It may not be the department traditionally tied with IT, but it does manage the organisation’s most valuable asset, people.
Equally, with technology underpinning almost every business and industry in some way these days, organisations will struggle to keep up without their IT capability. So there’s an obvious reason as to why CIOs and HR managers should partner up.
IBM’s global CEO survey for 2012 found 71 per cent of respondents see the people within their organisations as a key source of sustained economic value, which makes a partnership between human resources (HR) and IT a worthwhile pursuit. So why aren’t CIOs and HR staff automatically strong allies?
“Fundamentally IT and HR people think differently,” claims Ross Forgione, CIO of Johnson Winter & Slattery Lawyers. “I’m a very logical, processing thinking person and you need that characteristic in IT and as a CIO.” Facing HR people who tend to be more emotionally-driven and focused on soft skills can therefore be a challenge.
“CIOs need to have their minds open enough, perhaps have that moment where they realise ‘I can’t just be a logical animal’,” he says. “They need to have connections, soft skills and not just work within the very rigid and refined space which is IT.”
Kelly Fischl, principal consultant at HR consulting company Coaching Ink, lays the blame for disconnect between the two departments to their lack of understanding about different priorities. IT, for example, might push to deliver a new technology, whereas HR might be cautious around how it will affect company culture and staff.
Forgione agrees, saying CIOs and HR managers need to better understand what each other’s role is in delivering on business outcomes. “Logically we are seeking two different outcomes. You really need to understand what the benefits are that each department brings to the organisation, and you actually need to work side by side to get better outcomes for the organisation.”
IT people also tend to look at people and processes in a ‘black and white’ way, he says.
“Perhaps IT still takes that approach of ‘you have come to me for something and I’m going to give you this, you will fit into this mould’ which creates tension,” Forgione says. “It is also very difficult to do a great job if you are just looking at your department in an isolated way.”
Tackling staffing issues
It is worth pointing out why CIOs and their IT teams should be mindful of the important role HR plays in their organisation. According to PricewaterhouseCooper’s 2013 Global CEO Survey, filling talent gaps are the top investment priority for 27 per cent of all CEOs over the next year, followed by implementing new technology (26 per cent).
One major staffing issue many organisations are experiencing is to source the right IT talent, Guazzarotto says, making a partnership with the HR manager crucial for the CIO. He says the issue is this “old school thinking” about IT, where softer skills such as customer service and business strategy are often overlooked or underrated in candidates.
“HR folk find it much easier to recruit to a skills matching model where they can say ‘you need skills in Java, HTML, Prince2, project management’ and they can tick those boxes off quite nicely,” he claims.
CIOs need to be more directly involved in the recruitment process and act as an advisor to the HR manager on the sorts of skills they need, rather than just submitting a job description and expecting HR to figure out the rest, says director of management consultancy Future Knowledge, David Guazzarotto.
Fischl agrees, adding HR managers can also help CIOs understand how a candidate would fit culturally into the broader organisation and not just the IT department.
When it comes to skilling up his IT staff, Department of Defence CIO, Dr Peter Lawrence, taps into HR’s knowledge of available courses and workshops. “They understand courses that are available in the market, they develop some common courses we use across all of Defence, and they can facilitate and access the programs through training providers,” he says. This helps identify training that can deliver the best results.
Another issue that relates to staff retention is actually one IT and HR share. Both are still often viewed as the ‘rules and regulations’ departments with strict governance policies and procedures when it comes to letting employees bring their own devices to work, says Michael Specht, senior advisor at Navigo Research.
The CIO has a detailed policy document for what employees can’t do with their devices and, similarly, the HR manager also has policies. Together they are seen to create ‘barriers’, he says.
While rules and regulations are important, Guazarotto says the CIO and the HR manager need to work together to identify areas where they can be more flexible in their policies, particularly when looking to retaining Gen Y workers.
“There’s nothing more demotivating for a millennial after a Sunday night where they have done their banking online, engaged with friends on Facebook, read a newspaper while watching television and downloaded a Game of Thrones episode in the background, than to come into work on Monday morning and have to log in and start working in archaic platforms,” Guazzarotto says.
“There’s a big push for things like bring your own device. To really enable the workforce to leverage those technologies, we need co-operation between CIOs and HR officers.
"We don’t just need the technology in IT enabling devices to operate within the corporate system, we also need to take away some of the constraints employees have in terms of where they can work and how they work. HR can help ensure new and better ways of working are able to be achieved.”
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