by Martha Heller

Finding the Talent Your Business Needs

Jul 27, 20124 mins
IT Leadership

How CIOs are meeting the challenge of a small high-tech pool by making the most of the teams they have

Like it or not, we are in the midst of yet another technology talent crisis, and when your CEO is demanding more out of your team, you really need good people. But here’s the paradox: The talent pipeline is being squeezed at both ends. Computer science enrollments are down, and an entire generation of experienced technologists is ready to retire.

Recruiting from this limited pool requires money, time and effort. Especially if you are in a midsize company, you’d be better off making the most of the team you have. Here, three CIOs share their successes.

Reed Sheard is CIO of Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif. While Oprah Winfrey certainly enjoys her home nearby, Sheard finds it difficult to recruit talent to the expensive area.

Refocus your team. When Sheard started at Westmont, his unreliable infrastructure demanded tremendous effort to maintain. By moving services to the cloud, he reclaimed precious hours. Case in point: one person used to spend 30 hours a week managing some 40 handheld devices for campus VIPs. With wireless syncing, the team now spends one hour a week managing more than 1,500 devices.

Grow your own. Westmont’s plan to deliver many services on mobile devices requires new skills. Rather than recruit a mobile developer, Sheard selected someone in the public affairs office with the acumen for the job. “This person was not in IT, but I sent him to Big Nerd Ranch for iOS development,” he says. “He is now indispensable.”

Get your project managers certified. Bill Brown joined Avid as CIO in 2011 and found a team that was having trouble consistently delivering successful projects. So Brown signed his project managers up for Project Management Professional certification and mandated that all IT employees had to take at least one certification course. Project success rate has climbed to 93 percent.

Develop your leaders. Brown is also taking his 15 global IT managers through a leadership program that stresses competencies such as delegating, and acting with honor and character. “Whether you are a manager in Singapore or San Diego, you are all learning these competencies together,” he says.

Brown feels the key to the success of the program is in giving it constant care and feeding, and reinforcing the message to the team. “Project management and leadership training are part of the team’s goals and objectives; we string it through everything,” he says.

At CareFirst’s Service Benefit Plan Administrative Services Corporation, many of the IT staff have been with the company for more than 30 years. The issues that concern CIO Usha Nakhasi are, “How do I retain all of that knowledge when my people retire and how do I update their skills in the meantime?”

Use the buddy system. When Nakhasi hires new people, she pairs them with her veteran workers. The veterans document what’s in their head as they train the new hires, who in return teach the more senior staff new skills. This fails unless both parties are committed, she notes.

“If the older person believes they are documenting their way out of a job, it won’t work. They have to see the mutual benefit.”

Customize onsite training. The company’s IT group is also keeping technical training in-house after trying external solutions. “You can’t create change when you teach Java to only two people at a time,” says Nakhasi, who instead hired a firm to customize onsite training on specific topics. The challenge? “People would return from class, and with nothing relevant to work on at the moment, they would forget what they learned.” So, Nakhasi is building a lab where her team can practice. “This way, if it breaks, it’s not the end of the world,” she says.

Martha Heller is the author of the upcoming book The CIO Paradox and she is president of Heller Search Associates, a CIO and senior IT executive recruiting firm. Follow her on Twitter: @marthaheller.