In times of great change, strong communication skills are essential. Here's why – and how to develop them
To crack the IT talent conundrum, look within
With the continuing shortage of IT talent out in the market, I continue to be a big proponent of developing IT talent from within. Clearly, this approach goes a long way toward building a strong relationship with your employees and your team. You demonstrate that you are concerned about their learning opportunities, how they can advance their careers, and how they can progress.
I’m also a huge practitioner of promoting from within. Even if that internal talent may have a bit of a learning curve, the big plus is that the individual is usually a proven character. You might notice, for example, that the person has responded well to change, or advanced in his or her career quickly. Knowing that, it’s fair to assume that there shouldn’t be much of a hurdle for them to get from here to there. And we can give that person training to advance and round out their skill-sets.
Of course, you do need a mix of both new and existing talent, but I really like to work with my internal teams and give them the opportunity to grow and learn new things. Those opportunities could be additional work within their own role, or additional skills. It also might involve branching out and doing different things or trying out different types of programs such as, for example, volunteering for an assignment that isn’t directly in their area.
How could you turn this impulse into specific initiatives at your company? Here are a few examples to get you started:
Launch a cohort program
Our cohort program is targeted toward our mid-level management team. It is designed to teach them how to run IT as a business and focuses on a variety of skills that people need such as finance, leadership and business operations. We bring in external speakers, including other CIOs, to talk on a variety of topics so that they can understand leadership principles and how other people have progressed in their careers. But we also include business leaders from within our company so they can learn business details from outside IT. You have to be selected by your manager in order to participate, but based on the huge demand at NetApp, it’s clear that our team loves this type of program.
Develop coaching programs
We also look at coaching programs, because our future IT leaders need the ability to sit down with their leaders or any other people in the organization that they might respect, and say, “Can you help me with my career?” Or, “Can you help me with some the areas where I’m struggling?” We try to do this by creating a dialogue of open communication between different team members.
Create short-term opportunity programs
In this program we allow managers to post an opportunity to the organization that they have an up-and-coming assignment and need a particular skill. Or maybe it’s not a critical assignment so they provide the opportunity for an individual to learn a new skill. People can choose if they want to apply to help. They may receive training for the engagement, at the manager’s discretion. After the project, they return to their normal role, though if it’s a small engagement they may take it on in addition to their day-to-day. This has been a successful program as well.
Within the context of these programs, a focus on innovation is key. To keep an IT culture thriving, innovation really has to be viewed as a core responsibility, for every single person, in order to engage in what they do. So we’ve stressed that within IT, and it’s one of our five IT team attributes, that we want people to innovate — innovate in their own space, innovate at the process level, and then innovate with technology. All proof that the right kind of internal talent development is its own ongoing IT recruiting effort.