New Ways For CIOs To Keep The Staff That You Have

Are Your Best Employees Ready To Fly The Coop?
Are Your Best Employees Ready To Fly The Coop?

First the bad news: it turns out that 25% of the best workers in the IT department are planning on leaving within the next 12 months. Do I have your attention now? Not to depress you even more, but it turns out that those internal job change programs that are intended to develop the next generation of IT leaders don’t work – 40% of the internal rotations that are made by IT “high-pots” (high potential) employees end up in failure. Let’s take a look at what problems you need to solve …

Problem: You Aren’t Engaging Your Best IT Workers

Jean Martin and Conrad Schmidt are researchers who have been looking into what makes leadership transitions successful. What they have discovered is basically bad news for CIOs.

Among the companies that they studied, what they found is that way too many of your IT rising stars are planning on becoming leaders at other firms! Specifically, 25% are currently planning on leaving your company within one year, 33% are not fully committed to their job (slackers), 20% have different career goals than they think the company has planned for them, and 40% have little confidence in their coworkers or the company’s senior management.

Clearly you have a problem here – your best & brightest are feeling disengaged. As CIO you need to find ways to get them to reengage with the company and with their careers at your company.

The researchers say that you can get them to both reengage and remain at your company. However, it’s going to take both time and effort on your part. What you are going to need to do is to provide them with the one thing that they crave above all others – public recognition for the work that they are doing. On top of this, you need to find ways to integrate their actions more closely with the company. This means that the company’s goals need to become their goals and you need to find ways to allow them to help tackle the company’s biggest challenges.

Problem: High-Pot Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Good Leader

Every IT worker wants to be classified as being a high-potential worker. What does this really mean? Researchers point out that what a company really wants from its high potential workers are leaders who will be able to grow into larger jobs and then deliver results in those jobs.

Studies have shown that more than 70% of the IT workers who are classified as being “high potential” still lack critical skills that will be needed in order be successful in future bigger jobs. What this means for you as CIO is that you may be wasting your precious limited talent development budget and resources on the wrong people.

The researchers say that there are three characteristics that a CIO should be looking for when trying to determine if it would be worthwhile to make further investments in a high-potential IT workers: ability, engagement, and aspiration.

Your best IT workers need to have both the hard (technical) and soft (management) skills needed to take on bigger jobs. Additionally they are going to have be engaged with both the company and its mission – if they don’t believe, they won’t be willing to help you achieve. Finally, the IT worker’s career goals, their aspirations, also need to be in line with what the company is both willing and able to provide them with.

What All Of This Means For You

The job of CIO actually has very little to do with technology and everything to do with developing people. Not all IT workers are created the same and CIOs really want to find ways to hold on to their best workers. The problem is that they aren’t doing a very good job of this.

In order to keep your best and brightest IT workers engaged, you are going to have to make a special effort to recognize them and work with them to make sure that what they are working on really matters to the company. Likewise, not all high-pots are created equal. Only the ones with ability, true engagement in what the company does, and aspirations that are in line with what the company can offer will be the ones who can grow into true IT leaders.

A CIOs most important job is to grow and nurture the next generation of IT talent that will lead the company. In order to do this you are going to have to invest a great deal of your time in ensuring that your best workers don’t leave. It is possible to do this, but it needs to become one of your top tasks. If you can do this correctly, then both your career and the company will benefit from it…

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: What percentage of a CIOs time should be spent on developing the company’s top IT talent?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As the world slowly recovers from its great economic recession, CIOs are gearing up to help their companies do battle with their competitors. Everywhere in this great land you can hear the same words being repeated “I want more innovation!” Umm, ok. It turns out that innovation doesn’t just happen. Instead you need a whole bunch of little changes first. Maybe I should explain…

3 thoughts on “New Ways For CIOs To Keep The Staff That You Have”

  1. You suggest:
    “Your best IT workers need to have both the hard (technical) and soft (management) skills needed to take on bigger jobs.”

    IT workers — and CIO’s — may want to think about the definition of “bigger”.
    Business types and managers think about “bigger” in terms of budgets and subordinates. A bigger job for a business manager involves going from 50 people to 500 people or from a $50K project to a $500K project.

    Many IT workers don’t regard that as “bigger”. The ones that I know regard bigger as “in a new computer language” or “scaled up to serve 50K sessions instead of 10K sessions” or “works 3 times as fast”. Their bigger jobs are more technically demanding, or involve pursuing their computer skills at a higher level. Sometimes it involves mentoring, teaching, or process improvement. It doesn’t usually involve management or supervision.

    CIO’s will have to reconcile these different definitions of “bigger jobs”, or they’ll see the kind of disenchantment you note in your essay. (Whether this is possible in many companies or not is a different question.)

    This is not a new problem: Peter Drucker discusses this in his work — I think you will find it in Managing for Results. He suggests that companies provide a scheme for recognizing and compensating technical people that does not require them to become managers.
    The best analogy is probably the sales staff of a company. The skills necessary to sell a product are not precisely those necessary to manage a staff of salespeople. Why, however, would a company consider an excellent salesperson a failure if they never became sales managers? Equally relevant, why should the company take its top-performing sales people and put them in a role that doesn’t involve selling?

    So the question for CIO’s is not just “How do you identify management candidates in your IT staff?” but also “How do you reward good programmers who do not wish to become managers?”

    CIO’s who choose not to do so will find many “high potential employees” find themselves in the “20% [who] have different career goals than they think the company has planned for them”. Eventually they will become part of the “33% [who] are not fully committed to their job (slackers)” while they look for an organization that supports their career goals and move on to the “25% [who] are currently planning on leaving your company within one year”.

    Then, of course, they’ll be gone.

    • Andrew: very good points. I’ve always though of “bigger” IT projects as being those projects that take longer to complete. Think about the time that it takes to roll out a new piece of enterprise-wide software. As you point out, this can require a completely new set of skills.

      Likewise, I believe that a technical career path is a critical way to retain IT staff. Too many companies have done away with the DMTS type of path and I believe that they are already paying the price for doing so…


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