takes personal courage.”

Stevenson remembers when, a few years ago, she wanted her technology leaders to “broaden their aperture” in thinking about new technologies, so she pronounced to her entire organization that Intel’s current IT platforms were “dead.”  “Here I was in front of 350 people and our technical experts, who know far more about technology platforms than I do, were coming up to the microphone in protest. My goal was to create enough shock to broaden their thinking, so I had to stand there alone as they threw arrows.” Now, Intel runs a much more diverse portfolio of technologies, which was Stevenson’s goal.  “People are always reminding me that our current platforms are not actually dead, and I say, ‘Yes, that wasn’t the point.’”


About Kim Stevenson

Kim Stevenson is corporate vice president and Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Intel Corporation. More than 6,000 IT professionals worldwide – under Kim’s leadership - are protecting Intel's assets, driving competitive advantage, and providing IT solutions to accelerate Intel's quest to bring smart, connected devices to every person on Earth. Kim joined the company in January 2012. Prior to joining Intel, Kim held a variety of positions over the course of seven years at the former EDS, now HP enterprise services, and previous to that, was with IBM for more than 18 years. Kim earned a bachelor's degree from Northeastern University and has an MBA from Cornell University. She serves on the board of directors of Cloudera.

About Intel

Intel is a world leader in computing innovation. The company designs and builds the essential technologies that serve as the foundation for the world's computing devices. As a leader in corporate responsibility and sustainability, Intel also manufactures the world's first commercially available "conflict-free" microprocessors. Intel was founded in 1968 by Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore. The company employs more than 100,000 employees worldwide and is headquartered in Santa Clara, California.

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