Many CIOs struggle with the issue of succession planning. It’s very difficult to both fill positions that have specific required competencies and experiences while concurrently keeping an eye towards the future.
Finding good people is challenging enough without trying to think about succession planning at the same time. Perhaps the best way to accomplish both objectives is to ensure that everyone you hire, regardless of their role, exhibits certain key competencies and behaviors.
The first thing I look for in candidates is for people who “get it.” Some people seemed naturally wired to understand what outstanding service feels like. They get what it is to be proactive, responsive and focused on delivering outstanding results.
Another important competency is their communication skills. The days when technologists could hide behind a glass wall, not deal with people and get by strictly on their technical acumen are over. It’s not enough to be technically brilliant. You need to be able to constructively engage with your colleagues in the other parts of the organization and be able to translate your functional expertise into business results that help them move the chains.
A huge issue that I don’t think is given nearly enough consideration to is cultural fit. I once worked for a company where the vast majority of the executives I had to engage with were Ivy League MBAs who came from families that had been prominent in their communities for generations.
I am a kid from Brooklyn, a first-generation college graduate who grew up not being able to rub two nickels together. While I was able to establish a certain level of credibility and effectiveness with these people, I wasn’t viewed as “one of them.” Cultural fit is also about how you think about things.
Are you on the same page with the management style of the organization? Is your communication style aligned with the way people express themselves at work? Are you an open book while everyone else keeps everything close to the vest? Do you like to communicate proactively while others handle information on a need-to-know basis? Cultural fit is perhaps the most important variable in terms of long-term success and happiness. After all, trying to fit into a culture that is alien to you is not only challenging but exhausting. Life is too short to not be able to be yourself. I found that I’ve had far more success in cultures where “being Larry” was viewed as a positive thing as opposed to a career-limiting variable. Make sure the people you recruit will fit into the culture you are trying to establish in your organization.
Finally, focus on recruiting people who are interested and capable of learning new things. Everything we know today we will have to unlearn and learn new skills in the next few years. I want to surround myself with people who are energized by the constantly changing landscape of today’s business world, not terrified of it. Adaptability and the desire to evolve are critical elements to what I look for in new leaders.
Larry Bonfante is a practicing CIO and founder of CIO Bench Coach, LLC, an executive coaching practice for IT executives. He is also the author of Lessons in IT Transformation, published by John Wiley & Sons. He can be reached at [email protected]