“When CIOs start a job, they get a list of the people who should know what’s going on,” says Trautman. “’Start by talking to Joe, he’s got the metrics. [Or] you should talk to Mary; she can tell you about internal customer satisfaction.’ Then they spend months conducting a forensic exercise to solve the mystery of how this organization came to be what it currently is.”
Talent management’s last mile
For Trautman, that forensic exercise is important, but it is time consuming and does little to manage talent risk.
“New CIOs typically start off by ensuring they have good leadership, co-locating people, reorganizing along business lines, holding town halls to sell the vision to the team, and doing their best to recruit new talent,” he says. “But they stop at the last mile — the granular understanding of what people are actually doing at the job level — nor do they have the data to know that their managers have that granular level of understanding.”
Trautman likens talent risk management to Google Earth, which allows you to zoom in from planet to continent to state, city, neighborhood, and then right to your front door. Most CIOs can get from strategy to org chart to teams, but that’s where they stop.
“Talent risk data needs to zero in on the tasks that each technical worker is doing,” he says. “Each click should bring you visibility to your technical workers by name with a clear description of what each of them do and how that work executes against your strategy.”
Why CIOs fail at talent risk management
Why do CIOs, who certainly understand the importance of talent, often fail at talent risk management? Trautman says it is all about the “technical fog.” What is this fog?
“It’s the murky barrier between a CIO’s high-level of knowledge about their teams and the actual work that the team is doing,” he says. “The technical fog is hard to see through and makes it difficult to inventory, analyze, discuss and replicate the complex and specialized work that is actually done by skilled technical workers.”
The technical fog can cause real damage. Companies lose top talent after an acquisition because no one is clear on who does what. A major project fails because two people are doing the same job, but no one is doing another. You have not identified your bench strength, so when a key worker leaves, you have a major delivery gap, and IT’s credibility suffers.
How do you know when you’ve cleared the technical fog? Trautman suggests walking up to any front-line employee and asking them three litmus test questions:
How do you fit into the big picture?
What are your tasks?
How do you know you’re doing the right work the right way?
If your employees, up and down the line, cannot answer these three questions, you have some talent risk on your hands.
Trautman’s advice is to take the first step:
“Meet with a handful of employees at all levels, ask these three questions verbatim, and listen carefully to the answers,” he says. “This is not academic exercise. You will learn something valuable. CIOs who ask these three questions are often amazed at how many concepts that are obvious to them have never made their way into the heads and hands of their employees. The degree of confusion you hear will help you uncover where your greatest talent risks lie.”
If your employees can’t answer these questions, what are they doing with their time? How are they prioritizing their work? What can you do to get them close to role clarity so that they move beyond firefighting to executing on your strategy?
“Managing talent risk isn’t just about filling headcount,” says Trautman. “It’s ensuring that your team has the knowledge to do the right work so that the whole organization moves faster.”
Org charts and nine boxes are not without value, but they tell only part of the story. As CIO, you manage data security risk, financial risk, and more. Add talent to your risk management mandate, and you will be that much closer to delivering on the promise of IT.
About Steve Trautman
Steve Trautman is principal and founder of The Steve Trautman Company, a talent risk management and knowledge transfer consulting business launched in 1995. He is the author of three books, the most recent of which — Do You Have WHO It Takes? — introduces new terminology and innovative concepts in the field of Talent Risk Management. Trautman graduated from Seattle Pacific University and is based in the Seattle area.
Martha Heller is CEO of Heller Search Associates, an IT executive recruiting firm specializing in CIO, CTO, CISO and senior technology roles in all industries. She is the author The CIO Paradox: Battling the Contradictions of IT Leadership and Be the Business: CIOs in the New Era of IT. To join the IT career conversation, subscribe to The Heller Report.