Guest blog by Tom Koulopoulos, founder and CEO of Delphi Group and author of Cloud Surfing and eight other books on business, innovation and technology.
While we can talk at length about the prospects of IT, there is no doubt that we all need to do what we can to keep the best and brightest in our existing IT organizations. If you’ve been in IT for any appreciable amount of time, you know that there are things that make it a special and unique collection of people and talent. IT is a melting pot with a diverse set of backgrounds and skills compared to other parts of the organization. For many of us, that is the attraction of IT. Keeping the best and the brightest is a matter of playing to that attraction by putting in place programs that will continue to fuel the reasons we chose IT to begin with.
#10 – Train
IT professionals are in a constant battle to keep up with the changing landscape of their industry. There are few professions so relentless in their rate of change. It makes sense that you would want to keep these folks relevant, right? Yet some companies actually feel that training their IT professionals can be a risk since it gives them skills that may not be immediately relevant! That’s not the best motivator for folks who know how quickly they can become obsolete!
#9 – Cross-Skill
IT professionals are only as valuable as their understanding of the problems they are solving. They are also among the most eager to learn new skills. Taking IT professionals out of IT and putting them into the business to help them understand and learn about the context of their users is a powerful motivator. The better they understand this, the more successful and satisfied they will be. For Intel, we developed a course to teach all of its global IT staff how to become world-class trainers and facilitators on the topic of innovation. Yes, Intel -- one the worlds most innovative companies took the time and made the investment to teach its technology team the broader skills they need to enable the business.
In times of heightened uncertainty, we all want to be part of the conversation. Make sure you keep the challenges and opportunities as transparent as possible. Periodic meetings that address the changing landscape of IT, not just from your firm’s point of view, but from an industry perspective can help give people an informed sense for what the real risks and opportunities are. I’ve yet to find a professional who does not feel better about his or her prospects when they are able to participate in the process of defining the organization.
#7 – Recognize Success
This one is a no-brainer, which is why I’m always amazed when it’s not being done. I’m not talking just about recognition in the annual employee review, but in company forums. One large organization I worked with awarded the status of “Fellow” to its lead IT performers. The award came with a gold plated medallion, a framed certificate and a lapel pin. You may think that all of this is a bit hokey. You couldn’t be more wrong. Every person who was designated as a fellow had that medallion and certificate proudly displayed not only at this organization but every subsequent firm they worked for! Oh yes, and those lapel pins, they were worn proudly enough to put a Free Mason to shame! Despite this I still run into leaders who see recognition as being purely a matter of remuneration. After 30 years of leading organizations, I can tell you with no equivocation that money is one small part, many times the smallest part, of recognition.
#6 – Advertise Success
OK, so you’ve recognized your IT superstars. But to whom have you advertised this recognition? More than likely you’ve broadcast it only to IT. What about the rest of the organization? These folks aren’t IT superstars, they are firm superstars, industry superstars. Get the message? Recognition is as valuable as the size of the community who knows about it. Send a company-wide announcement; send out a press release, post the award in the person’s local neighborhood newspaper. In short, do whatever you can to make a big deal about their achievements, because it is a big deal.
#5 – Develop Team-based Core Competencies
IT has an historic reputation of being a bunch of geeks locked up in a closet with a crack under the door high enough slip an occasional pizza under. That’s exactly the sort of IT that’s moving to the Cloud. The IT that’s relevant and necessary to your firm is team‐based IT. These are IT professionals who understand the process of teamwork, are adept at meetings, group interactions, and bridging the divides of an organization. Keep in mind that of all the functions in an organization, IT is the one that is likely to cross the most silos.
#4 – Develop Sourcing Competency
IT will increasingly need to manage a portfolio of service providers who span the globe. In this sort of environment IT professionals need to master a set of skills that expand far beyond technology. For example, trying to manage a global workforce without training in cultural sensitivity is a disaster waiting to happen. If you do not equip your people with these sorts of skills, they will spend most of their time frustrated as the complexity of IT sourcing increases.
#3 – Create Free Space
IT professionals are thinkers and problem solvers. Everyone in IT has experienced the addictive euphoria of problem solving. The vast majority of us eventually grow out of that pure problem-solving chapter of our career and fondly look back on it. As our careers progress, we move on to bigger, more complex problems. But what we often do not realize is that, as the problems grow, so too must the time we have to unplug from the problems. This sort of free space to think is severely lacking in most IT organizations. Yet many of the most successful innovators, from 3M to Google, give their people time away from their day-to-day tasks to work on projects that are personally gratifying.
#2 – Challenge
The late Peter Drucker once told me that the best way he knew to motivate knowledge workers was to challenge them. In the two decades since he told me that, I’ve tested it on thousands of people. Guess what? He was spot on. The best and the brightest are always driven by the challenge, and those who are not your best - but who aspire to be - will follow the lead.
#1 – Lead
There is no denying that IT is changing and in many cases it is being outright challenged as an unnecessary internal cost. This sort of uncertainty creates high levels of stress. If you cannot lead IT to a future state in a way that acknowledges and clearly addresses the root causes of this stress, and do so transparently and authentically you will lose your best people.
At the end of the day we all want to choose to follow a leader who deserves our loyalty. Leadership’s role at times like this is to provide a pathway from the present into the future, which only becomes obvious in retrospect, and yet inspires confidence, trust and loyalty in the present. I recall very vividly one of the most profound examples of this ideal in my own experience.
In 2004 a company that I founded was acquired by Perot Systems (now Dell). Shortly after the acquisition I visited India as part of the Perot Executive team to meet with all of the employees of an Indian subsidiary who had joined the company. The plan was to present the leadership to the Indian employees and to let them ask questions. Something, which at that time, was considered a big deal since it illustrated the transparency and access that leadership would bring to the Indian operation.
At one of the first Q&A sessions a junior Indian associate asked a question that came directly out of left field. “What is the difference between a leader and a manager?” There were about 300 associates in the audience and they all went silent. The five of us on the leadership team looked at each other for a moment. I leaned over to the microphone and told the associate what a great question he had asked, mostly to buy some time.
