by Myles F. Suer

Developing your talent

Aug 02, 2018
IT LeadershipIT Skills

Some concrete steps CIOs take to develop IT talent.

diverse team has a collaborative meeting
Credit: Thinkstock

As IT organizations become central to business transformation, it essential that CIOs continually develop the talent needed for their business’ future. Given this, I asked the CIOs in the #CIOChat about what steps they take to develop IT talent. Their answers should be of value to all leaders including those that are not in information technology.

How early should you get involved in developing talent?

CIOs believe that talent development starts early. For some, it starts with the writing of a job post. These CIOs say effective job descriptions put together the CIOs knowledge of their organization, the market it operates in, and what they want a new hire to achieve.

Other CIOs suggest career development starts during the interview process. One CIO said I personally start developing people during the initial interview. This CIO said that their questions are designed to ensure candidates understand the company IT vision, philosophy, and expectations. As part of the interview, CIOs say they often identify gaps within their organization. At the same time, they ensure candidates fit with their organization’s corporate culture and can learn skills that may be missing from their work experience. For this reason, CIOs suggest that managers set goals with selected candidates for the first 30 days and some of these can should involve early career development.

A final group of CIOs said the best way to get what you want is to show it’s important in everything you do. This starts on the first day of employment. These CIOs suggest that onboarding is a great point for an organizational cultural orientation and initial training. This matters because onboarding done right can weed out misfit employment situations.

CIOs say that good hires have skills in thirds: 

  • 1/3 of the job they know well and can perform with high skill
  • 1/3 of the job they sort of know, have been introduced to, and maybe have done occasionally
  • 1/3 they don’t know and this is their career growth opportunity

At the same time, CIOs suggest that it is important to internally scout, identify talent among existing employees, and make skill development opportunities available to all. This helps create the future-oriented organization that is essential to every digital business.

Cross training leaders?

CIOs say they need to focus upon developing team member skills that line up with their organizations’ business direction. One CIO said that they swapped their service desk head and their systems and operations head for six months. They said that this was probably their riskiest but best professional development experience. Other CIOs feel that cross training is a great development strategy. Clearly, this is harder for small organizations where one person does multiple jobs. Where possible, CIOs, however, suggest it future-proofs team members skills. It is good for the individual and the organization. CIOs say it makes sense to elevate employee strengths and fill organization holes whenever possible with internal staff. Often the problem is not just cross-training, but the need for the team to gain a broader portfolio of experience so that they are competitive for future internal or external employment.

Do you track your top leadership’s career development plans?

Some CIOs answered this with a big yes. They said this represents an opportunity to put in place a solid succession plan. Others responded wouldn’t it be great to formally track this stuff. These CIOs claimed that they do this informally instead. For them, this is not like project management with all the project tasks, dependencies, and deadlines mapped out. This is about encountering the team with a willingness to engage. Career development, for them, is not a checklist of activities.

CIOs, in general, believe that they need to determine how to work towards the career aspirations of employees at all levels of the organization. And most important that these efforts should be as inclusive as possible. Additionally, CIOs suggest that your vision for your employees may not be their vision for themselves. This requires giving career development priority and active dialog. CIOs suggest it is an area to tread carefully–to be supportive without driving the process. One CIO said here that they have introduced career discussions early in an employee’s tenure. While the career plan is clearly the employee’s responsibility, CIOs say effective managers can play an important role in engaging their employees.

How do you develop new skills in your existing team members?

CIOs say there’s no one way to develop new organizational skills. Establishing a career plan–which many technology leaders neglect–is a terrific way to build loyalty and gain a better understanding of your team members aspirations. CIOs say it’s amazing how meaningful an authentic 5-minute conversation with a team member can be. They say that sometimes it’s just about seeing the opportunity and taking a few minutes to discuss it that changes everything with an employee.

At the same time, the conversation can also provide direct feedback about the IT leaderships management style and suggestions for improvement. One CIO said that they tell every employee that no one else cares about their future. They must own it. Then I immediately say, how can I help you?

CIOs stress new skill development should be grounded in daily business needs but be future-oriented as well. Where possible it should be tied to annual goals. CIOs suggest it is important for IT leaders to view career development strategically. They say that some IT organization treat their employees as an area of ‘deferred maintenance’ just like space and IT architecture. However, they say if you invest in training and professional development where the organization has goals, everyone wins.

CIOs suggest that IT leaders have a strategic plan and annual department goals. These should identify needed skills. Smart leaders connect these to personal career goals. CIOs say that the annual review process should look at annual personal goals, professional development, and technology training. They ask why isn’t this a moment to relate the information collected back to the corporate plan? Leadership here involves creating a strategic plan relating organizational goals and personal professional goals. Professional development opportunities should focus in turn on gaps in needed skills to achieve business objectives. This is such an amazing idea for all leaders!

Many CIOs are leading much of their enterprises work on digital transformation. Given this, should they have a role in developing business bench strength as well? CIOs say this is a yes. They say this is not as hard as one might think once you have a strategic plan in place and that plan is understood across the entire organization. They say other business leaders will understand skill gaps and be open to CIOs helping to drive professional development.

CIOs say as well that having this kind of conversation will change everything for CIOs. It will even change daily conversations. You can talk with other leaders about what you and they are doing to get ready for change? What training or professional development is needed? How to align people with the strategic plan? CIOs suggest the ability to learn new skills faster is a key ability for winners in the digital era. CIOs stress, however, the upfront importance of communication and a common vision.

Effective CIOs clearly are not just aligned with their business partners. They are effective talent developers. But the smartest relate their talent plans to their enterprise’s strategic plans. By doing so, they use the annual performance review and corporate planning to determine gaps and the employees that can fill them.