Are You Aggressive In Skills Assessment?

CIOs need to work on their softer sides -- identifying and nurturing IT skills and talent.

John Soat, Contributor

September 20, 2007

3 Min Read

CIOs need to work on their softer sides -- identifying and nurturing IT skills and talent."Coming up with a list of 10 top skills that you need or else you'll die, is a good way to get started," says Phil Murphy, an analyst with Forrester Research, in a story by my colleague Marianne Kolbasuk McGee about the need for CIOs to start planning now for the rapid IT talent drain that will result from baby boomers retiring over the next several years. The story is based on a new Forrester report, authored by Murphy, entitled: "Skills Assessment -- a 21st Century Imperative for CIOs."

One cogent point that's made in the story is that the technology industry, and therefore the IT profession, is young -- only about 40 years old. That means there isn't a lot of historical perspective to draw on, and most of the lessons learned in terms of the IT profession are encapsulated in the current workforce. Therefore, an aggressive exit interview strategy -- even, perhaps especially, before your best workers exit the scene --- is recommended (think video).

Assessing the IT skills your company will need going forward isn't easy. As the story makes clear, CIOs don't have a lot of time to devote to thinking about future job requirements while they're putting out the innumerable fires within their organizations. Also, what's considered cutting-edge technology skills has changed over the years, as IT evolves from centralized mainframe-oriented platforms to distributed services-oriented architectures. "Murphy recommends that HR work closely with the IT organization to develop the list of skills that are needed now, in the near term, and in the future -- and help devise career development and succession planning programs to help fill any projected skills gaps."

Training the next generation of IT leaders is similarly urgent, and equally difficult.

At this week's InformationWeek 500 Conference in Tucson, Arizona, management consultant Ram Charan made the point several times that CIOs and technology managers need to be aggressive in nurturing IT leadership talent. There's a difference, he said, between hiring bright, capable IT workers and nurturing leaders. Leadership, as a talent or a skill, "is just different" than being smarter than anybody else when it comes to technology, he said.

When looking for potential IT leaders Charan recommends that CIOs seek out applicants with a penchant for business: "Do they have an inclination for business acumen?" he said. When you find that talent, you should make sure they leave the IT organization at some point in their employment and go out to other line functions within the company to learn the way the business works from a perspective other than technology.

Are you actively assessing the skills within your IT organization? Are you interviewing your longtime IT workers to document their invaluable experience and perspective? And are you actively nurturing the next generation of IT leaders? If you're not, you're short-changing your IT organization's contribution to the future of your company.

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