Then it occurred to me that I had once asked Peter Drucker the same question. His answer, which I shared as Drucker’s point of view, was that a manager is somebody you have to follow; whereas a leader is somebody you choose to follow. There was another moment of silence and suddenly all 300 associates rose to their feet in applause. In that moment I realized that the great power of a leader came not from his or her vision but rather from the power of those who chose to follow.
Guest blog by Patty Azzarello. You can find Patty at www.AzzarelloGroup.com, follow her on twitter or facebook, or read her book RISE: 3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, AND Liking Your Life.
What is a good succession plan?
I find it interesting that most companies do one of two extremes when it comes to succession planning:
1. Nothing at all, or
2. A very cumbersome process with lots of documents and checkpoints for multiple candidates which never amounts to anything.
Get someone ready
As a CIO, think about succession planning in its core form: How do you get someone (specific), ready to take your (specific) job? And how do your executives get someone specific ready to take theirs?
The benefits of this approach are numerous. If you do this, you score many wins:
- The whole organization gets more capable even if there is no succession
- You have a real and meaningful way of motivating your top performers
- Other people see you delegating some power, so they trust you more
- You get to hand off some hard work that you don’t have to do personally!
Succession planning is all about delegating. As a leader, you need to make sure you have someone on your team that can step up. Once you do, you need to be prepared to delegate big, hairy, strategic stuff--not just superficial, well contained, safe stuff.
“You need to give them opportunities to practice the ugly, mind-numbing, heavily matrixed, controversial, boring, unsupported, failing, no-win kind of work you deal with every day when you wake up.”
Three key steps to getting a real succession plan in place
1. Let them practice your work
The first part of someone learning your job, is about the work. You need to give them opportunities to practice working at your level.
A lot of times we think the way to motivate our top performers is to have them work on the most fun or interesting projects. That works to a point, but it does not do anything to help get someone ready for your job.
Face it, how much fun work do YOU get to do?
You need to give them opportunities to practice the ugly, mind-numbing, heavily matrixed, controversial, boring, unsupported, failing, no-win kind of work you deal with every day when you wake up.
What is the hardest and most distasteful thing you own?
That’s what you give your top performer. You give them the benefit of seeing what it is really like in your shoes.
They get to suffer like you do. But they get to work on big stuff. They get access to your network and stakeholders. They have the chance to do something creative and heroic to get this done.
What may be drudgery for you, can be really motivating for someone who gets to step up. OK, you should probably give them a more pleasant task too, while you are at it…
But don’t shy away from giving smart people hard work.
And don’t feel guilty about it. I often felt guilty delegating ugly stuff. But then I realized that this was better for everybody. And that people appreciate it. They don’t resent it because you are trusting them with a bigger job — so I got over it.
2. Let them practice your relationships
The next part of getting someone ready for your job is to make sure they are practiced and comfortable with the social requirements at the next level.
If they are stepping up, they need to fit in socially too.
They need to be someone that your peers want to include personally. They can’t stand out like a sore thumb as the junior person in the room, who has no basis for relating to the big execs.
You need to give your top performer a chance to practice at these relationships and executive level communications.
If your succession candidate does not develop personal relationships, and an ability to personally communication with your boss and peers they will never be ready to step into your job. And it won’t matter because they will not be given the chance.
By the way, this is a key reason the spreadsheet version of succession planning does not result in actual placements.
3. Let them practice your decisions
OK. Here is where the rubber meets the road. You need to give someone a chance to practice making the decisions that you make.
If you never delegate important decisions, you are fooling yourself that you are doing succession planning.
How will somebody ever be ready to take over, if you have owned all the decisions along the way?
Think about the next few months of decisions you need to make. Investments, priorities, partnerships, road map and architecture choices, backlog and outsourcing strategies. Give your top performer the task of owning the project AND the making decisions.
Let them feel the pressure of owning the outcome fully. Let them get the experience explaining, defending, and selling their choices. Let them get the experience fixing it if it goes wrong.
Is this scary? Yes.
Might they choose wrong? Yes. Might they choose better than you? Also yes.
The point is, if you never let them own and make key decisions, you are cutting off the single most important training you can give your successor. They will never be ready for your job without owning key decisions.
Patty Azzarello is a best-selling author, speaker and business advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk).
On April 25, in our e-newsletter, The Heller Report and in social media, we asked members of our network of technology executives this question: "If you were to wave a magic wand and solve only one talent-related challenge, what would it be?"
We received a large number of responses, most of which, we noticed, fell into one of the following four categories:
- People Development
- Business Skills and Knowledge
- Recruiting Process
- Talent Pipeline
Enjoy these responses from your peers, which I deliberately kept anonymous so people would be open and frank. Please feel free to add your own perspective in the Comments section!
SOUND OFF: If you were to wave a magic wand and solve only one talent-related challenge, what would it be?
"One of the most difficult challenges I've had is succession planning. Ensuring that the talented technical people in the organization can get the right opportunities, projects, or stretch assignments to move to the next level especially when that level is Manager/Director. Many have proven themselves technically, managing projects, or even solid consulting/client interaction but when it comes to managing/directing an organization some are just not ready for it or are not that good at it. And as hard as I've tried to develop the level below me I have only been successful once, that a person under me replaced me when I left."
"My talent-related challenge is: How can we keep the IT staff motivated to learn new skills and to use those new skills to drive solutions to our current and future IT problems?"
"What I see is a gap in management’s ability to communicate with IT. All too often I see managers asking the wrong groups in IT to do something. My wand would create more managers/directors with the capability to understand and correctly assign tasks."
Business Skills and Knowledge
"We need to solve the ‘analytics bridge to the business partners.’ Too much of IT is still focused on software and transactions when the real agility and benefit is in the information. Unfortunately we do not have those people who can work with the business to listen and develop the ideas working with the technical staff to develop the dashboards, reports, etc., and who can also educate the business on the power of what we possess and how to live and thrive in a dynamic, self-service information world and away from the monthly binders. I know several universities are starting programs in this area, I am involved in a couple of these myself, but this talent is critical to move to the next level of performance and speed. (long answer to a short question)."
