by Mike Altendorf

The nature of nurture to build a strong IT team

Nov 24, 20114 mins
CareersFinancial Services IndustryIT Leadership

Over the last month I have spent some time interviewing a number of high-profile CIOs to try and get a sense of how their roles are changing.

What was obvious right away is that the CIO’s role is subject to disruptive change from technology, business perception and financial pressures. This is both a threat and an opportunity. There is no question that the twin pressures of technology consumerisation and IT commoditisation are threatening to devalue the role of the internal IT department, making it look like a dinosaur who has not adapted quickly enough to challenging environments. However, as Marc Andreessen states in an interview for this month’s Economist Technology Quarterly, innovation in computer science is far from over and corporate IT could have a significant role to play in driving innovation and IT-led business change.

Over the course of the next few articles I am going to explore some of the key areas that will determine whether an individual corporate IT department becomes a business enabler, innovation driver and change agent, or simply an ever-more efficient service provider. At the heart of it all lies the fact that in order to sell technology to a business (and that, fundamentally, is what a CIO has to do) you need to treat the business like a customer which, in turn, means treating the IT department like a business. This requires a mission and values, a strong and passionate leader, an understanding of your market, communication with customers, partners and employees, and development of cleverer products as well as finding ways to market your product and services and attract the best staff.

This month I will explore leadership and talent in a bit more depth. Both are areas that I am passionate about and I believe have a critical part to play in the role that a CIO and his department will have in the enterprise moving forward.

Dig a little deeper into your team and you’ll often find skills that will surprise you. Give your people the time and space to exercise these talents and you’ll find you have a far more motivated and effective team. This is about empowering the individual, encouraging positive disruptive thinking, delegating authority and yes – giving power to your people. It takes courage but do it! Create small teams and lab environments to excite and innovate – it’s not just good for the individual but for the business as a whole.

But it’s not just about making the most out of what you have, it’s also about attracting the best new talent. My experiences with Young Rewired State ( showed me the depth and breadth of the fledgling talent that is out there. In many cases these talented teenagers go under the radar of the corporate beast, partly because they want to (we can’t pretend enterprise IT is the sexiest bit of the industry) and partly because in many cases we simply don’t know they exist.

There is a wider issue at play here around the focus on everyone to follow the same A-levels/university path. It’s not one we have time to get into here but I believe that more investment and focus on the alternative – a more vocational approach that includes apprenticeships in IT, software development and applied computer science backed and integrated with business and industry, will make a significant impact on our flagging economy. Software development could even become a new manufacturing industry for the modern age.

If you take a look at how the best businesses go about recruiting there are lessons to be learnt. Cisco, for example, offers online chats with software engineers and invites people to come in and meet workers, then slides them into the process when they are feeling really positive about the people and the work.

Recruitment is about creating a hugely positive experience about the company. This starts with brand development, but people soon spread the word and this creates a buzz in the recruitment market.

Speed is also of the essence. When you find talent act fast, but be professional. Make it the best in the business – that will create a following by itself.

Think about what makes these people tick – to attract developers create a test that will add to their kudos if they pass. Taking a different approach to your people is just one example of the entrepreneurial mindset that CIOs need to adapt for the IT department to thrive. And at the heart of it all lies two key skills – innovation and communication. If you can master those the rest is easy.