Wanted: IT staff with a wide-screen vision

The demarcation between IT staff and others is lessening

As IT roles move up the value chain, global companies like Johnson & Johnson, WW Grainger, General Mills and Xerox are looking to hire smart, tech-savvy, collaborative business professionals for 20 or 30-year multifaceted careers, not for IT jobs.

"I believe the idea of hiring people for a job is well past," says LaVerne Council, CIO at Johnson & Johnson. Instead, Council and other savvy IT and business leaders are more focused than ever on developing sophisticated job-rotation programmes and flexible career paths that offer employees exposure and experience throughout the enterprise, significantly boosting their opportunities to move up and branch out within the company over time.

"We have a talent management process where we help people coach their careers into various different roles - business to IT and IT to the business. But we do it as well within IT, from infrastructure to applications to change management and to all of the other various functions within IT," says WW Grainger CIO Tim Ferrarell.

So far, it is a strategy that appears to be working. Ferrarell, for example, started out at Grainger in merchandising and product management, then progressed through marketing and strategy before moving to IT seven years ago. Grainger's CEO, Jim Ryan, is a former CIO.

At Xerox the trend is similar. The executive driving Xerox's transformation from a hardware vendor to a services provider is a former applications portfolio manager. The former head of IT architecture has moved over to take charge of the company's global supply chain.

"The movement of talent between organisations is at the most senior levels and pretty significant," says Xerox CIO John McDermott. "The previously impenetrable wall between IT and the business became permeable."

At General Mills the career strategy revolves around hiring the best and the brightest and then keeping them engaged and challenged enough to want to spend the rest of their careers with the US$14.8 billion company. The average tenure at General Mills is about 13 years for an IT staffer and 16 years for an IT manager. Turnover is below the industry average of 5 percent. Also notable is that more than 15 percent of the company's IT staffers hold MBAs.

"Having an MBA is something we value because of our business process focus. The main focus is on the business and always has been," says Mike Martiny, vice president of information systems at General Mills. Still, he adds, "the starting point for everything is technical competency. There is time to grow everything else."

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