"As an ex CIO my answer to Martha's query would be "business insight". Talent, whether technical or otherwise without context is not worth much and the recent increase in specialisation has created air tight verticals and horizontals which make technology management extremely difficult. This explains why increasingly CIOs move down in the CXO pecking order."
"… giving employees the ability to see the scope of their decisions, issues, needs, wants, recommendations and complaints against the backdrop of the entire company, department, team, project stakeholders, and the priorities that have been established. I believe we have good people doing their best but often without the realistic understanding of how the entire organization is operating. They solve their individual problem or cover a localized concern without seeing how that decision will affect the broader whole."
"Finding talent that can think beyond their silo and understand the entire business process."
"Finding IT talent with strong business acumen to match technology/process/practice discipline skills."
"If I could solve one talent-related challenge it would be how to find/develop technically competent folks who understand the customer’s point of view, e.g. don’t schedule six hours of maintenance from 10 AM to 4 PM on Saturday (yes, people work on Saturday); don’t tell me that the network is up so everything is fine -- my application is not working; I understand that we need to identify international employees for security reasons, but don’t use a label in their e-mail address that offends them, etc. Technically brilliant, but tone deaf staff and management are a menace."
"I would want my hiring managers to quit looking for "point specific" skills and adopt a "best available athlete" strategy. If our line of work, if you have technical aptitude and learning agility, and a good dose of leadership, that is far more important than specific technical skills."
"Recruiting takes too long – how do we make it easier to hook the hiring pools up with the open position?"
"The two related Talent Problems that I most often address with my coaching clients are: 1 - How to conduct effective interviews, and 2 - How to prepare for effective interviews. The majority of my clients have no structured process to identify their position needs for each hire, and as a result are missing a constructive process for preparing each manager involved in interviewing the candidate. To compound the problem, few managers know how to conduct an effective interview to truly assess the candidate's likely fit and performance, if hired."
"From my IT experience, I believe the talent which is always in short supply is the person who: a. Technical people want to work & deliver for ; b. Customers respect and want to hire away from you; and c. Senior managers gight to have or to keep as their right hand. The person described above almost always has to have great problem solving skills, has to be bright / quick on their feet, has to have human being communication skills, has to have enough technical moxie to hold his/her own with the technical team, has to be able to translate business problem to business process / data / people requirements, and has to be able to deliver on time, on budget, on quality, on scope, on value."
"I would increase the number of American kids majoring in Computer Science. There is a huge shortage of entry level talent, and it's getting worse. The demand is growing faster than the supply. India and other offshore sites can fill niches, but we need IT savvy people right in our offices, working closely with our end-users."
"If I could solve only one talent problem, the top of my list would be project/program managers. So much of what we do for the organization revolves around effectively implementing projects. While the nature of the project is changing, effectively deploying projects is a constant. Having said that, if the only talent challenge I solve was project/program management, I would be a failure in my role as CIO. A successful IT organization requires a high performance team that encompasses a full skill portfolio."
Please add your own response in the Comments section!
Guest blog by Ray Attiyah, excerpted from his new book, The Fearless Front Line: The Key to Liberating Leaders to Improve and Grow Their Business. (2013 Bibliomotion, used with permission)
Much of our time is spent working— some forty, sixty, even eighty hours per week. That’s more time awake than we spend with our friends or family and rivals the time we spend sleeping. Shouldn’t the time we spend at work be worth it? Shouldn’t that time be filled with a sense of purpose and accomplishment and not just packed with appointments and never- ending task lists? Shouldn’t we be energized by the efforts and successes of our work team rather than drained by them?
Most, if not all, of us wouldn’t hesitate to answer those questions with a resounding “YES!” That’s because, deep down, we believe work should be more than just getting through a daily task list, checking off items as we finish them. Work should be a place that builds energy, not drains it. Work should provide opportunities for growth and improvement that bring out the best in us as individuals, as teams, and as entire organizations.
Too often, however, work isn’t like that at all. Instead of energizing us, it traps us. Instead of inspiring us, it dulls our senses. The workplace is full of bureaucracy and negative complexity.
Some companies shine like beacons of excellence and growth in the crowded market. So, what’s the difference between those companies that shine and the ones where work is a slog, apathy is everywhere, and products and people are mediocre at best?
"To compensate for their lack of confidence in the Run, managers become conditioned to overmanage and underlead. So, while they are stuck in the front line, they’re not leading or pursuing activities that propel growth and innovation.”
The key is in liberating leaders. In companies where complicated systems reign, nearly everyone has his hands in the daily details of producing the product or delivering the services. Managers and frontline employees (and top executives and sometimes even the CEO) are tangled up in running the day-to-day aspects of the business, or the Run. The frontline activities are so unpredictable, unreliable, and complicated, and the systems surrounding them are so often superfluous, that managers can’t seem to pull themselves away. (As you can imagine, this situation frustrates managers and employees alike.) Time and energy are consumed by urgent but unimportant tasks rather than activities that produce sustained personal and organizational growth. Managers have difficulty forgetting bad situations, and that inability to let go shakes their confidence in their frontline team and its activities.
To compensate for their lack of confidence in the Run, managers become conditioned to overmanage and underlead. Regaining confidence is an uphill fight. So, while managers are stuck in the front line, they’re not leading or pursuing activities that propel growth and innovation.
A Fearless Front Line
The precondition for liberating managers is having a front line that can operate reliably, excellently, and independently day in and day out every day of every week of every year. The Run needs to be rock solid— perpetually. It’s the foundation of the entire organization. Yet, at the same time that the Run needs to be solid, it can’t be rigid. It also needs to evolve and transform as the company innovates and grows. A Run like that involves getting the entire company, and particularly the front line, to be fearless. The front line needs to feel powerful, not powerless. It needs to be freed from worrying about senseless initiatives, ridiculous mandates, and unnecessary meetings and e-mails. It needs to be trusted, encouraged, and accountable to itself. It needs to be emboldened.
