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By Brian P. Watson  |  Posted 01-19-2010 Print

I recently participated in a roundtable about Millennials, and many CIOs seem to consider them to be "mercenaries" who won't stay at any particular job for an extended period of time.

I remember when I graduated from college. People no longer will go to General Motors and work for that company their entire lives. I don't think it's an entirely new concept. But because they're more mobile, due to the availability of these new technologies, that people will move around, and maybe even create their own companies from time to time. But that doesn't mean they won't want to work for a large corporation. As long as the company is reinventing itself, and not moving along some stagnant vector, they'll want to stay with that company for a long term. But if we can't provide those dynamics for people that allow them to reinvent themselves and help reinvent the company, people will be leaving their jobs more frequently. It's up to us as leaders to understand these dynamics. We can't altogether control them, but we can begin to accommodate them and understand how to mitigate the risks of losing people we've made significant investments.

What other issues do you think CIOs need to focus on this year?

We don't have any effects of the downturn, but that doesn't mean it lessens the pressure. In fact, it seems like the more success we have, the more the pressure comes on us.

I think you're right in the sense that 2010 is unclear. There are some indicators that say the economy is turning around. But I think the hiring practices will lag behind, so there will be pressure to keep doing what we've done to help the company. And there will be a hesitation to do anything too bold unless the projected benefits are off the charts.

We'll continue to do what we did last year to improve margin improvement and the top line, but we'll also do some things that help step up the momentum for the company to grow. We've uncovered some issues that, if we fix them, will make the company more efficient. For example, a better ERP system, or helping the salesforce make better connections that can bring in more business.

We're not looking at things we need to do to get through 2010, but instead to help prepare us for three or four years out, based on some of the business models we've developed. So we'll be cautious in what technologies we pursue so that we're ready to grow again.

Our biggest challenge as a company--and probably for most companies--is making sure the people we have on staff are the right mix to help the company grow. The good news is that we may have people who have been loyal and have been with the company for many years. The bad news is that they've been with the company for many years and haven't reinvented themselves. The biggest challenge is to help people understand they need to reinvent themselves every six to 12 months--and help them reinvent themselves. Once you get into a group, it's hard to reinvent themselves. There is training you can do. You can give them courses, but it doesn't necessarily change the behavior. We have to be very careful in how we invest in people. For some, training will make a difference in making good people even better. But it won't make much of a difference with people who won't reinvent themselves. I don't have a magic bullet for this--it's a major HR issue, because everything is litigious these days. This could be the one thing that hangs us up: getting the right people, with the right skills sets and the right desires, to move us forward and the willingness to reinvent themselves the right way.

The key change we're seeing is that there really aren't IT people, per se. Maybe it ought to change to business technology, not information technology, because that has the connotation of someone who's playing with bits and bytes in the back office. So much of what we do now is joined at the hip with the business. Today, our people need to understand the business as much or more than the business. IT people need to be more renaissance oriented than they used to be because they need to understand a broad range of topics and understand them well so that they can be emphatic and help lead change. And they're not all technology-related issues. We need to understand how to relate to the business, understand where they need to go and help them get there. Once they see use develop technologies that help us become more efficient, the fear is that someone will have to leave the building, because that's why we did the project in the first place.

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