Succession planning for IT: Get some depth to your bench

One or two star employees aren't enough. Here's how smart IT managers identify and groom the strong tech team members of tomorrow.

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To be sure, high performers who don't want to move into management are still essential to the organization, and management experts say the key to retaining such employees is to ensure that they receive support and training in the latest technologies and are given interesting, challenging projects.

As for the employees who do show leadership potential, McCarthy and other industry watchers recommend that IT managers scout them out early in their careers and begin bringing them along accordingly. Here are some other tips for adding depth to your IT bench.

Go deep to identify talent

The key to maintaining departmentwide continuity and reliability is identifying not just the stars of tomorrow, but going a few levels deeper to scope out employees with the potential to step up to the plate years from now.

At Prudential, as part of the company's succession planning and management program, IT and other managers are instructed to look for three types of rising stars: next-generation leaders who currently exhibit the required skills to take the next step into management; emerging leaders who have good technical skills and, with grooming, could become leaders within a few years; and employees who work well with management and in teams -- those with soft skills that can grow into full-blown management potential.

Equally important is recognizing those skilled workers who want to advance in the company, but not through management -- for example a junior Web developer who wants to amass the training and experience to become a senior Web developer, or an application developer who is looking for a new challenge and wants to learn different IT skills. While these employees aren't on the management track, they still require care and feeding.

"Some people say, 'I really don't have the desire to manage, I really just want to hone my technical skills,' or 'I really love being a Web developer,' and if that's what they want to do, you have to respect that," says Koster. "Putting them into something they don't want to do can hurt them."

IT leadership works on filling in gaps by providing potential managers with appropriate training, education and mentoring, says Koster. The multitasking millennial generation, for example, has much to contribute, but also much to learn. "The way they multitask is phenomenal; it increases productivity," says Koster. "We're incorporating things [from them] and putting those into the Prudential model. But they're also learning about the [company's] history and how our products work.

"There's a lot of older technology that the younger generation isn't learning in school," she adds, "so we need to prepare training programs for them to pick up that older technology." Koster offers the example of Cobol programming, which the company's IT systems are still heavily dependent on. "Many of our systems run on legacy environments. For us, it's a big issue. When you sell someone an insurance policy, that policy is for a lifetime." And so Cobol is one area Prudential's IT department focuses training on.

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