Think of the daily provisions that we add because we lack confidence and trust in flawless Run execution:
- Extra meetings
- Check-up e-mails
- Unnecessary conference calls
- Detailed Reports
- Useless measurements and data colelction
- E-mail distribution lists
- Repeated e-mail chains
- Emergency phone calls
- Sign-off requirements
- Approval restrictions
- Additional systems, procedures and processes
Clutter is a compromise; it’s a response to the unreliable nature of our frontline Run. When the Run doesn’t operate consistently at peak performance, we compensate by adding layers of systems and processes.
How Do You Develop a Fearless Culture in the Run?
Surmounting the impediments to creating a fearless culture in the Run isn’t as difficult as you might be thinking. There are three very practical ways to shape the leadership culture you want to pervade the Run:
- Raise the bar of excellence by investing in top performers and removing obstacles that frustrate them.
- Foster quick-win successes by removing frustrations and making meaningful changes quickly to bolster team confidence, enthusiasm, and trust.
- Implement daily huddles to foster a positive "what went well” environment, communicate your standards of performance, and create a simple touch point for communicating status of reactive improvements.
Keep it simple, and be fearless!
The Fearless Front Line - The Key to Liberating Leaders to Improve and Grow Their Business from The Fearless Front Line on Vimeo.
Guest blog by Maynard Webb, excerpted from his New York Times best selling book, Rebooting Work: Transform How You Work in the Age of Entrepreneurship.
Each year more than 1.1 million American high school students play football. The best of them, the star quarterbacks, running backs, linebackers, and linemen, dream of scoring scholarships to play college ball, but only twenty thousand—just 6 percent of seniors on the team—will play their freshman year of college. By their final year, that number dwindles to fifteen thousand athletes. Only 255 of those elite players are drafted to the NFL. The chance of making it to the pros if you play in high school? A very small number: a mere 0.08 percent.
And if you think that once players make it to the pros they can take a rest, think again. Every player in the NFL must get revoted on to the team every year. No one can buy his way on to the team. It’s a model of ruthless efficiency that ensures that every player brings his A-game every time he steps onto the field. It’s a system that makes football an incredible game to watch.
Management Lessons from the NFL
I’ve always been inspired by sports, and throughout my career have taken the lessons I learned playing football and baseball growing up, as well as what I’ve witnessed through following professional sports, into the work world. Team dynamics and the importance of learning to win—and lose—gracefully were invaluable lessons to me in building my career. Further, the need to get voted on to the team every day inspired me to demand the most from myself and my teams. I have found that being transparent about performance—a tactic learned from studying baseball stats—let people know where they stood and inspired a continuous quest for improvement.
What I’m talking about is meritocracy: a system that rewards individuals based on performance and results. It’s an idea that carries weight for employees in the workplace. There also are benefits for companies that operate on this principle by committing to being open and transparent about their performance. (For example, a website should publish real-time information about its availability and system performance time, as eBay does with its announcement board or as salesforce.com does with its Trust Site.)
"Why are both employees and employers so afraid of operating in a meritocracy, which rewards them for how well they perform, not for how long they’ve been performing?"
But what I’ve also found is that although we have some great examples of companies that are transparent about their performance, overall, most corporations don’t follow these tenets when it comes to how they evaluate or treat their employees. In fact, traditional company culture is quite the opposite of a performance-based meritocracy. Historically—meaning in the past fifty or so years—loyalty was given higher priority than achievements and results. Outside of sales organizations, goals, and ways to measure goals, were not always clear. How an individual was performing and how she stacked up against others were not often transparent.
Making Work Work Better
Although one would expect the rules of the ball park to be different from the rules of the office park, I found that by ignoring what made sports so great—essentially its functioning as a meritocracy—we were missing out on an opportunity to make work work better. The desire for security trumped the drive to be spectacular. Everyone played it too safe. And this has stymied both employees and employers.
How come as a society we support a model that embraces meritocracy—in which the best athletes, those with the best skills, are known and rise to the top—but we don’t demand a similar model at work? Generally speaking, we accept this system in school, where grades are based on performance against one’s peers, not just on showing up to class. How is it that at work we fear systems that allow us to see how we are doing compared to others, that motivate us to do better work every day, and that reward us for our meaningful contributions instead of our blind commitment? Why are both employees and employers so afraid of operating in a meritocracy, which rewards them for how well they perform, not for how long they’ve been performing?
At work, both employees and employers often fall into an entitlement mentality. For example, some employers do everything they can to keep the talent inside their walls hidden from everyone else, lest they be ‘‘poached.’’ They feel as though they know what is best for the employee and must make sure that the employee knows how to be successful in their company. Employees who leave are often shunned as being disloyal. For employees, there’s an expectation that they will be given a job, and as long as they are doing okay, they expect to keep it. By keeping their head down, doing a mediocre job, and not being a problem, they believe they will be rewarded.
A Meritocracy Breeds Transparency
I have always been amazed by how managers seldom actually want to have truthful discussions about how someone is performing, even when that individual is doing great. As a manager, I have often implemented informal weekly and formal quarterly check-ins in an effort to force a dialogue and prevent a big disconnect at the end of the year for many employees, when they find out they were not doing as well as their perception led them to believe. Think of all the wasted time and productivity when we give performance feedback only on a yearly basis. The world doesn’t operate on this type of clock anymore. When everything is happening in real time, even my formal quarterly meetings seem grossly inadequate. As a board member of a well-known technology company, I witnessed a once well-respected CEO lose the trust of his board and employees in less than ten days. In the current business environment, the idea of an annual review is so antiquated, it’s comical. We live in a world in which countries have been toppled in months, or even days, but certainly not years. It’s a world in which much is decided instantaneously, and the workplace must adapt.
