Building an ‘A Team’: how to find and keep top ICT talent

Hiring senior ICT staff is getting harder, US CIOs say. Thomas Hoffman reports

As the US economy continues to show resiliency and the job market tightens, it’s getting tougher to find and retain top ICT talent. According to a July survey of ICT chiefs from a group of 300 US corporate managers, 31% plan to hire ICT executives in the coming months. “Historically, that’s a high figure,” says Randall Neal, chief executive of Randall James Monroe, an executive search firm.

However, developing and maintaining an “A Team” of ICT managers can be a real challenge in a tight job market, he says. Most top-level ICT executives aren’t looking for jobs; they’re valued by the organisations they work for and they’re paid reasonably well.

Still, there are effective techniques CIOs can use to try to attract and retain top talent in a strong economy, say Neal and other panellists who spoke at the Society for Information Management SIMposium 2006 conference in Dallas recently.

It’s important for CIOs to show their commitment to their lieutenants by fostering professional growth through increased training, clearly-defined career paths and a demonstrated tendency to promote from within, according to Mary C Finley, deputy CIO at Partners HealthCare System.

Such steps “send very clear messages that you’re about more than getting the work done — you’re about developing your staff,” she says.

Finley created a career growth initiative within the ICT department for the integrated health system two years ago after discovering in a meeting with her top supervisors that more work needed to be done in that area. As the programme was being assembled, she says, “we discovered we were underspending our career training money. This was very disturbing to find out after you fight for this funding and discover it’s being underutilised.”

Since then, Finley has enacted a standard requiring each ICT employee to receive a minimum of 40 hours of training each year. The training includes elective coursework but can also include time spent by ICT managers sitting in on senior management meetings.

One way to set a baseline for desired skills when evaluating outside ICT management candidates is to consider the qualities of those people who have been in the ICT organisation for many years and are successful contributors, says Renee Baker Arrington, a vice president at Pearson Partners, another executive search firm.

For instance, Arrington says, do the external candidates and some of the successful internal ICT managers share common career backgrounds such as expertise in particular industries or experience working for mid-size or large companies?

As the market for top-flight ICT executives continues to shrink, Neal advises CIOs to seek out older ICT managers with lots of experience under their belts “who still have a lot of gas left in the tank” — particularly as demographic changes lead more executives to extend their careers.

Before CIOs get involved in the recruitment process, it’s important for them to commit to the time and energy needed to make their search successful, says Steve Kendrick, information officer practice consultant at Spencer Stuart, a global executive search firm. For a second visit by an IXT management candidate, the CIO should invite a senior business executive to the meeting who might be affected by the hire, Kendrick says.

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