O&A CEO, Dan Roberts, recently moderated a panel discussion at the Premier CIO Forum in Boston, presented in partnership with the Boston chapter of SIM. The topic was Changing the Conversation About IT Talent – Building Your 2020 Workforce Strategy. This is article two of two, conveying the dialogue that took place.
The diverse panel included an executive recruiter, a CIO, and an HR business partner to IT, providing three different, yet complimentary, perspectives on IT workforce strategy. Panel members included:
We saw in part 1 that we are truly changing the conversation about IT strategy, culture and talent. The new talent war requires strategic IT workforce planning in which we pay close attention to the culture of service and innovation required to lead our business and develop our critical talent brand.
Following are key excerpts from the second segment of the panel discussion:
Dan: Shana I want to go back to you because you are in the middle of a big talent transformation and at the same time your company is growing astronomically. Last year, 2016, 70% of the drugs that came to market had Charles River Labs fingerprints on them. You are actually being asked to do more things, go out meet clients. What is your role in this journey?
Shana: It’s all about access to data and information. To get drugs to market is a couple billion dollar proposition. We are a part of that chain. It’s not just about great data and great analytics, but self-service and feeling like we’re an extension of the biotech company or the pharma company. Especially if you think about the small biotech firms. We live in an insane hub of really smart people here in the Boston area. Biotech firms coming out of MIT and other universities. They don’t want to build their own infrastructure. They look at us as a contract research partner to provide some of that. There are multiple advantages working with us at that level but a lot of it comes down to IT and how fast we can deliver the right information or enable them to do their own analytics and feel like we’re just an extension of their team.
Dan: Shawn, what are you hearing from a transformation and innovation perspective when you are talking to board members and CEOs?
Shawn: I’ll jump right into that but I think that what Shana just shared was a really logical break. Back to what I mentioned about legacy IT leadership versus the expectation now, by the board and the C suite. That is, her job as CIO, this is really a “business process as a service” (BPaaS), so she is not just accountable for the internal machinations of the business, she’s now on the hook for provisioning a very complex suite of services to a third party and if that doesn’t go well…
People get upset if their email doesn’t work, or a report doesn’t run, but there are significant penalties when you are in her seat. That’s brings you to the commercial forefront.
That is what we are seeing here. It comes down to the expectation by the board and related stakeholders of the CIO. Again, I think this title will morph and change, really being more of a robust participant in the commercial dialog and having ownership for those critical assets that enable and fulfill the commercial commitments of the organization.
This whole concept of digital transformation is very relevant. What’s real change in one place is incremental at best someplace else.
The expectation level now for the CIO is to be a magnet for talent. So how are you going about building an environment that’s attractive to us and to retain and attract that external talent? That’s huge.
That’s the talent and brand ambassadorship that CIOs historically hadn’t considered as themselves.
When you are doing a search for RBC, you’re told that when this person presents to the graduating class of computer science at the University of Toronto we want that audience to come and work for RBC and not just go to Google, Facebook or Airbnb.
As a CIO, you understand that you are recruiting that type of talent. You have to project the image of progressive, open, flexible, adaptable. You have to give them a great tool kit. If they have better toys to play with in their dorm room, they’re not going to find it compelling in your work environment. There is a whole separate set of conversations that are going to happen there.
On the commercial piece, externally, we live in a world with SaaS or BPaaS. The expectation is sometimes the buy or the sell is not made because someone knocks on your door and takes you through the features and functionality of the tool kit. It is made because they want to hear first-hand from the CIO – “How are you guys using this and how did it fundamentally change your business?”
These are just some of the conversations that are conspiring to force CIOs to either adapt into this talent war or, again, they will be subordinated.
Dan: Damon, I really appreciate the holistic approach you’re talking about. I like how you’re changing the conversation about IT talent and you have taken it from a burden, a box to check off, to something that’s much more holistic. You think about people in a very different way. Can you talk a little more about that? You’re also very precise with your language when you talk about this. Can you speak a little more about that?
Damon: Our vernacular is very, very important, especially when you are trying to drive a change. So how we characterize our talent is really important. As we continue to build out our talent transformation strategy over the last 18 months or so, I took the feedback from these talent meetings. What do we really want to accomplish? When we look at our talent what do we want them to be?
One term I put in place is a Technical Athlete. So think about it, the world is evolving. The world is changing. You need to be adaptable, be able to move across various disciplines, across different lines of business to increase your value to an organization. We thought the term “technical athlete” resonated really well with IT because it tells a story. We want them to run, jump, swim, throw a javelin and do all these things really, really well.
It plays to the concept of T-shaped professional development. Broadening the experience across – the general experience – and getting that technical depth as a subject matter expert. That was one way to conceptualize it and bring it to life and put the right kind of terminology around it.
Other terms that we really wanted to promote – this came from our chief architect, who joined about two years ago and is responsible for driving our transformation strategy – are “ambassadors” and “heroes”. Most people fall into one or the other.
If you are the Hero, he defines this as someone who walks the talk. They set the example. They’re the go-to people out there. The people you want to model because of how successful they are in this job.
Versus the Ambassador. They are important. They are the evangelists. They are the ones telling your story. What are we trying to accomplish in technology? Not just within our IT shop but for the business. So they carry that flag.
Those types of terms are really important and have really taken root as part of our overall strategic workforce planning strategy.
Dan: Shana, when I talk about large scale transformation, culture change initiatives, I often talk about it as I’ve got to be good top-down (strategic), great bottom up, but the make or break is the frozen middle. You are doing something I have not seen before. Some people look at that and say “how do you have the time to do that?” And you probably say how do I not have the time to do it? Can you tell us what you are doing with the directs of your directs?
