CIOs Uncensored: The IT Outsider Might Be Your Best Hire - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // Team Building & Staffing
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7/17/2008
03:15 PM
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CIOs Uncensored: The IT Outsider Might Be Your Best Hire

Hiring non-IT talent from another part of the organization will pay benefits, both near-term and long range.

When filling critical roles and leadership slots, many of us in business technology are guilty of focusing on a narrow, known set of skills defined by the traditional "IT person." We overlook the development opportunity that comes from hiring proven--or even unproven--talent from other functions. Tapping into early-career talent from engineering, finance, manufacturing, quality, sales, or supply chain teams for our jobs in IT will yield big dividends down the road.

Great leaders need to be talent hawks, seeking internal talent just as doggedly as external hires. Some of the best people you want on your biggest, toughest, and most important efforts are right under your nose--in another function.

As an IT leader, you have to invest time to reach out to these prospects and sell them on your roles. Once you land them, you have to help champion a corporate culture that sees IT as a ladder to top leadership opportunities. Whether that's the environment you're in, or it's an uphill fight, it's the right thing to do for the talent that works for you.

By partnering with your HR leaders and other functional heads to seek out IT opportunities for top employees from throughout your company, you import valuable leadership styles, functional knowledge, and skills to your IT team. When those individuals are ready to move on to their next roles, they take their information management perspective--and advocacy for your function--with them.

The idea is simple: Your business ends up with a larger cadre of supportive internal partners and stronger advocates for IT. Most important, your company can develop well-rounded and effective overall leaders in its talent pipeline.

It's common knowledge that IT positions haven't functioned as stepping stones to senior leadership roles. I'm convinced that a role in IT, when the candidate has the experience of implementing an ERP, product data management, product life-cycle management, or customer-facing system project, helps build a better general manager down the road. These large-scope assignments, particularly in the manufacturing sector, are fundamental in learning how to lead change, map out process improvements, and manage internal expectations.

And don't forget: Your more traditional IT professionals benefit by working with a nontypical, outside-of-IT team member. This new blood brings valuable functional perspectives, customer viewpoints, and problem-solving skills learned in other parts of the organization.

We need to be asking ourselves: Which areas in my company are the biggest advocates for the IT function--and which aren't? It's easy to hire from the first group, but I challenge you to hire from the second. Can you successfully insert some of your top hires on the path to COO, CFO, or CEO? A real legacy for you as an IT leader can be moving a big part of your organization into the career progression of the biggest leadership roles in your company. If you can't get there yourself today, then take steps to get your organization's best talent there in the future.

Justin Kershaw is VP of IT for Eaton's Fluid Power Group. Share your thoughts on IT hiring and other topics at our CIOs Uncensored blog.

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