Grooming tomorrow's leaders

A common career path for technically savvy IT professionals is a step into management. The problem is that very few organizations offer management development programs that are specifically tailored to IT.

IT leadership programs "are pretty rare because leadership itself is hard to do," says John Parkinson, chief technologist for the Americas region at Capgemini.

"It's not like there are a lot of companies out there that offer IT Management 101," adds Robert Wischnowsky, chief technology officer at a large bank. But the bank is doing something about that.

Following an employee survey in 2002, Wischnowsky and his lieutenants recognized the need to expand training and development opportunities for the bank's frontline IT managers. The bank didn't want to send IT managers to a generic training program that might not address their specific needs. Instead, it wanted to identify "unique gaps in frontline manager skill sets" and then fill those gaps, he says.

In early 2003, the bank selected a handful of well-performing IT supervisors to form a focus group to identify what makes great managers successful. The group identified 15 success factors and then narrowed that list down to the top five: coaching, communications, conflict resolution, job knowledge and knowledge of human resources policies.

Since mid-2003, new IT managers at the bank have been required to take an intranet-based skills assessment exam and then work with their supervisors to close any performance gaps. For example, if the assessment reveals that a new manager has to improve coaching skills, the manager consults with his supervisor to determine the course of action over a three-month period. This can include in-house classroom training, online coaching courses, recommended book reading or other third-party offerings.

After three months, the management focus group assembled by Wischnowsky meets with the manager's supervisor to assess his progress "and determine whether the success factors have been addressed", Wischnowsky says. In his organization, where 1100 staffers manage and support the bank's IT infrastructure and operations, 90 out of 168 frontline managers have received leadership development training. Wischnowsky says he also plans to have the remainder of his frontline managers complete the program.

Empowering career growth

Southern California Edison (SCE) offers several career programs for high-performing IT workers. In addition to programs that provide mentoring, job rotation and up to $US50,000 in tuition reimbursement for IT workers who want to pursue an MBA degree, the energy company offers a year-long IT leadership development program for about 25 top performers at a time, says Mariette Keshishian, SCE's manager of training and communications.

Under the leadership program, launched in April 2002, promising IT employees are identified not only for potential in their areas of expertise (such as network management) but also for opportunities to move out of IT into other business units such as power generation, says Carl Langaigne, SCE's manager of IT HR.

The leadership development program includes a boot camp, where students take part in four half-day courses in areas such as IT leadership challenges and how to influence their direct reports -- or supervisors. That's followed by classroom and computer-based training in subjects such as team-building, IT budgeting, and managing workers in compliance with employment laws and SCE policies.

Paul Caldarone, a 15-year SCE employee and an IT project manager, is planning to take part in the IT leadership boot camp next month. Caldarone hopes to learn how to become more customer-friendly. "In an IT organization, we tend to move through projects with a narrow technology vision and lose sight of the customer focus," he says.

Looking to the future, SCE is working with the Centre for Information Technology Leadership to develop a computer-based training module on change management.

The leadership training isn't just for new IT managers, Langaigne notes. "What we fight from time to time is people dealing with complacency," he says. "We're promoting a mind-set where you constantly have to train your people in best practices, constantly refresh, and it's a constant learning practice. Just because you've been in the business for x years doesn't mean that you don't need additional training. It's an ongoing self-improvement process."

Making the leap

Craig Hawke, client relationship manager of executive education, Australian Graduate School of Management said many IT managers participate in the school's courses to help them make the leap into the upper echelons of business.

Many IT managers have been promoted because of their technical ability and find they have trouble letting go of the "details" and making the move to strategic thinking, Hawke said.

The courses, over one to two weeks, have three key streams: business acumen, strategic thinking and leadership. Fully residential, the courses are conducted once or twice a year at the school's Randwick (NSW) campus and have about 30 participants.

Hawke said there are no prerequisites for the courses, which are part of AGSM's advanced development program.

The courses are designed for senior management development, accelerated manager development and middle manager development. Additionally, AGSM has a suite of two-day courses including managing people for performance, leadership and decision making. The programs are conducted in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.

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