Shana: I started mentoring the direct reports of my direct reports, which is about 53 people. I have seen a few eyebrows raised. “How can you possibly do that?”
Let’s do some simple math here. Let’s say I meet with them four to five times a year, 250 hours a year. It’s about 20 hours a month.
As I look out to this audience, you are all competition trying to get the same really great talent that has this breadth of skills, great communicators, yet technical savvy. I look at mentoring as a way to differentiate the organization and it allows me to know my talent. When I have open positions, hopefully I built enough talent that I can promote people.
A lot of it is about not only the development of skills but getting to know people. You wouldn’t believe some of the things I’ve learned having these conversations that allow me to do my job better. I’m all about feedback. I love suggestions. I think that great ideas can come from anywhere. So when I can sit down and have a conversation with these people on an individual basis, people feel more comfortable with me. They know I mean what I say, and they feel comfortable making suggestions.
Ultimately it ends up a stronger organization and accelerating our path. It’s also a nice advantage that people know they have a career opportunity and can get guidance.
Hopefully, it’s keeping great people out of your talent hooks.
Dan: Shawn, I’m going to have you talk board stuff. Shana I’m going to have you talk metrics stuff. And Damon I’m going to have you talk about inclusion and diversity.
Shawn, what do you see in the boards and CIOs? How do we get more credibility and influence with the board? In the last two years, there’s been a 70% rise in CIOs on corporate boards, so what’s going on?
Shawn: Don’t let a good crisis go to waste. Right now there are three top priorities that you’ll hear if you were to call boards, which we do on a fairly regular basis. Or you can go to the NACB website and they’ll be happy to educate you. One is activist investors, second is cyber and the associated risk and the third is diversity. Cyber is a conversation that has captured the board’s attention and has given the CIO meaningful access to those board members in a way they simply did not have in the last three to five years. This is allowing the CIO to bring forth subject matter expertise that resonates with the board and it’s also an opportunity to engage the board in a broader set of conversations. What we encourage people to do is take advantage of that situation. What we see is the board quickly pivots away from “is it on time? Is it on budget? Have we been hacked?” – the more tactical questions -- and suddenly start engaging the CIO in conversations around revenue and marketing and pivot away from the IT finance continuum to the IT customer insight, data analytics, experience and it a cascade effect and starts a much more robust conversation.
Dan: Damon, you have some interesting ideas, not on people who look different, but people who think different. Can you give us your insights on that?
Damon I have to make the business case for why this should matter for my leadership team, and at the end of the day we deal with a ton of complexity. I am a firm believer that the more complex the problem, the more diverse your team needs to be to tackle it. And when you couch it that way it kind of resonates with leaders. It’s not just about getting people who look differently. It’s about getting people that think differently. And that covers everybody. We all think differently. And that ties nicely into the whole concept of what inclusion should really be about. How you go about engaging everybody to attack a complex business problem. I told my leadership team if you feel uncomfortable, don’t run from it. You’re on the right path. You need to understand why you feel uncomfortable – why that situation feels uncomfortable -- and thoughtfully delve into it and figure it out, because there are learning opportunities waiting for you right there in front of your face.
Dan: Shana, what gets measured gets done, what gets rewarded gets repeated. What are the metrics that you’re locked on? What are you measuring that is important to you?
Shana One of our goals is to double our revenue in the next four to five years, which means we are operating on a whole different scale. So to create an IT organization that is capable of supporting the sustained growth of the company overall, I’m looking at balancing three different areas. One is the engagement of my talent. Second is my customer. Are they happy with the work we are doing and the value that they’re getting from us? And the third is the quality and proof of the work that we are doing.
So I’m breaking my metrics down into those three areas. In my mind if any of those three are out of balance then I can’t support sustained growth. I can force my people to do a ton of work for the next two years and burn them all out and, great, we’ll do a lot of great stuff but two years later I have an organization that is now walking out the door. So the metrics really are in those areas.
I am looking at employee engagement. Do people have development plans? Do we have skills assessments so we know where they have strengths we can capitalize on or things we really need to fix?
On the customer value side we’re actually measuring our customer satisfaction from our internal customer and have metrics around our service desk and how quickly we respond to things, how proactive we are in driving down tickets.
And finally is the quality of throughput. What is the value we are actually delivering back to the company? It doesn’t matter that we wrote ten great widgets for our web site or did this great thing on our customer portal. Is it actually driving revenue? Is it helping the business be more efficient? We are measuring the return on investment for projects, which is hard to do, and we are getting better at it.
This two-part series looked at IT strategy, culture and talent from the diverse viewpoint of an executive recruiter, a CIO, and an HR executive. These are all people operating in a transformational space, recognizing the changing expectations of the CIO and the evolving role of IT. And their common threads are workforce strategy and building a talent brand – factors that have never been more important in IT.
About Dan Roberts
As the CEO of Ouellette & Associates Consulting, Inc. (O&A), Dan leads the firm known since 1984 for "Developing the Human Side of Technology." His team, along with a cadre of strategic partners, have helped more than 3,500 IT organizations build high performing world class cultures, assess and develop the new core competencies necessary for success, and manage talent risk through knowledge transfer.
O&A Unleashes the Power of IT by Developing the Human Side of Technology and Changing the Conversation About IT Strategy, Culture and Talent. Strategy, flawless execution, innovation and a service culture are fundamental requirements of every IT organization today. We prepare each member of the IT team to take their game to the next level, to move IT up the maturity curve to become the Strategic Partner and Innovative Anticipator TM that drives the business.