Mar 03 2009

CIO Shares 3 Way to Help Colleges Groom Future IT Talent

Colleges should use this reprieve to identify and encourage internal staff, from front-line technical supervisors to potential CIO candidates.

A CIO offers three ways to help colleges groom future IT talent.

Demographic projections indicate a potential shortage of skilled IT workers and leaders as baby boomers begin to retire. Of course, because the economy has trounced the financial portfolios of some would-be retirees, they may continue working for several years. Others who find their work fulfilling may consult or serve in interim leadership roles. Regardless of whether a shortage looms, colleges and universities should use this brief reprieve to identify and groom talented internal staff, from front-line technical supervisors to potential CIO candidates.


A single-point-of-failure hardware vulnerability can bring a school’s operations to a halt. SPOFs also exist within the IT labor force, and almost every team has one — we’ll call him Terry, the sole member of your staff who can repair, update and fine-tune your school’s mission-critical business system. When Terry takes a vacation, gets sick or resigns, it’s tough for the rest of the staff to trouble-shoot any system performance issues.

Rid your IT shop of this problem by having Terry train others on hardware and system-specific skills. Set a deadline for when the training should end. Insulate Terry and his trainees from interruptions during training sessions. Add a cross-training metric on performance appraisals to demonstrate management’s commitment. And finally, reward Terry after the assignment is successfully completed by sending him to a technical school or workshop, or letting him shadow another employee who has skills he desires. By creating a culture in which learning new skills is appreciated and rewarded, one can improve staff morale and ensure backup expertise is available when Terry leaves.

Hold Classes

Offering management classes is a great way to locate untapped internal talent. Employees can elect to attend an eight-week class and decide for themselves if managing is their forte. Commonly held at the end of the workday and taught by a skilled management development facilitator, class topics might include aspects of personnel law, basic management theory, case studies and manager-employee communication dynamics. Both the employer and employee each contribute an hour of time every week for the employee to attend class. Typically the employee attends “on the clock” from 4 to 5 p.m., then contributes an hour of personal time in class from 5 to 6 p.m.

Before offering your first class, get support from senior management and human resources. Make it clear beforehand that course participants should have no expectation of becoming promoted into management — this is simply a chance to learn leadership fundamentals. The potential benefits of such a program are many: The school may discover willing but undiscovered leaders in the ranks. Staff members gain a deeper understanding of what it takes to be the boss. And employees who do not pursue management may appreciate their existing positions more and focus on becoming even better at what they do.

Round-Table Event

If an IT leadership shortage is on the horizon, how does one ready midlevel IT managers to assume a senior position? Arguably, nothing works like rubbing elbows with the current CIO. When one organization’s middle managers were asked what would help them develop their IT leadership skills, they answered: “We would like to meet with the CIO and his deputies and ask how they got where they are, learn their backgrounds and have them share the smart moves they made over the years.” Their suggestion was implemented, resulting in a highly successful senior management round-table event.

The CIO and his senior staff actually looked forward to participating. After all, how often are IT managers asked to open up and share their personal success stories? The dialogue at the round-table focused solely on career development — and the CIO’s successor emerged from that program.

Although an IT leadership shortage may be looming, savvy organizations will leverage this opportunity to offer initiatives, taking their executive leadership development programs to the next level.


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