Nurture talent inside the business

Recognising and developing talent within an organisation in line with business strategy should be considered a normal part of the job for IT directors

Recognising and developing talent within an organisation in line with business strategy should be considered a normal part of the job for IT directors

Some organisations are risking, or experiencing serious service issues because they have not invested appropriately in their infrastructure to support the business strategy. More often than not this infrastructure refers to the boxes, wires, processes and software.


The same is true of the lack of investment in talent management. How many companies have to resort to recruiting big hitters simply because the internal talent is not up to the job? Or, more precisely, because the internal talent has not been coached and developed to be capable of doing the job.


Talent management is back on the agenda for 2006. The puzzling thing is why it is not yet considered a normal part of the job for the senior management team of any IT function, year in year out. It can never be a quick fix and takes years to achieve the desired outcome. In very few organisations have I seen job accountabilities/measures based on developing the talent pool. The old adage that what gets measured gets managed can probably explain why senior managers do not necessarily see it as their job to spot talent and nurture it.


What is needed is a skills strategy and a five-year plan for the whole IT organisation. It must be owned by the top team and must be actively managed by them. Managers must also be rewarded on the basis of the outcome. The plan has to tie in closely to the business strategy and must include general management training. If there are senior management assessments run by the company as a whole, IT people must be part of this process.


One way of bringing the plan to life is to put in place secondments to the role of executive assistant to the CIO. It is a great way of developing talent. It does take time and effort by the senior person to mentor the secondee and ensure that opportunities are presented. It can also be quite risky for the secondee. Sometimes the secondee is ostracised by their previous peers, sometimes they are not capable of rising to the challenge, and sometimes at the end of the secondment they have difficulty slotting back into a lower level of the organisation. For most, however, it works extremely well.


If a company treats succession planning seriously, it will always have an ample supply of high achievers. Gas provider Segas (now BG) in the 1970s was led by a very far sighted individual who implemented a rigorous development programme for all at managerial level.


It can be no coincidence that by the end of the 1980s headhunters searched out those who had worked at Segas during this period. It can also be no coincidence that a high proportion of participants in this programme became chief executives, managing directors and CIOs for other large organisations.


Career paths used to be quite easy to define for IT people. This has changed considerably over the past few years. Ownership of change initiatives often moved to business sponsors who lacked the capabilities in their own functions to do the job effectively. This created a new career move for project managers/developers out of IT and into another part of the business. The number of appointments of CIOs who were not from an IT background increased during 2005. This was based on the fact that IT people were seen not to have all of the necessary business skills.


This means that, to be a serious candidate for the top levels of IT, it is imperative to spend some time in the business to develop the necessary business skills.


I have fallen into the trap that most fall into in thinking that talent management means a programme of activity aimed at developing those with high potential. This is wrong. Everyone in an organisation has talent, therefore the skill of the senior team is to ensure that everyone realises their full potential.


IT functions could not deliver a quality service if everyone was a high flyer. It is therefore as important for the top team to develop and nurture the total talent pool as it is to focus on those with the potential to be on the top team.


CV: Margaret Smith


Margaret Smith advises business and government on IT and skills issues. Formerly chief executive of CIO Connect, the National Computing Centre’s networking organisation for IT executives, she was also CIO at Legal & General. She has been a non-executive director of insurance industry standards body Origo Services and sat on the UK Cabinet Office Portal Board.

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