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 one 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:
If there is one key point to be emphasized, it would be 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 some key excerpts from that panel discussion:
Dan: [to the audience] What’s on your mind regarding IT talent and workforce strategy?
Representative audience responses:
Dan: Anyone thinking Talent Brand? They get the best, they keep the best. Those with the best win.
What I love about Shawn is that he is talking with boards of directors, the C suite and also CIOs, and has a pretty unique vantage point. So you are going to make us think a little bit.
Shana has great story of the talent and culture journey that she’s on. Anyone remember the Spanish explorer Cortez? Remember what he did? He was the one who got all his guys on shore, about six hundred of them, and there were five million Aztecs, and he burnt the ships that his guys arrived on. So think about that. The best leaders I have observed in thirty years were willing to burn the ships. Shana burnt the ships. She is going to talk about it.
My friend Damon Carter came up from Hartford. He’s with Aetna. I thought about how we could round out this panel to get great perspective. Everyone here is going to want Damon on your team when we are done. He is an HR business partner, extraordinaire. Again, back to my thirty years, I’ve never seen a successful IT transformation and culture change without a phenomenal HR business partner. You either have it or you buy it. You can’t do without them.
Thank you all for being here.
Let’s kick it off with Shawn. You quote George Westerman from MIT. “There’s never been a better time to be a great CIO or a worse time to be an average one.” Why is that? What’s going on? What’s changing in the C suite and the board?
Shawn: We are seeing a significant shift in the expectations of technology. IT has a legacy connotation. There was a time when the expectation of technology was to align with your business as a robust, scalable, secure, functional utility. And as the leader of that functional utility you have to be a fantastic program manager, had to understand the business and risks, compliance and the regulatory climate that affect your organization. You had to be a terrific leader of people. The list goes on in terms of attributes and skills that this person was expected to exhibit. In fact, you were describing Superman.
We have seen, in the course of the last two years -- and it is accelerating dramatically -- that’s really not good enough anymore! And it’s not that these people weren’t doing a terrific job. What we are seeing is the expectation of IT to be a value creator. This is at the board level and in the office of the CEO.
I predict in three to five years the traditional CIO, general manager of the functional utility, will become a subordinate function, albeit still an important one, and a high profile role. It becomes subordinate to an emerging role driven by the shift in expectations and this new role consists of someone that has the process orientation and general management capability but marries to that a level of strategy, vision and technical aptitude, particularly around software engineering and platform architecture. I’m not saying this person has to be an ultimate developer themselves, but they need to be able to effectively identify, inspire and lead high preforming technical teams.
Dan: Shana, eighteen to twenty four months ago the CIO retires and you are hired. You came in and decided to move all the big rocks. Talk about that journey and burning the ships.
Shana: I reported to the CIO and I move into this new role. The CEO says to me, “You only have one goal. You need to create a world class IT department that will help transform and differentiate the business”. Ha!! No problem. How’s next week?
So having been with this company I had a huge advantage because I knew what we had and I knew what we were missing. I knew I could help shape the definition of what “world class” means.
We couldn’t operate business as usual with the same IT people if we’re going to truly differentiate the company.
We went offsite for a few days and I took a close look at the organization and realized I had to start there. We’ve got to get the right people or we’re never going to be able to achieve these goals.
And so we ended up, about 4 months after I took the role, doing a retooling of IT that impacted about 25 percent of our organization. There were people who ended up moving out of the organization. Others that were great technical people, including some management that wasn’t working out, that we sent back to capitalize on their strengths.
So we did set the ships on fire. We said we were going into this full force. We didn’t have time to play around with it so we did it in one fell swoop.
It was a tough decision. I did it with a couple of key HR partners and the support of the CEO. There were some tough days when some of the business managers called and said, “What did you just do?” I had to explain that you may have liked your partner, but good wasn’t good enough and this is the journey we are on and this is what we are trying to achieve, so I’m asking you to trust me. That was huge. It took a good six to nine months to really gain the trust of my business partners and the organization. I had people on my own team looking at me and saying “You were one of us, what did you just do?” It was tough to make those decisions and it took a while for people to understand the vision and why I did that.
Dan: I have great respect for your courage and leadership. That was a hard thing to do. Are the conversations getting easier? Eighteen months into it are you now seeing any of the benefits?
Shana: Absolutely! When I took the role, we measured our customer satisfaction and it was not good. We knew it wasn’t going to change just because of the changes in the organization. We knew we had a long road ahead of us. We’re still on the journey. But the talent that we’ve been able to bring in and the changes to our service offerings to the business and the changes in the conversations – I can see these, they are measurable.
We just did another satisfaction survey. Previously, the higher you went in the organization the less satisfied our business partners were with IT. It has now flipped around. So the faith that our senior leadership team has in IT has changed, and we are starting to deliver for them. We are starting to see it.
We are showing measurable progress. I’m glad we did it. It was very hard. There were some sleepless nights about a year ago but we’re on the other side of it and a lot of good things are happening.
Dan: Damon is with Aetna. You partnered closely with all the top IT leads who oversee 3,800 people. Massive organization, complexity, industry disruption -- a lot of big stuff going on here. You are coming at this in ways I have never seen before. I’d like you to talk about how you approach strategic workforce planning.
Damon: Everyone does strategic workforce planning their own way. You have to figure out what works best for you. You come up with the perfect model, but if you don’t find a way to integrate it into your current program and practices, and engage the business leaders, then there is a disconnect. That is really the bigger issue I had coming into this.
When I first joined I noticed that, when I invited people to come to our workforce discussions, the energy was so low. It feels like it’s such a burden. It’s like check the box. “You gave me the template and asked me to fill it out and I don’t know that it’s going to deliver any value to my organization”.
I really tried to dissect that and figure out what was wrong there. I can’t drive the talent if the leaders are not on board. Once I was able to handle that issue, I could put through a strategic plan.
You do your macro analysis of the current environment and hypothesize what your future demands may be. But as you all know, we don’t know what’s coming and it changes very frequently.
Then you nail down your current state profile. Spend a lot of time on your current state. What is the makeup of your current organization? How well do you know your talent? I found that in an organization that is very tenured there is an assumption that “I know these people, I know what they want to do. I know what their capabilities are”.
I started to test that. Come to find out they didn’t know as much as they thought about talent. We spent a lot of time digging into that. I brought new data to the table. We had a great HR analytics team that was terribly underutilized. I leveraged them to bring the data to the IT professionals. This is what your organization looks like now and you know what you’re future state demand looks like. You have thoughts about where you think you need to go. Now let’s do the gap assessment. You start to put an action plan behind that. You start to prioritize and close those gaps. And then monitor and sustain.
That was our approach and even though there was this leadership fatigue at first, I actually added two more quarterly talent strategy discussions to the calendar. You ask why I would do that to them if they are already fatigued. I did it because I believed the process was delivering value.
They are begging for those conversations now, and I told them you don’t have to bring anything to this meeting. Let’s talk shop and let’s talk strategy. We don’t need templates to drive our conversation. Let’s just have a conversation about what we need to move forward.
That gives you a back drop. We have been on this road about three to four years and continue to keep pushing. Things evolve and take shape. The framework is agile enough to adjust. And we know enough about our organization to be able to pivot accordingly to keep heading toward that North Star.
This first part of the panel discussion clearly emphasizes the changing role of IT and the expectation that IT lead the business. It also underscores the competitive focus on talent, culture and workforce strategy. We will publish the second segment of the panel discussion next week.
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