by Cio Executive Council

Retaining Valuable Talent

Apr 29, 20124 mins
IT Leadership

How CIOs are keeping the people and skills they need

Scenario: Keeping Critical IT Knowledge In-House

Tom Grahek, VP of IT, Fair Isaac Corporation

Employee retention is more important than ever within my IT organization, because my staff members really have to be joined at the hip with the business. I’m no longer looking for just top technical talent; I need people who understand what FICO does, and the consumer credit scores, tools and services we provide as a company. It takes time to build that knowledge, and every time someone leaves, we’re losing significant intellectual property that must be rebuilt.

I have focused on making people want to stay. One of the challenges I’ve faced is, of course, the speed with which technology is changing and the impact that is having on my staff. For example, changing our service desk from ticketing and phone response to a self-service system clearly threatened the people on that team. To address changes like that, I started holding monthly meetings where my leadership team presents our goals and vision, and then we open it up to a no-holds-barred Q&A session. At first, the interaction was low, but now that Q&A takes up the majority of the meeting. I also started a monthly survey, and the results are now driving that meeting agenda. This kind of people management is never done, and we’re always looking for new ideas.

Advice: Create a Culture that Embraces New Tech

Cindy Elkins, VP and Head of IT Americas, Genentech

Taking advantage of new technologies, particularly mobile ones, has made a huge difference at Genentech in terms of the satisfaction of our employees overall. The U.S. part of the company jumped on mobility early–before I even got here–and has always been dedicated to creating an environment where such technology is considered part of everyday work and personal life.

To make this happen for the entire company, this means that IT staff are fully involved in creating new services and solutions, but also in making them something that the rest of the business really wants to use. Everything has a business and user focus. For example, my staff weren’t just tasked with creating a new app for scheduling rooms around our campus on the fly, they got to create what we now call Get a Room, and design it in such a way that it’s not only simple and useful, but also fun. This perspective on development has been at the forefront of our mobility initiatives from the start. Our first really big app was a new employee directory. A searchable list would have been enough, but we took full advantage of the whimsy that comes with having a computer in your hand. That app is called Peeps, and it is all colorful birds and sparkles.

Embracing this approach has made it fun for the IT organization to take on the process changes and management challenges that mobility has brought into the enterprise, instead of viewing them as something to fear.

Advice: Foster Full Understanding of the Business

Rex Althoff, CIO, Federated Investors, and President of technology, Federated services Company

Business liaisons are good, but when everyone on the IT staff feels like they are part of the business–learning about the same issues and topics as their peers across the organization–that helps keep them personally involved. It gives them a concrete stake in their role at the company. This starts with understanding the business as a whole, and its high-level strategic goals. But the real progress happens when IT staffers learn the specifics of the functions that the IT organization interacts with for daily service and new developments.

To create understanding across an entire organization, it’s obviously best to use the resources you have in-house. I went directly to our training department and asked them what training they give to the people entering Federated Investors in sales, finance and other functions. There is already coursework developed, and we found that it required little modification. Now IT staff who go through those classes are able to apply the skills when working with their counterparts and can see that they are having a positive effect on the company. This type of cross-training is really pretty simple, but it’s often lost in the shuffle of high-level people management.

This sense of providing value creates lasting ties between the IT staff and the business, and IT people also can feel the increased goodwill from their colleagues, who are reaping the benefits. That kind of atmosphere goes a long way.

Grahek, Elkins and Althoff are all members of the CIO Executive Council, a global peer advisory service and professional association of more than 500 CIOs, founded by CIO’s publisher. To learn more, visit