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Careers in information technology: A CIO guide to getting ahead in IT

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CIOs assess the value of managing employee performance

The CIO quest for skilled IT folks is escalating into an all-out talent war. Smart management of employee performance is a good place to start.

Hard times or flush, it doesn't seem to matter: Retaining and attracting the right mix of IT talent is a challenge

for CIOs. Lately, however, the perennial quest seems, if anything, more urgent as organizations of all kinds morph their business models to take advantage of new technologies, from cloud and mobile computing to predictive and prescriptive analytics.

At the Society for Information Management's annual CIO gathering in Boston last fall, a panel of four top-drawer business technologists shared with fellow CIOs how they're addressing the IT skills challenge. Managing employee performance -- by nurturing natural talent, conducting frequent staff reviews and establishing a positive workplace culture -- turns out to be a smart place to start.

The panel, moderated by executive recruiter Kristen Lamoreaux, all happened to be women. (We'll leave it to readers to factor in the significance of gender on the ability to nurture employee talent.) In this SearchCIO Snapshot, we offer short profiles of the IT leaders, followed by their candid thoughts on two challenging aspects of managing employee performance: identifying and promoting internal talent and how to give feedback to achieve the desired results.

Promoting from within

Suzanne KeenanSuzanne Keenan

Suzanne Keenan is CIO and senior vice president of process improvement at Wawa Inc., a privately held chain of convenience store/gas stations. The Wawa, Penn.-based chain has 650 locations on the East Coast, 20,000 employees and something of a cult following. "We had a couple get married at a Wawa," she said. Hired five years ago, she also oversees Wawa's program management office, working closely with the business on major initiatives. "We will oftentimes do most of the analysis for technology deployments and have the business owners present that work. They need to own it, so I like to say you'd better not have a big ego if you're in IT, because we work behind the scenes." Here is what she had to say about managing employee performance.

I just went back and looked at the folks who were here when I joined the company five years ago; 95% of our associates are doing different jobs in IT. We didn't have the right people in the roles. We did a lot of assessments, a lot of 360s, a lot of work. And it never ends, because as new technologies come down the pike, we are trying to do a two- and three-year look ahead to see where we will source those skills and which legacy systems we expect to retire. As a private company, we are able to make the investment in our own associates and to skill them up on new technology. We see in the self-assessments what they enjoy doing, but also use assessments of their capability to see where the matches are. It is a much happier workforce because they are not feeling stuck.

Matching internal workers to the right jobs does not preclude tough decisions, Keenan said.

I had a very senior position to fill. I am not a technologist by formal training. I am a nuclear engineer by training, so I understand technology but it is not my formal career. I needed somebody who was hypertechnical, who could use all the buzzwords and actually knew what they meant. I had to go to the outside for this. I had folks who were close, but they didn't have the experience of the new technologies. Telling people who have talent, 'I am sorry, but this is what I am looking for; you can apply but you are not going to be a true candidate,' was hard.

Risa FogelRisa Fogel

Risa Fogel is head of IT business solutions at New York-based Cushman and Wakefield, a privately held real estate service firm with 250 offices in 60 countries and 16,000 employees. Staying abreast of technology is important, but she has found that "being able to problem-solve, to read people and to really know yourself" are even bigger factors in building effective IT workforces.

Promoting from within sends a very positive message to the team that it is worth sticking around and that you will be rewarded for all the hard work you have put in -- that you have a career path. Having employees see folks who have been with the company a long time and have gone into different roles and been successful sends a very positive message and certainly helps morale.

Winning the internal IT battle, however, is not for the faint of heart, Fogel said.

We also bring in people from other departments -- from within the business into IT and from the outside. But we have gotten some push and pull over those positions: Should they be in the business? Should they be in IT? Who gets to interview? Who do they report to? It can be a challenge.

Jo Ann SaittaJo Ann Saitta

Jo Ann Saitta is CIO at The CDM Group, a global healthcare communications company and division of Big Four advertising agency Omnicom Group Inc. A 20-year IT veteran who "rose through the technology ranks," Saitta said her firsthand knowledge of the back-end and "often thankless" IT jobs makes her a better leader. "I find it valuable as a CIO to understand what that work requires and how to keep people motivated," said Saitta, named 2013 CIO of the Year by the New Jersey Technology Council. At CDM only a month at the time of the SIM panel -- "My top priority is listening" -- she has found promotion to be a key component of managing employee performance.

Do I promote from within? Definitely! My first look is internal: We look at the team and see how we can help them to develop, whether it is through promotion or by expanding their technology knowledge. We really look at succession planning and getting folks on a good career path. I have found that if folks have the will and ability to learn new skills, it is well worth the time, money and energy to make that happen. There is tremendous business intelligence inside your team!

Performance management: Feedback, feedback and more feedback

Read more about finding and nurturing IT skills

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CIOs seek soft skills in quest to connect IT teams with business needs

High demand for the skills of GRC professionals equals uptick in salaries

Seven IT skill sets that should be on every CIO's radar

Managing employee performance to help weather the IT talent wars is not a once-a-year task, the panelists agreed. Another takeaway? Proximity matters.

Fogel: I meet with my team regularly, set goals and have mid-year and end-year reviews. But the real performance management comes in between: It's those biweekly check-ins. It's telling people what they're doing right, what they're not doing right and allowing them to adjust their behavior. I think if you wait until the middle or end of the year, you have lost an opportunity. I always tell people I am never going to surprise them at one of those two formal times when we are sitting down for a review. It is a bit of a challenge. We are a very global organization, very decentralized, so I have staff in other countries [with whom] I do not have a lot of face-to-face time. Some of them I've met once in four years, so setting people's goals can be difficult.

And it is also difficult to give immediate feedback. We sit in an open environment, in open cubes … so giving that immediate response is just not going to happen because everybody can hear; and I am not a big proponent of correcting people in public.

Keenan: We have goal-setting at the beginning of the year, followed by middle- and end-of-year reviews. But we also have talent reviews where we come together as a management team -- the CEO and eight of us get in a room -- to talk about talent in our company. We do it for a full day and a half, two times a year. To prepare for that means meeting with our own teams.

Margot CareltonMargot Carelton

Margot Carleton recently took a position as vice president, information systems at Brockton Area Multi-Services Inc. (BAMSI), a nonprofit human services agency in Brockton, Mass., serving people with developmental disabilities. Formerly with global healthcare products maker Covidien Ltd., where she managed more than 100 IT employees, Carleton now depends on a staff of seven people to help fulfill demanding IT needs, including the rollout of the electronic health record. Here she talks about the benefits of being a "downstairs woman."

Feedback needs to be timely and clear. When you're new in your role, you can give positive feedback anytime, but if you're going to have one of those career-building conversations where you give someone hard feedback, you have to earn that right. It took me a while to have those conversations with my team.

I think it is really important to be visible, especially when you are trying to build relationships in the organization; you need to be uber-visible. In my first year where BAMSI placed me, I was not visible and not near my staff. So I traded an office with a window for an office without a window, but now I am five yards away from where my staff sits. Anytime they go anywhere, they see me and I see them, and it allows for really nice causal conversation. Where they never would have stopped by just to say hello, now -- because we make eye contact 1,000 times a day -- we have a much better relationship. We have a much better foundation on which to build when we do have issues. I didn't want to be an upstairs person. I am a downstairs woman.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, executive editor, or on Twitter at @ltucci.

This was first published in January 2014

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Essential Guide

Careers in information technology: A CIO guide to getting ahead in IT
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