Recently there’s been a spate of articles and white papers on “future proofing” IT organizations, which, in the end, is another way to talk about talent risk management. One good example is an ebook from Gartner, aptly named Future-Proof the IT Workforce. The authors argue that CIOs should first look inside their own organizations to fill critical roles because it will lead to more predictable outcomes given today's talent shortages. This is especially true for the skills required to execute the digital business strategies that play a starring role in nearly every CIO’s plans.
Gartner’s research showed there are 236,000 data and analytics job openings in the U.S. alone, a 43% growth rate year over year. The authors recommend a path to managing talent risk (future-proofing), and they detail a laundry list of familiar talent development strategies that left me wanting. Are we really to believe that rotation programs and job shadowing are the best ways to ensure you have the talent you need one to three years from now? The answer could be “yes,” but not without taking a close look at the details.
Managing talent risk is based on the idea that the workers you have today will be made ready to tackle the work of tomorrow. It sounds daunting, and it can be unless you have a plan. To navigate successfully, CIOs and their leadership teams must sweat the details of development strategies to make them both practical and measurable. The road map for future-proofing a workforce cannot stop short and still deliver the skills needed. CIOs should not be satisfied unless the last mile is clearly and definitively stated.
So, how do we do that?
Name the expertise. Then, decode it
Gartner has provided a great start in their ebook. Beginning with clearly identified job titles for critical positions, such as cloud architect and chief digital officer, they go on to break down 12 competencies the positions require, including adaptability, decisiveness, business acumen, and political savvy. These are a solid foundation on which you can begin to develop the framework of expertise your organization will need as you map out your own future-proofing strategy.
Don’t stop with job titles and “soft skill” competencies, though. These technical roles should be broken down into technical knowledge silos, as well. These silos most go deeper. For example, how about Infrastructure monitoring and tuning, Azure blockchain service, sensor interface, shared services architecture, partner integration API, or customer data mart reporting? This “last mile” step is rarely taken and as a result, it can keep the team from making meaningful talent risk reduction.
Declare someone the expert
Next, CIOs should further clarify what they’re actually looking for by identifying a team member, by name, who already exemplifies the knowledge and competencies necessary to deliver on the required expertise—enough to be able to set the standard for others—and bring them forward as your “expert to be replicated.”
Of course, by declaring one expert, you’ll also be declaring many who are not setting the standard. It sounds awkward, and you might be tempted to avoid doing it. But don’t skip this step—the value and insights you’ll gain will be too useful. Perhaps in asking this question you’ll realize there isn’t such a person (will you rent one, buy one, borrow one, or grow one?). Or maybe you’ll realize you’re not sure what you meant when you labeled the “expertise” and have more work to do to be clear. Or best yet: You’ll find your expert, your team will finally know what to learn to be successful in the future, and you’ll be well on your way to future-proofing them all.
Still room to dive deeper and to be clearer
Next, instruct your chosen experts to detail what the workforce needs to be able to do—the actual tasks that must be done—to meet the business’ needs in the next one to three years (a.k.a the “future”). No one should be left guessing. You could structure this process as Gartner recommends. The ebook lays out examples of the kinds of work each of the identified competencies might include.
For “business acumen,” for example, they suggest several tasks, including aligning the role with the business strategy and considering customer requirements. While this is a good start, don’t settle for a “broad brush” list. If you want to future-proof your team, you should be able to define what makes your experts experts—down to the individual task. This can then be the foundation for knowledge transfer plans, rotational programs, self study, or formal training. But without this roadmap, how do your employees (experts or learners) know what is required? How do those “old hat” talent development strategies have any hope of helping?
Support knowledge transfer
It is a very rare IT professional who is both super technical and great at knowledge transfer. After all, if they were good at it, they would have done it already and much of your future-proofing problem would be solved. Sometimes the expert will be set up to teach via a formal classroom setting, but most often they will transfer knowledge in the moment. On-the-job training is already where people learn 70% of their professional skills; it just takes too long without a process and methodology to support it.
If you start with a task-level knowledge transfer plan that includes dates by which the knowledge should be transferred and metrics to validate that the knowledge has in fact moved into the heads and hands of the learners, you can expect to reduce the time it takes to train the learners (and ultimately future-proof the team) by 50%.
Measure, reward, and repeat
If future-proofing your workforce is important to you, take the time to speak with the members of your front-line team who are making it happen—both experts and learners. Validate that they are clear on what to do. Measure their progress, thank them for it, and come back to them regularly to check in on their successes. It’s a fun and practical opportunity to have skip-level conversations with your critically important talent, so don’t leave this step to others.
Every organization should be taking a hard look at how they need to prepare for the realities they’ll face in the future. By creating and executing a detailed, practical roadmap focused on how to succeed, you’ll not only manage talent risk and knowledge within your organization, but you’ll grow your experts, too. Defining and replicating knowledge by investing in your team members will save you money and time, and it will help you establish a base on which your company can thrive as the world of work and business continues to evolve.
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