Leadership training techniques Featured

9:05am EDT October 25, 2006
Are successful leaders born or made? Many U.S. companies are betting that leaders are made and can be found right within their own businesses. Fifty percent of chief information officers (CIOs) polled recently said they are preparing information technology (IT) staff for leadership roles at their companies.

“Half of the companies across the country that we surveyed said they are actively grooming their staff for future management. This fact is important when you consider the void that will be left within these companies when many of the baby boomers move out of leadership roles and into retirement,” says Tricia Opincar, division director for Robert Half Technology in Houston. The national poll was conducted by Robert Half, a leading provider of information technology professionals on a project and full-time basis. It includes responses from more than 1,400 CIOs from a random sample of U.S. companies with 100 or more employees.

Smart Business spoke with Opincar about what businesses are doing to groom IT staff for succession, plus what kinds of skills are important to this kind of career transition.

Is there anything about the current business environment that makes it critical for businesses to groom IT staff for leadership roles?
Unemployment figures nationwide are low, and they are particularly low in information technology. There are a number of reasons, but in the IT realm, the demand for talent outweighs the number of people trained to do this kind of work. Since there are so many jobs, and the jobs can be quite demanding, the turnover rates are very high in IT.

To compound the issue, many of those in IT upper management are baby boomers who are getting ready to make the transition into retirement. The time is ripe for businesses with IT staff to ensure there is a succession plan with qualified staff waiting in the wings to replace managers who retire.

What do these succession plans within businesses look like? That is, how are qualified employees being groomed as management material?
Every company designs its succession training a bit differently. Many of the training programs center on soft skills such as time management, active listening and budgeting, just to name a few. There are also mentoring and management training programs that familiarize future managers with all aspects of the business — not just technology.

Because companies today require IT staff to take a more strategic and collaborative approach, soft skills are playing a larger role and are a critical component in the grooming process for future managers.

In the survey, of those 50 percent who said they are creating a plan for future succession within their organization, 43 percent said they had implemented mentoring programs, 42 percent had management training, 35 percent had soft skills training, and 19 percent had a formal succession planning program.

What is the consequence for companies if this kind of succession training does not happen?
Businesses need to realize that offering this kind of training is crucial to prepare for the next generation of managers. It provides continuity of leadership within the company, leverages institutional knowledge and encourages employee retention. Without succession training, companies may be faced with a void or leadership bubble when company leaders resign or retire.

Since turnover is an ongoing issue in IT departments, it makes sense that employers offer succession training to their staff members. There is a competitive advantage to offering succession training, as many IT professionals today are looking toward companies that have an interest in their future. A succession plan also increases employee morale, which in turn, increases employee efficiency. It is a win-win for both sides.

So why did 49 percent of those businesses interviewed not have a succession plan?
Succession planning is like preparing for a hurricane or tornado — many companies know they need to do it, but it often gets put on the back burner. But the day is drawing near when companies will feel the impact of the retiring baby boomers, and it is those pro-active companies that will win at the end of the day.

TRICIA OPINCAR is division director for Robert Half Technology in Houston. Reach her at (281) 681-3046 or Tricia.opincar@rht.com.