How To Cultivate High-Potential IT Leaders - InformationWeek

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01:57 PM
Larry Tieman
Larry Tieman

How To Cultivate High-Potential IT Leaders

Seeking a new IT job opportunity or trying to retain your organization's best talent? Consider this advice from a 40-year industry veteran.

A young man who used to work for me recently sent me a career update: He had landed a higher-level job at a different company. That's no knock on my former employer. Great IT organizations tend to develop more talented people with more ambition than they can absorb. In fact, IT organizations should take pride in their ability to cultivate people other companies want.

However, for both the IT organization and the employee leaving, it's a time to take stock. Did the organization do all that it could (or should) have done to retain the bright, high-potential individual? A long recession and even longer period of hiring freezes and headcount attrition may have left the organization with a talent and age gap. More on that critical issue below.

There are risks for job seekers as well. They need to understand that they're not the only ones exhibiting dating behavior; employers also are adept at emphasizing their attributes while minimizing their weaknesses. I was recruited a lot and changed jobs many times during my 40-year IT career, and never--absolutely never--was the actual job just like what had been described.

For those considering a new opportunity, consider my four "C" framework.

Company. Is this a company in an industry where you really want to work?

I have always had a short list of companies and industries where I wouldn't work. For example, I would never work for a cigarette company. Some people I know would never work for a defense contractor.

But even in desirable companies and industries, the high-potential IT leader must take a five-year view. Is this company going to survive intact over that timeframe, and do you want to be associated with its reputation? You don't want to be the most recent hire if a company fails or is acquired.

But most important to your career success, and almost impossible to assess as a director or VP candidate, is how the CEO and other senior business leaders view IT. The reputation of the IT organization is a good surrogate.

Career. Surprisingly few people have solid, actionable career plans. Too many people think getting a promotion is a career plan.

How does this new job support your career objectives? Is there a reasonable opportunity to reach your career goals in the new job, or will you have to change jobs again? Frequent job changes, if even possible today, can be bad for your career.

A good example: One high-potential manager with the career ambition to be a CTO and to drive technology change took a promotion as an applications director knowing that the experience working with business partners would be invaluable.

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A not so good example: An application development manager left to become a network systems director at another company where the entire IT shop was smaller than a typical director organization in a large company. He wanted the title.

Chemistry/Culture. Can you be successful in this new environment?

Culture matters. American Airlines in the 1980s was a contentious, combative place to work. FedEx today has a collegial, hospitable culture, very Memphis-centric. Both environments were/are demanding and difficult for an outsider to adapt to. To be successful as a new hire, you will need help from people immersed in the culture, and that help isn't always easy to get.

I have seen people fail because their office was located in an out-of-the-way place, their first project was a disaster through no fault of theirs, or they were attacked by a colleague--and supporters of that colleague--who thought he/she should have gotten the promotion.

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
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User Rank: Apprentice
11/9/2011 | 4:08:10 PM
re: How To Cultivate High-Potential IT Leaders
Thanks for the thoughtful comment. In 1992 I went to a big, offsite meeting in Orlando called by the CEO. The topic was how to get Marketing and IT to work together. I have saved the souvenir coffee table coasters from the event and used them in innumerable Marketing/IT throwdowns since. You are so correct that neither group can be successful alone but the struggle to work together seems just as difficult as ever. And now with far more ways to reach customers and the need to keep those channels refreshed so much faster than before, I donG«÷t see the strain improving. I like your three starting points. They make great sense, have been tried, and deserve another try (or two or three). The company that has the best customer understanding and innovative product design in Marketing paired cooperatively with the best IT engineering will win in the market and meet the CMO and CIO goals of having a meaningful place at the CEO table.

User Rank: Apprentice
11/8/2011 | 6:10:46 PM
re: How To Cultivate High-Potential IT Leaders
Larry, thanks for this. I worked in IT for 15 years many years ago, then got into marketing research (mainly for Tech) and see the problem from the other side. Marketing is in a similar situation as IT in many organizations, both trying to prove their value and both wanting to sit at the CEO table but often being relegated to some other table. Marketing needs IT according to recent research and IT remarkably doesn't seem ready to help. IT relationship managers (according to our research) assigned to Marketing often go there and simply help queue up the projects instead of helping with new thinking and innovation. The gap between Marketing and IT is at least as important a gap as that between IT and Sales, yet little improvement seems to be happening. You may have identified a root cause in that IT is stifled, held back and not improving. Marketing, under the same pressures will simply try IT work-arounds and likely fail since they don't know systems, nor security, etc. The solution is for both to work together at the highest levels and decide how to build their combined TOTAL value up in the organization. Then go to the CFO/CEO with a joint plan to increase the value of the organization, show them how it will be done and get the funding. Not easy, of course, but it starts with 1. working together at the CIO/CMO level, 2. getting innovative help inside and/or outside to work with the cross-function team, 3. challenge them to act as professionals and work together to achieve the greater good. Watch what happens.
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