Yet we are very far from this kind of culture. How can work be so out of touch with the way the rest of the world is headed?
I’m a strong proponent of meritocracy, of the value of hard work over entitlement, of talent over tenure, and of transparency over closed systems, probably because of where I came from—and because of where I am today. I believe that many executives hold these beliefs. I have gained significant freedom by embracing a mind-set of meritocracy. I’ve seen what it can inspire, unlock, and unleash, and I’ve also seen how the opposite—an organization that supports entitlement over results—can limit growth and opportunity.
Unlike the past when you got news and information from only one or two sources and a couple of times a day, today you get information in real time and from multiple sources. There is no place to hide. You can hope to keep problems in-house, but you’re unlikely to succeed. Problems do not get better with time; they get far worse. They spin out of control faster today than ever before. The only way to deal with this is to be open and transparent. If you have a problem, admit it, apologize, and fix it. No one expects perfection, but they do expect honesty. Now, meritocracy over entitlement is the only way. We are in a new age—one that is more transparent thanks to the Internet and one that is being defined by a new generation of workers who grew up with more technology and a more entrepreneurial mind-set.
Reprinted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Rebooting Work: Transform How You Work in the Age of Entrepreneurship by Maynard Webb and Carlye Adler. Copyright © 2013 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Guest blog by Nicholas Colisto, SVP & CIO at Xylem Inc., excerpted from his book, The CIO Playbook: Strategies and Best Practices for IT Leaders to Deliver Value. Copyright © 2012, Nicholas R. Colisto. Used with permission of John Wiley & Sons.
Your IT staff has an inherent need to sustain the existing skills that keep your operations well supported. At the same time, being able to learn new skills to meet challenging business demands is equally important. Categorizing skills into levels of importance to the business helps to identify the most important skills as critical.
Critical-skills assessment modeling (CSAM) is a best practice that helps IT leaders identify, assess, and retain critical skills for their business. By its very nature, CSAM helps you identify your "high potentials" (HIPOs) for both a management and a technical career track. By identifying the most critical skills in your department, including technical and people leadership skills, you can quantitatively identify your most valued employees.
Critical-Skills Assessment Modeling
Simply put, CSAM is a process whereby you identify the critical skills in your department as well as any gaps in experience and capacity with those skills. If you have gaps in either category, you and your company are at risk. The following outline is a simple, step-by-step guide to implementing a CSAM program for your business.
|"The fundamental purpose of CSAM is to ensure that your organization has adequate coverage for all critical skills despite the natural course of attrition.."
Step 1: Establish an Inventory of Critical Skills
Work with your staff to create a list of IT skills that are critical to support the business. After you have established the list, categorize the skills by functional area (e.g., desktop, networking, accounting applications, and system security). Identify the functional owners of each skill, as appropriate. For example, the skills relating to supporting an accounting system are typically owned by the IT manager of the accounting system or team.
Step 2: Have the Staff Members Assess Themselves
The next step is to work one-on-one with the staff members so they can rate themselves on their level of proficiency with each skill. Ideally, there should be a healthy mix of expertise as well as an opportunity to gain further knowledge. Several companies already ask their staff members to perform annual self-assessments on various competencies as part of a performance review. The difference with CSAM is it helps the departments get an understanding of the employees with experience in the critical skills and the amount of coverage available in the department.
Here is an example of a rating system:
Level 1. Working knowledge of the process and/or technology skill. The individual can provide limited support for the process and/or technology skill.
Level 2. Proficient in the process and/or technology skill. The individual can:
- Support the implementation of the process and/or technology skill.
- Support the delivery of training on the topic and assist with supporting users.
- Demonstrate experience with the process and/or system.
- Troubleshoot and resolve some issues.
- Assist with the authoring of technical specifications for changes that are moderate in complexity, including integration between systems.
Level 3. Expert in the process and/or technology skill. The individual can:
- Lead and execute the implementation of the process and/or technology.
- Deliver training on the topic to users.
- Troubleshoot and resolve the most complex issues.
- Independently author technical specifications for significant changes to the system, including integration between systems.
Step 3: Have the Managers Assess the Staff Members
After the staff members complete the self-assessment, the managers should assess them for the same skills identified above. This is common in the performance review process; implementing CSAM just adds another level of detail and dialogue relating to capabilities and performance. The fundamental difference is that CSAM helps you rate technical skills, not just soft skills.
If a skill is owned by another IT function, do not have the staff members rate themselves on the skill without consensus from the skill owner. I have observed situations where individuals rated themselves on skills from another IT function and the manager of the function did not agree that an individual had experience in the skill.
Step 4: Perform a Risk Analysis
Once you have conducted both assessments, you can determine your level of risk with each of the critical skills in your department. Here are examples of risks to examine:
Critical skills with no coverage.
Critical skills with only one employee rated at any level (no backup).
Several employees have proficiency in a skill, but there are no experts.
Only one expert, but several employees have proficiency with a skill.
Step 5: Build a Mitigation Plan
Once all critical skills have been identified and assessed, work with your management team to identify potential risks in their functional areas. After you have identified all of the risks, develop a mitigation plan, which should initially focus on creating activities to alleviate any high-risk areas. Mitigation plans can consist of actions on how to close gaps immediately or be more involved and include training, hiring consultants, or even outsourcing the skill. Each critical skill that is deemed a high risk should have a mitigation plan with a specific completion date. After you have established a plan for the high-risk skills, move on to create plans for medium-risk and low-risk skills.
The Challenges in Building CSAM
The fundamental purpose of CSAM is to ensure that your organization has adequate coverage for all critical skills despite the natural course of attrition. While it naturally helps you identify the strong as well as the weak players in your department, CSAM should be implemented with caution so as to avoid people panicking by assuming that you are using the information to reduce the staff. If your staff perceives that the purpose of the assessment is to weed out less experienced employees, they will rate themselves higher on skills even though they may not possess the knowledge and experience of that level. If this happens, you will never get a realistic assessment of your team.
