How to Develop the Next Generation of IT Leaders

Retirement, outsourcing and a tight talent supply are thinning IT's leadership ranks. CIOs talk about the problem and share tactics for growing tomorrow's leaders.

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Anothertactic that is in the planning stages is the creation of a shadow program, where IT staff can follow White and other senior IT managers to get a sense of what it's like to be in a leadership role. She got the idea when she was CIO at the University of Utah, where the school's president had a shadow program.T"A lot of people on my staff don't know what a CIO does," she says. In the shadow program, potential leaders will get to follow her for a day or two, perhaps once a month, to see what her job is really like. They'll also follow her senior managers. Thus, they'll see different parts of the IT puzzle. "It goes back to this whole issue of building the staff, the level of expertise, of keeping good people. We have quite a few people who want to move on to the next level, and we need to help them better understand the organization," White says. "Shadowing is an absolutely valid approach" to developing a new type of leader, says Forrester's Phil Murphy.

CREATE A FAST TRACK

Procter & Gamble has a corporate culture that promotes from within. But it saw that good technical talent was getting harder to keep, and it also understood that Gen Y employees expect to change companies frequently. To combat both challenges, it blazed a new, faster IT career path for its younger workers. IT leadership adopted an accelerated development program, as a part of the career path, says Scott. It would place a new set of top performers in a Career Executive Development Program, designed to provide them exposure to high-level IT executives and assignments to help accelerate their growth. It comes with one caveat: if you don't perform, you'll be looking for another employer. It's a modified version of what's in place in the company's fabled brand management department.

"We wanted to signal that we were very serious about growing people, and were willing to invest extra time and energy" in them, he says. The program is only two years old and is too new to have clear results (no one, for instance, has been asked to leave yet).

P&G also created what it calls "The CIO Circle," which rewards long-time IT people who have mastered an area of technical expertise. This "master's" designation allows P&G to acknowledge their status as knowledge leaders even if they are not on the management track. Rewards programs encourage employee loyalty, says Laurie Orlov, a consultant and principal of LMO Insight. Fast track development in particular should help companies cultivate Gen Y leaders. And with so much training and management exposure, they have every reason to stay, she says.

MAKE ROOM AT THE TOP

CIOs who are serious about developing leaders in their group have to be willing to invest time in their people and to give them opportunities to grow, even if that means letting them fail sometimes. It might also mean getting out of their way when the time comes.

Hess Corp.'s Walton says that his goal at all of his jobs has been to identify and develop replacements for himself. "You do that by creating opportunities for them, you make them look like leadership heroes in the eyes of their business and let them take all the glory," says Walton, who is 63 and retired from Hess for the second time last month after the company named Jeff Steinhorn, who served under Walton, as its new CIO.

Like most CIOs who aim to develop their staff, Walton has used a multipronged strategy for helping people along—he mentors, he provides role models and he moves staff into new opportunities. He invests heavily in education—selected top managers were sent to a Harvard Business School executive program, and IT has two memberships to the BSG Concours Group, a strategy and executive education firm.

He sees the coming leadership challenge as a plus, not a minus.

"There is a gap, but it's an exciting one to fill," says Walton. For one thing, he thinks the blend of experience and technical savvy available when you mix Baby Boomers and Gen Y is a powerful one for companies that work to bring these generations together. He is talking with Hess about how to do it and may want to take on such a role in the future. But now that a new IT leader is in place at Hess, he can relax for a bit. "I'm going to get my handicap down," he says.

Michael Fitzgerald is a freelance writer.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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