More CIOs handpicking their successors

A new survey reveals more CIOs are grooming their replacements and, at the same time, nurturing their careers.

Nurturing a co-worker to replace you as CIO might seem like you're grooming yourself right out of a job, but in reality, it's a very smart career move.

To me, that's the filter by which you decide whether they can do more.
Lynn Phillips
CIOAmerican Community Mutual Insurance Co.
And you're more likely to be able to squeeze in that two-week cruise to Alaska.

"It's something I do very informally," said John E. Stuckey, director of university computing at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va. "I think, as a general rule, you try to give people the opportunity to achieve things, and give them credit for what they do achieve."

Stuckey is one of a growing number of CIOs who say they're handpicking their successors and training them using mentoring and management programs.

A recent survey of 1,400 CIOs by staffing firm Robert Half Technology revealed that half are doing it and 43% of them have mentoring programs in place to achieve that goal. Forty-two percent said they offer management training to employees. And 35% said they offer training on soft skills, such as interpersonal or communications skills, to employees they tag as future organizational leaders.

"To me, that's the filter by which you decide whether they can do more," said Lynn Phillips, vice president and CIO of Livonia, Mich.-based American Community Mutual Insurance Co.

Phillips said he has no formal system in place for developing managerial talent within his organization, but, "It's something that's sort of on my mind all the time. I like to have some preparation for what you would do if someone decided to leave or had to leave."

Phillips said he gives "stretch" assignments to staff members to see how they do in challenging environments. He'll assign someone to be the lead contact with a vendor or give someone a critical project.

Afterwards, Phillips will sit down with the employee and discuss what he did well and what he could have done better.

Grooming a replacement (or succession planning, as it's referred to in career management ranks) is an important consideration for CIOs hoping to advance their own careers, said Martha Heller, managing director, IT Leadership Practice at Z Resource Group Inc., an executive search firm with offices in Westborough, Mass. A CIO who aspires to move up in the company needs to show other C-level executives that the company's IT organization will be in good hands if he is promoted.

In some instances, CIOs don't get promoted because the CEO is not willing to replace a reliable executive with an unknown. "The only way to solve this is to show the boss that the CIO position would be in good hands," Heller said.

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"Let him present at quarterly updates," she said. "If you're traveling or on vacation, actually name that person interim CIO. Let them lead the organization over a period of time."

In addition, grooming from the ranks shows you have leadership development and talent retention skills -- critical for any executive.

But Heller said CIOs should be careful to manage expectations while developing a succession plan. If opportunities for promotions are limited, don't create a false impression that promotion is very likely. And at lower levels within the organization, employees shouldn't develop specific expectations about what positions they could be promoted into. They should be prepared to be promoted throughout the business.

Sam Lamonica, CIO of the Roseville, Calif., general and engineering contractor Rudolph and Sletten Inc. said he and his managerial team have a "train your replacement" philosophy.

"We all want to be comfortable taking vacations and time off, stuff like that," Lamonica said. "We pick high-performing individuals on each of our teams to take over when we're out of the office.

"I like to hire from within as much as I can because you get someone who already knows the company," he add. "And it resonates well when you bring people in from within the ranks."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Writer

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