As IT leaders, you must communicate your vision clearly and maintain a collegial environment throughout the CSAM process. If you do this, your teams will have a positive view of the program and welcome the exercise as an opportunity for them to build skills and improve their ability to deliver value to the business.
A few weeks ago, I gave a talk at the MidAtlantic CIO Forum in Baltimore and had the pleasure of hearing a presentation by Matt Aiello, a Partner in Heidrick & Struggles CIO executive search practice.
In his presentation, Matt addressed CIOs both as candidates and as hiring managers. His observations, to my mind, were right on the money, so I asked him if I could circulate his slides. Here they are, along with a few annotations of my own (in red) to add some context to Matt’s bullet points.
What is the most valuable project, program or innovation your IT organization has delivered in the last 12 months?
The IBM Maximo Implementation in June of 2012 has been an incredibly valuable program for many reasons. It was a terrific example of IT and Business truly partnering on a large scale in every area to deliver the technologies, improved / streamlined processes and a trained organization to take advantage of the new efficiencies across Supply Chain, Asset & Work Mgmt, A/P, Tax, etc. Another reason it was so valuable is that it has played a critical role in proving the value of IT to the business as we work to increase opportunities in other areas for application rationalization, streamlining processes and leveraging best-in-class solutions (less customization) that enable lower long-term IT support costs and enable more investment in new innovations.
What does your IT organization do best?
Our IT Department’s passion and commitment to enable business success and continuously improve is unparalleled with any other IT organization I’ve ever been around. The team has an attitude of “I’ll do whatever it takes” and they have become very comfortable challenging each other in areas we can improve. It’s become contagious as new members join the team and adapt to the culture that’s been spreading.
|"Sustainability and a culture of continuous improvement are the ultimate measures of success for an organization."
What is a book you have read that has impacted your leadership style?
A few foundational books I strongly recommend include: Developing the Leader Within You, and Developing the Leaders Around You, both by John Maxwell.
Another book I just read recently that helped provide new perspective in my own growth was American Icon, by Bryce Hoffman, about Alan Mullaly and Ford’s recent transformation
Can you tell a brief story about some valuable advice you were given at some point in your career?
I’ve enjoyed reading quite a few books by great leaders and have been fortunate to have several strong mentors through my career. One common theme of advice I’ve always believed to be core to my success and the success of any organization I was leading is the importance of investing in your people. Grow and nurture your leadership team, enable their success, develop a deep level of mutual trust and openness in communication. With that foundation in place, your impact on the overall organization will grow exponentially.
What is an interview question you ask candidates whom you are considering for senior level roles?
By the time they get to me, I know they’ve passed all the tests re: competency, experience, behavioral, communication style, etc. I’m interested in knowing what diversity they will bring to the team. What perspectives, leadership strengths, employee development techniques, etc. will they bring to the organization? I also like to know how people measure success (for themselves and their teams). If their answers focus solely on outcomes, I view that as a red flag. Certainly, the most basic measure of success is the outcomes a leader achieves, but we should care just as much about how they accomplish the outcome. It’s the leadership behaviors balanced with the results. The interviews that really stand out are when I hear people talk about how much they enjoy developing other leaders. When someone spends time telling me how important it is to develop their successors so that our people are growing through the ranks, that’s a rare discussion to have in an interview. It demonstrates self confidence and a mature perspective that looks at team goals ahead of individual priorities.
What is one piece of advice you would give a first-time CIO?
It’s not hard to make immediate changes and see measurable gains during the first few years as CIO in a new organization. The hard part is building a long-lasting culture and leadership team around you that will sustain and strive for continuous improvement even after the initial gains have been realized. Sustainability and a culture of continuous improvement are the ultimate measures of success for an organization.
What technology innovation or business trend are you personally most excited about?
There are so many things going on right now that are easy to get excited about. I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface of where things are going in the cloud. Software, Hardware and Service companies are completely re-thinking all aspects of their business as a result. We’re seeing a significant improvement in speed of delivery for new business solutions in niche areas, but the potential is much greater across the enterprise as new business models for software delivery evolve.
I’m also looking forward to seeing how things evolve with converged architectures. I appreciate the potential economies and efficiencies; however, there’s a lot more to prove over time in the real world of operations, performance, scalability, cost management, etc.
Another area of high interest, I don’t know if I’d call this a business trend yet, but I’m excited about how we have evolved our outsourcing model at EFH to the next level of maturity over the past 18 months. We are working with several large outsourcers in the infrastructure and application space with over 75% of our headcount outsourced and approximately 65% of all outsourced personnel working off-shore. Before 2008, we had 100% outsourced with approx. 50% offshore. At that time, our level of service was degraded and delivery was inefficient. Our business units were completely unsatisfied with IT’s ability to deliver on demand. In our new outsourcing model, it’s a ‘best of breed’ model with internal employees leading as ‘Service Owners’ over each sub-tower, managing the deliverables and daily activity / priorities of each outsourced team. This model has helped create the right balance of internal ownership, accountability and quality while also achieving an optimal cost for operations and project delivery. With our new outsourcing model, another innovation I’m excited about that is enabling improved communications across our global IT organization is our use of the AT&T / Cisco Telepresence solution. It has almost eliminated the need for travel and my teams literally wait in line to use the Telepresence room for the quality of communication it enables across multiple sites.
If you were not a CIO, what other profession would you have pursued?
I’ve been fortunate to have enjoyed several different careers, all in IT, over the past 20 years. I was a consultant at Accenture back in the 90s and that was enjoyable to learn a great deal from a variety of different leaders, serving a wide range of companies in the electric and gas industries on large-scale system implementations. I was an entrepreneur running a start-up, Fortegra, with several partners, which we sold to Black & Veatch and ultimately grew that enterprise to $40m in annual revenues by the time I left in 2008. That was extremely rewarding, given we built Fortegra from the ground up, starting back in 1999. I became CIO at TXU in 2008 after leaving B&V, and have found the past 4 ½ years to be some of the most rewarding in my career, with the transformation we’ve lead across IT with EFH, TXU and Luminant.
