The Next Generation of IT

Today's IT leaders are passing along their knowledge to handpicked up-and-comers.

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Bill Regehr is always looking for people with promise. "There are just some people you see and know instantly that they're worth investing in," he says.

But recognizing those people and shepherding them to the top are two different tasks. That's why Regehr, senior vice president of IT and CIO at Boys & Girls Clubs of America in Atlanta, believes in succession planning.

We get so caught up in the pace of business and the pace of life that too often we don't stop to think about the next generation," he says. "We have to become more intentional about passing on those things [we've learned]. People passed it on to us; a lot of people invested in me. I owe it to the next generation to pass that on."

Regehr isn't the only CIO who thinks that way.

Bill Regehr

Boys & Girls Clubs' Bill Regehr is building a succession plan for the organization's rising stars.

Photo Credit: Ann States

" IT executives may be great innovators, but this year's Premier 100 IT Leaders are sticking with the old belief that great leaders are made, not born. They're following conscious strategies to train and educate those rising through the ranks. Their goal is to groom the next generation of IT leaders to ensure the success of their IT departments -- and their companies' competitive edge -- into the future.

"Companies that are successful are looking at [their] leadership pipeline constantly, because that pipeline is key to implementing their future," says Bonni Carson DiMatteo, president of Atlantic Consultants Inc., a Wellesley, Mass.-based consulting and coaching firm that focuses on leadership development and succession planning.

Retirement Surge

The issue is an important one for CIOs, DiMatteo and others say. Many workers, including a high number of executives, are part of the baby boom generation that's set to retire en masse in the next decade or two. At the same time, fewer people are coming into the workforce; some CIOs are already seeing a talent shortage in the IT field. Meanwhile, the CIO's role continues to expand, requiring not only updated technical skills but also, increasingly, business acumen to successfully perform the job.

"The challenge for the CIO is to be really forward-thinking about this, to get the message across that [it] is really important" to train the next generation, DiMatteo says.

Regehr's already there. He's thinking about who will replace him. He's building succession plans for the two levels of management below him. And he's taking steps to make sure rising stars within the Boys & Girls Club can step up when needed.

How is he doing all this? He hired a professional career manager to work with one potential leader. He sends some workers to management seminars at the Georgia Institute of Technology . And he gives board-level assignments to others to help them develop new skills.

Regehr is also working with someone he thinks could someday take over as CIO, showing him the ropes and bringing him to CIO conferences to prepare him for the role.

In Black and White

Toby Eduardo Redshaw, corporate vice president of IT strategy, architecture and e-business at Motorola Inc. in Schaumburg, Ill., has been grooming upcoming leaders as well. Redshaw has taken a formal approach to the process: He has written plans for every management staffer in his shop. His managers also identify replacement candidates within IT, outside IT and then outside the company.

Redshaw says written plans motivate workers, who "know they have a way up through the organization," and they allow him to move around talent "without a lot of consequential damage," such as hurting team morale.

QUICK-HIT TIPS

1) Discuss rising stars and how you're preparing them in management meetings to encourage similar practices among lower-level managers.

2) Be a mentor: Industry leaders differ on whether formal arrangements or informal relationships are better, but they do agree that providing guidance on job growth and office politics is invaluable.

3) Assign new tasks that might be outside a worker's normal range of responsibilities; arrange for executive coaching or time to take management courses.

4) Create a safe environment where you can help workers learn from their mistakes.

5) Keep succesion plans up to date so that the organization know how to handle sudden departures, and write down career goals for key workers so the company can follow through on long-term grooming strategies.

Consider, for example, how Redshaw handled a recent personnel change: When the leader of his integration services division moved to the enterprise business unit, Redshaw was able to announce his replacement in just 24 hours because succession plans were in place.

Redshaw works with his staffers to help them advance, using their annual reviews to look at strengths, weaknesses and development paths. He then puts people in situations that test them and sends them for formal training. He says he has also established a management structure "that cares about and knows that development is important."

"You've got to have a culture that allows people to fail. That's where a lot of the learning is," Redshaw adds.

Others have adopted similar approaches to getting the next generation ready for executive jobs.

John Schindler, CIO at Kichler Lighting in Cleveland, has a chart that identifies "fast-track individuals." He details their training and development needs along with their goals for professional development.

"I know the individuals I'll be grooming and investing time in," he says.

For example, he makes note of which of his direct reports have MBAs and who is studying to earn one. To help these employees along, Schindler says he assigns them projects where they can practice new skills.

Schindler recently assigned one staffer some accounting and strategic planning work after he finished his MBA. "This is an area that wouldn't normally be under his purview, but he was very appreciative for the opportunity," he says.

Schindler even puts himself out there as a mentor, talking to people informally to learn about their work and aspirations.

Such mentoring can be a significant contributor to professional success, according to a 2003 survey conducted by Robert Half Technology, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based provider of IT professional staffing.

The survey polled more than 1,400 CIOs at U.S. companies with 100 or more employees. Fifty-one percent said they benefited from having a mentor at some point in their careers. Meanwhile, 72% of those who didn't have a mentor said they felt their advancement would have been easier if they'd had an experienced adviser guiding them.

Multilayered Approach

Robert S. Autor, executive vice president and CIO at SLM Corp. (Sallie Mae) in Reston, Va., sees several dimensions to mentoring. He says the right approach includes providing regular feedback as well as informal advice to help employees be more effective. He says it can also mean bringing in outside help, such as executive coaches.

Autor says good mentors lead by example, too. He, for one, takes time at management meetings to discuss talented staff members, a practice he hopes filters down through the organization.

He also believes that good mentors provide protection. "If you're going to help people overcome their weaknesses, you need to put them in positions were their weaknesses are challenged," explains Autor. But those circumstances can cause problems, he adds, so CIOs need to help "smooth out some of the bumps."

Charles Hunsinger, vice president of software engineering at Corporate Express Inc., an Amsterdam-based company with U.S. headquarters in Broomfield, Colo., says his IT workers benefit from the formal training programs run by his department and by human resources.

Many workers also benefit from informal mentoring -- a strategy that Hunsinger claims works better than a formal program that pairs a senior worker with a junior colleague.

He says formal arrangements might not work because "sometimes it clicks, sometimes it doesn't." And while leaving mentoring to informal connections might mean that some people slip through without that extra guidance, Hunsinger says he finds such relationships to be much better when they're not structured.

"It's really a personal relationship that you have to build," he says.

Others, however, find benefits in more formal arrangements.

Kay J. Palmer, CIO and executive vice president at J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. in Lowell, Ark., has a leadership development program for her department that uses both in-house training and customized training developed with a local firm specializing in leadership development. The training involves standard practices, such as 360-degree assessment tools, in which coaches get feedback on an individual from various professional circles.

Managers can also recommend promising workers for a corporate leadership program that's being developed at J.B. Hunt, and Palmer's trying to bring a mentoring program to the company, too.

"Very few leaders naturally possess strong technical, business and diplomatic skills," she says. "Mentoring and coaching is required to help a successor be effective in all three."

Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer.

Special Report

2006 Premier 100 IT Leaders

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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