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When the economy goes south, so, typically, do training budgets. This affects the entire company, but IT feels the pain more than most. Giving workers the opportunity to expand their skill sets and hone existing specialties helps keep them satisfied in good times, but can also help boost morale in bad times, when little else does the trick.
Imholz took the CIO job at Centene a year ago and knew one thing: He was a newcomer of sorts to the health care world, after working at Boeing and then as a consultant. So he had to rely strongly on his staff.
But what he quickly realized was that his IT staffers didn't have strong-enough relationships with the business. So in addition to some formal technical training, Imholz focused on communications.
"I was the new person on the block to the industry. People who worked for me certainly had the experience," he says. "With a little bit of prodding, they can put things in business terms."
But it wasn't about classroom training. Instead, Imholz put his workers through some on-the-job training. He assigned each of his direct reports to work with the business heads at one of Centene's health plans--and took on an Indiana himself. They attend staff meetings either in-person or virtually and have in-depths talks with the plan CEOs.
Imholz doesn't tell his people how their collaborations should go. If one of the plans is having problems, he and his team work together to find a remedy.
"If Indiana is having problems with apps or infra, it's on me to share that with the rest of the staff," he says. "If it's more of a long-term IT or business issue, we take time to go through it with each plan."
To get past the connotations of "training," though, CIOs must educate their people about certain cultural elements that enable collaboration and communication. Ahmed Mahmoud, CIO of AMD, puts heavy emphasis on redefining what "teams" actually consist of. Most CIOs tend to think of IT or project teams as including only badge-wearing employees, and not the contractors or consultants who are also deeply involved in the work.
"You have to communicate to everyone on the team--whether they're employees or not," Mahmoud says. "They need to be part of understanding your strategic vision, the direction you're going, because they're a major part of your work force."
Call it another aspect of emotional intelligence.
"It's critical to change the mindset from that of an exclusive relationship to that of an inclusive relationship," Mahmoud says. "Sometimes some of us in corporate America don't think like that, but I believe it's the way of the future."