Other careers outside of IT I might have pursued if I wasn’t a CIO include playing on the PGA tour if God had blessed me with a better golf game. In all seriousness, I could see myself possibly teaching at the college level later in life because I enjoy coaching and teaching others, especially in areas of leadership and management.
About Kevin Chase and Energy Future Holdings
Kevin Chase is Senior Vice President & CIO at Energy Future Holdings.
Energy Future Holdings Corp. is a Dallas-based, privately held energy company whose portfolio of companies includes TXU Energy, Luminant and Oncor. For more information, visit www.energyfutureholdings.com.
Please give me an example of your innovative work at optionMONSTER Holdings.
I joined the Company in 2006, when it was founded, and led the architecture and development for tradeMONSTER.com, our online retail brokerage platform, and for optionMONSTER.com, our financial media site. tradeMONSTER.com was the first web-based streaming platform to allow clients to trade in a browser and not download any software. Clients can be at the airport, at home or in a library, and they can use our platform. They can trade “Anywhere, Anytime”. But these are only a few examples of the innovation our technology team has accomplished. We are innovating all the time to provide the investor community with the best trading tools for them to be a “smart investor” and have set a new standard in the online brokerage industry for excellence and innovative use of technology.
That kind of innovation requires some smart technologists. How do you develop and manage your team?
I have a pretty radical approach to developing and leading our technology team. We focus on building a culture of creativity that drives innovation and personal growth and builds an organization of strong leaders. Nobody joins our team as a manager. We only hire people at the technologist level, but when we interview them, we test not only for technical core competency, but also for the potential for leadership and the ability to understand our business.
|"This fluid organizational model, where we divide the team into different verticals and horizontals, gives everyone exposure to everything, and gives me personally the opportunity to cultivate management potential."
How do you test for those softer skills?
During the interview process, we include several case studies and involve candidates in a team discussion of those studies. For example, I will say, “Let’s say you are working in a pizza restaurant and you need to write a system to take orders.” They will give an answer, and my team and I will ask a bunch of follow up questions and brainstorm with them. We are looking for technical skills, but we are also looking for attitude and creativity. Does the candidate think out of the box? Do they get offended when challenged? Are they open to other ideas or are they too arrogant? How will the candidate work with our team?
Once technologists makes it through the interview process, how do you develop them?
After the winning candidate joins our team, I pay attention to the way he or she is handling stress and making decisions. Is the technologist calm in the face of pressure? Is he or she someone everyone turns to for help? When people stand out as “go-to” technologists, I make them technical leads, and we’ll rotate them through vertical groups (like client facing systems and back-end applications) and through horizontals groups (like a futures project or a portfolio margining project).
The rotational program gives our lead technologists exposure to different technology areas and to different parts of the business. By rotating around, they also have the opportunity to build a variety of relationships, which is, of course, a critical skill for a leader. During this period I personally pay very close attention to their performance as they rotate through the different areas. I want to determine whether they stand out as confident leaders who can command the respect of our external and internal business partners. Once they do, we promote them into managerial roles.
This fluid organizational model, where we divide the team into different verticals and horizontals, gives everyone exposure to everything, and gives me personally the opportunity to cultivate management potential.
How do you keep your team motivated?
While I choose technology platforms based on what will provide the most value to our business, I also think about which technologies our team members will prefer to work on. Technologists like challenges and love to work on the newest, coolest thing. For us to retain these really good people, we have to challenge them with tough technology projects.
I also use a very inclusive management style, where I keep my team informed about how the company is doing, including updates on the ROI of every project we work on. When we build and launch a new feature, we communicate to everyone the revenue impact of the project and how their specific work has contributed to the ongoing success of the business.
We talk about the growth plans for the company, and how well we are hitting our targets. It is very important to me that our team understands the significance of their work and how it is tied to the bigger business picture.
While as a leader, I can be very demanding of my team, I try hard to make everyone feel that they are a part of a family. We do a lot of social events. We take cruises, have parties, and when we celebrate a team member’s birthday or other special events, we invite their spouses and children. Every team member is important to us and they know that.
How do you know your leadership style is working?
tradeMONSTER.com is considered to be the top online options trading platform in the country, overall one of the leading online brokerage brands in the nation; it has set a new standard for innovation and excellence in the industry. The company has numerous patents pending for its technology and investment tools. During the six years of grueling work on these products, we have had only three percent attrition at most in a single year, and during four of those years, we had zero percent attrition. Our technologists are great technologists and could work anywhere else. For them to stick with us, we must be doing something right.
About Sanjib Sahoo and optionMONSTER Holdings
Sanjib Sahoo directs all aspects of information technology for optionMonster Holdings’ online retail brokerage, tradeMONSTER.com, and it’s financial media site, optionMonster.com. He has been with optionMONSTER since it was founded in 2006 and led his team to architect their innovative, award winning brokerage technology platform. Sanjib and his team developed the entire technology platform that, within three years of launch, is rated 4.5 stars by Barron’s as one of the top three online brokerage firms in North America, and the top options trading platform nationally.
Launched in 2006, optionMONSTER.com delivers news and analysis, educational resources, and subscription services in the fields of options, equity, and exchange traded funds, helping investors evaluate trading opportunities and make disciplined decisions about their portfolios.
In 2008, the optionMONSTER Group launched tradeMONSTER™, it’s leading online brokerage firm.
In this excerpt from The CIO Paradox, Barbra Cooper, former CIO of Toyota Motor Sales NA and Kevin Hart, CTO at Cox Communications, share their approaches to developing blended executives. Please share your own approach in the comments section.
Build a Rotational Program
About four years ago, Barbra Cooper, who recently retired as CIO of Toyota Motor Sales North America, determined that it was critical to the development of her potential successors that they serve time in non‑IT leadership positions. So, she was frustrated by the fact that Toyota did not have a structured rotational program between the business and IT.
