Experience Base: Staff Development

On-the-Job Leadership Development - A CIO Executive Council Leadership Development Monthly Series

To say that Steven John sees staff development as integral to his IT leadership role would be an understatement.

He once applied for a job and his potential employer was expecting to hear about that huge ERP project he brought in on time and on budget or the IT department turnaround he spearheaded. But when the interviewer asked John what achievement he was most proud of, he answered simply: "Jason."

John, now global CIO of industrial adhesives manufacturer H.B. Fuller, didn't get the position. But he sticks by his answer. "Every employee is a million dollar investment—at least," he says. "And as leaders we need to take care of our investments."

Jason wanted to be a CIO and, over the course of several years, John put him through his preparatory paces. "We started that day to put together a very aggressive career plan, and he met every challenge," John recalls. "Watching someone learn and grow and achieve their goals is one of the most rewarding experiences in life. As leaders it needs to be intrinsic to our nature to develop those around us." John brings his leadership development passion to the CIO Executive Council's Pathways program, in which he serves as a group mentor. (He also brought Jason along with him as a direct report at H.B. Fuller, where he's a critical part of the CIO succession plan.)

Of course, an important part of Jason's on-the-job training was learning how to develop and mentor his own team. Knowing how to shape and develop staff capabilities and talent through hiring and skills analysis, mentoring and redeployment is critical for up-and-coming IT leaders.

Sometimes those soft skills are sharpened over time. For Burt Germain, executive director of SAP support for Sony Pictures Entertainment, an accumulation of "many small experiences" have honed his ability to develop and deploy his staff. "I believe that if you treat people fairly and always try to challenge them—even in their current assignments—that always contributes to an individual's personal development," says Germain, who is a participant in Council's Pathways program.

Germain learned the most about managing his staff, he says, from those who weren't so good at it. Old bosses who didn't really hear him taught him the importance of real listening. "Even if your answer has to be, no,' which it often is," says Germain, you have to give employees a fair hearing and a full response every time. "You need to show your team that you want to make their jobs meaningful," he says.

Other times staff development experience happens big-bang style. In 2008, Thomas M. Bartiromo, vice president and CTO for the Saint Barnabas Health Care System, was charged with radically transforming the company's central IT division from a functional, platform-based silo structure into two outcome-oriented, multidisciplinary teams. For Bartiromo, a 2010 winner of the CIO Ones to Watch Award for standout up-and-coming IT leaders, that meant nine months of staff analysis, skills assessments and one-on-one meetings.

Members of the IT team were concerned they would lose their individuality as subject matter experts in the restructured organization. "They had some difficulty with the concept and thought they would be boiled down into service support or service delivery in a generic sense," says Bartiromo. The key was "allowing team members to retain their technical identities but focus on service delivery or support processes and desired outcomes." In time, his team settled in and the staff development efforts resulted in improved IT morale and customer service scores.

In April of this year, Bartiromo had the chance to flex his staff development muscles again as he led the creation of a for-profit IT services subsidiary. It was a good example of "preparation meeting opportunity given the restructuring of '08,"he notes. But this time he had to juggle a new position, CIO of the wholly-owned subsidiary Livingston Services, along with his day-to-day CTO role.

That meant "long hours and many informal chats along the way to maintain a pulse on how the teams and staff were reacting and adopting the new structure," he recalls. Then the 11-plus -hour days took their toll and threatened to undermine the work Bartiromo was doing to prepare his team to work as professional IT service providers. "I thought I was still approachable," says Bartiromo, who prides himself on his open door policy. But whenever his staff saw him he was either on his way to a meeting, already in a meeting or rushing out of a meeting. "I was 'all-business' and gave off the vibe of being unapproachable."

Now, Bartiromo makes a point, no matter how hectic things are, to take a few minutes in the hallway or after a meeting to just be available. "Walk slowly through the crowd," he advises. "The importance of a five-minute chat or an informal meeting helps people to stay engaged and connected."

Help from above is also important, says Bartiromo. "My boss provided excellent support on both the restructuring and the transition to the for-profit company by publicly advocating that the initiatives made sense and tied to supporting the strategic IT vision and larger business strategy"

The Council's Pathways Program was created by CIOs to build business and IT leadership skills in senior IT leaders through group mentoring with CIOs, 360-degree competencies assessment, targeted seminars and community forums. To learn more, visit council.cio.com/pathways.html.

Stephanie Overby is a Boston-based freelance writer.

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This story, "Experience Base: Staff Development" was originally published by CIO Executive Council.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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