Finding the rare person who can wear a technical, business and management hat is a tough job for the CIO. New managers need training but rarely get it. “Some companies have HR courses or will pay for outside training; but in general it’s hit or miss, not required or not oriented to the [right] issues,” says Rory LaGrotta, a senior IT executive at a major California company who has worked in senior IT spots at companies like GTE and Clorox.
LaGrotta, who spoke under the condition her employer remained nameless, advocates assigning “guidance counselors” for new managers. They should be experienced managers from the same field and should be available to answer questions and offer advice. LaGrotta also recommends moving managers frequently between different projects and teams so they get breadth of experience. “It teaches them to work with different types of people, but you will take a hit on productivity as a result,” she warns.
Another way to help ease the transition—and minimize risk—is partial job rotation, suggests John Sullivan, chief talent officer at Agilent Technologies. An up-and-coming manager could sit in the CIO’s desk one day a week. If the manager likes it and shows she can handle the job, she’ll move into it when the time comes.
The first step into management may be the most painful, but with the right mentor it’s where managers learn the lessons that propel them into leadership. “I remember myself as a cocky technician who thought the world revolved around the technician as opposed to the customer,” says John Lochow, executive vice president of worldwide systems and logistics for Tech Data Corp. in Clearwater, Fla., recalling his first management job. His boss, a second-level manager named Barbara, urged him to develop communication skills if he wanted to get anywhere in his career. He did and has held several executive positions at large companies since.
Without Barbara’s help, he’s sure he wouldn’t be a CIO today. “I suspect I would have been a very good technical resource somewhere that people used but only tolerated,” he says.