She was finding that getting the business to value the concept of an IT person among their ranks was tough. “The business was still struggling with the definition of the IT leadership role and would ask ‘Why would I take on an IT person? I don’t know what I would do with them.’ ” Cooper says.
So Cooper first selected the managers she felt had the most potential to benefit from a rotational program. She then identified the business areas she believed could benefit from that IT talent, and she approached her business peers. “I actually drafted a written eighteen-month contract between two officers of the company, one on the business side, and me, the CIO, which outlined the terms and conditions of the rotational assignment,” she says. The contract covered questions that included:
- What are the expectations of the role and the manager?
- What will the business’s return on this investment be?
- Who is responsible for performance reviews?
- What happens at the end of eighteen months if the business doesn’t want to give the IT executives back?
Not only was Cooper’s rotational program a success in IT, it became a companywide program that provided rotational opportunities for high-potential employees across the enterprise.
Build a CIO University
Kevin Hart, CTO and CIO of Cox Communications, has developed his share of CTOs and CIOs. “I’ve been in the CIO or CTO role for seven years now,” says Hart, “In that time I’ve been fortunate to have groomed more than ten CIOs. The majority has gone on to greener pastures to fill a CIO role at another company, but I did groom a successor who replaced me when I left a company to pursue a new opportunity.”
Hart’s first CIO role was in 2005 at Level 3 Communications, and he continued there until 2009, when he left to join startup Clearwire as CIO. In April 2011, Hart joined Cox Communications as CTO and CIO.
When Hart became CIO for the first time, at Level 3, he discovered what so many CIOs find during their first few months on the job. “I recognized that the leadership, confidence, and the mental model that we needed in the IT organization needed to be developed,” he says. “The culture was more of IT as an order taker, which was pretty different from the culture I wanted to create, which was a mind-set of leaders, trying to bring technology and the business together.” Hart realized that he needed to teach a whole different set of skills to his team, but he did not have the money to outsource the effort. “We were already strapped for budget to deliver our projects,” he says. “I knew that there wouldn’t be a whole lot of tolerance for spending ten or twenty grand per person to send them to a week-long program.”
So Hart developed plans for what he calls “The CIO University,” a year-long internal leadership development program that became so successful at Level 3 that he brought it to Clearwire and is now launching it at Cox. “We couldn’t just swap out certain people and replace them with leaders overnight,” says Hart. “So I decided to build a program to instill new skills into our leaders in a collaborative experience that we could apply day in and day out.”
Here’s how he did it.
Define the competencies
Kevin Hart’s first move was to identify the areas of competency that he
wanted the program to focus on, and he put together a core curriculum.
The curriculum looked like this:
- DiSC profiles: DiSC is a personal assessment tool used to improve work productivity, teamwork, and communication
- The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni ( Jossey-Bass, 2002)
- Leadership Pipeline
- Stakeholder Management
- Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI)
- 7 Survival Skills
- Employee Engagement Improvement
- Managerial Effectiveness
- Walking in our Customers’ Shoes
- Organizational Values
- Technology Best Practices
- Leadership Lessons Learned (guest speakers include CEOs, CFOs, COOs, from the company)
Think about the classroom environment
Hart then chose the setting for the program. “We would go to the University
of Denver or Colorado and rent a low-cost classroom every quarter that overlooked the football field,” he says. “I thought it was important to have the participants be back on campus and have a university experience.”
Balance classroom instruction with small group projects
Hart brought in outside experts in each of the competency areas to lead the entire class of thirty people. Those experts would then break the group into teams of five and give them an assignment to complete in the time between the quarterly classroom sessions. This required them to work together to take what they learned in the classroom and apply it in a real-world, workplace context.
“For example, we were good at high-level communication across the IT organization, but we had difficulty with communications between the manager level and individual contributor,” says Hart. “Our managers were not translating projects and plans into specific action items.”
To improve the team’s one‑on‑one communication skills, a CIO University instructor assigned one of the groups the task of creating a manager’s communication checklist. The document that the team produced included reminders, tips, and best practices for conducting one‑on‑one conversations and for using key performance indicators in performance evaluations. “It was a specific homework assignment that the CIO University class used to create a solution and roll it out across the entire organization,” says Hart. “Then we’d come back the next quarter to have another all-day session on a new topic. But we’d also revisit the previous topic by having the team members report on what they put in motion, the results, and areas for improvement.”
This program of full-day sessions coupled with on‑the-job small team projects would continue for an entire calendar year. “Not only were they building on their own individual skills but they were collectively working to improve the entire IT organization,” says Hart. “The CIO University became part of the transformational fabric of the culture of IT.”
And Hart has proof. “When I first got to Clearwire, we had some of the lower satisfaction scores in the company; we were somewhere in the fiftieth percentile,” he says. “A year after our first CIO University, we jumped nineteen percentage points to the highest employee satisfaction score in the company.”
Hart enrolled thirty leaders in the company each year, held a graduation ceremony, and then invited the next thirty to join. “It got to the point where everyone wanted to go through the program,” says Hart. “It became a self-fulfilling prophecy, where people got excited about becoming better leaders.” In the end, Hart sent hundreds of people through the program at Level 3 and at Clearwire.
Keep it cheap
As for budget, Hart found ways to keep expenses down. “We would rent a room at a university, which was relatively low cost. We’d bring lunch in, and then I’d take everybody out to the campus pub,” says Hart. “I got deals on the outside expert presentations by calling in favors from friends who were experts in certain fields. We would also bring in executives from other parts of the company.” Including executives from other parts of the company had additional relationship benefits. “That was the secret sauce of the program,” he says. “I had Jim Crowe, CEO of Level 3, come in and address the class on what he had learned about leadership over the last twenty-five years. Jim is a brilliant orator,” Hart says. “That was probably the best presentation in three or four years.”
Not only would the CEO, CFO, and other executives give great presentations free of charge, “it created a great bond between my team and our major stakeholders,” says Hart. “The senior executives got to see what we were doing and gain a little more respect for what the technology team has to face day in and day out.
Please share your own approach in the comments section.