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Blog: CIOs Want To Build Business Skills in IT

Blog: CIOs Want To Build Business Skills in IT

I think CIOs are justifiably nervous about their staffs. It was good to see a few newbies in Society for Information Management's (SIM) 2007 Top "10" IT Management Concerns , findings from their 2007 trends survey. Notably new to the top 10 and weighing in at #3: the need to 'build business skills in IT.' That old chestnut, 'IT and business alignment' was still there, down from #1 to #2 (tackled elsewhere by Chris Potts) and moving up to #1 from second place: 'attracting, developing and retaining IT professionals', which seized mindshare of nearly 51% of responders. Other concerns new on the list: reducing the cost of doing business, improving IT quality, managing change, making better use of information, and the evolving CIO leadership role.

Bear with me while we put a few of these elements together and see where we are. Turnover is low (61% reported it to be below 5%), yet 52% are increasing headcount. The reasons: first for growth, but second to replace departing employees. 86% paid their staff more in 2007 than in 2006, but many do not plan to do that again: 37% expect that in 2008, they will pay the same (20.2%) or less (17.2%!) than in 2007. And in recruiting both entry and mid-level hires, problem solving and communication were among the top skills sought.

So let's sum all that up: CIOs are nervous. Despite the fact that a low percentage of staff are departing, it looks like next year a larger number will see no raise or perhaps even a pay cut, so it's quite possible that more will depart, leaving them with the need to find more people. This, therefore, is a skill mix problem, which brings us to the need to 'build business skills in IT' and why it is in the top 10. Perhaps those business skills are the very same as the skills ranked high by SIM for prospective hires: problem solving and communication.

Perhaps those long-time, not-yet-departing folks in IT organizations are mired in some technologies (perhaps doing maintenance or other operational work) that are not in synch with what the business needs today. Perhaps they are the ones who don't understand the business, and perhaps are poor at communication and problem solving.

Maybe it's time, as one CIO of 4000 person IT organization recently told me, if you want to upgrade your staff, you send your people to school. He hand-picks and sends them out to a customized part-time program that helps them develop skills like finance and to gain a broader view of project management, and improve communication and political skills. "If all organizations did this, we would upgrade the profession. This enhancement to the business function and capability is a win-win."

Let's not forget that the number one reason people leave jobs is their manager. Within that, lack of appreciation and day-to-day support and advocacy are catalysts for frustration and finding the exit - if there is someplace to depart to. There is the conundrum: because their skills are not quite right, they may not depart (see SIM turnover data). So cultivating the talent in the staff you have, growing them into the jobs you need, and then rewarding them - is the way to develop and retain the IT professionalism that you want. And recommendations among peers about what a great boss you and your managers are will be the best way to attract new talent.

Finally, let's also not forget what a recruiter friend of mine refers to as the Mister Potatohead syndrome, where the job description has become so specific that no one can fill it.

Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.

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