Why your IT organization needs A+ players now

Why your IT organization needs A+ players now

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My philosophy for IT talent management has always been to hire employees who are smarter, better, and faster than I am, and then set them up for success. If you adopt this principle, you will see greater results than you could personally achieve alone. You’ll start moving at the speed of trust by empowering a highly capable workforce to achieve great things. And all this will be possible because you'll be able to step into the role of the accelerator or a multiplier for the organization.

Alternatively, if you hire people dumber or less motivated than you, or B players as I call them, then you’ll find yourself constantly doing their jobs. Everything is going to come back to you, and you’ll have to micromanage to maintain a level of excellence in the organization. For CIOs who thrive on having control, maybe that sounds appealing. But let me try to convince you that there's a better approach.

The trouble with B players

My wife quips that it should be relatively easy to hire people smarter than me. And while I agree with her, an A+ player is more than just his or her intelligence – and that makes the search more difficult. If you are a wizard for technology and a genius-level coder, but you can’t work well with others, you’re not an A+ player. You’re a B player who, no matter how smart, is probably slowing down the entire organization.

Personally, I’d rather have a failed talent search than to fill my group with B players. The way I see it, my job is to provide leadership and a vision of where the organization is going, and then empower others to greatness in achieving that vision. If you have B players on your team, you can set a vision at the beginning of the day, but you'll end up putting out all the political fires caused by those players during the day, causing reputational damage. By the end of the day, you'll be sending out apology notes to the people negatively impacted by your team. Further, you will likely see communication with other teams and business units start to shut down. People across the company will stop collaborating with IT because they no longer trust you.

Why you need A+ players now

The best CIOs are the ones who are always learning, constantly changing, and constantly adapting. It reminds me of a quote I reference all the time: “If you take 30 steps, you move across the room. If you take 30 exponential steps, you walk to the moon.” Instead of walking across the room, CIOs today have to lead during a time when we are expected to walk to the moon – so that adaptability is essential to this transformational environment that we work in. You need a team that can keep up with the constantly changing priorities that this environment demands.

The good news is, once you begin to recognize and reward the A+ players on your team, you will naturally weed out the B players that are slowing you down. The way I approach this is by offering new training and educational opportunities every 12 to 18 months. I provide opportunities for employees to understand what it means to be an A+ player and talk openly about what would enable them to rise to the challenge and deliver world-class service.

Keeping employees engaged

We also created a unique program to make sure that employees continue to participate in the organization and its goals. We ask some questions on an ongoing basis, the most critical question being, “What barriers do you have in achieving success here?” Their answers help the entire organization to be more aligned in working efficiently to achieve our goals.

Further, we've created an open environment where team members can learn from each other. For instance, we have a frequently asked questions site that our employees contribute to on a regular basis. When someone runs into a problem or issue, they can go there to see if anyone else has encountered the same problem and learn the steps they took to solve it.

From time to time, there have been team members that just don't get it – they opt out of these activities or push back. Most of the time, those players quickly figure out that the organization is going in a different direction than their interest or skill set, and they voluntarily transition. Over time, our approach and emphasis on A+ players have created an IT organization that aligns with our vision and more adaptable to change.

The next time you have to fill a vacancy in your IT organization, challenge yourself to hire only A+ players. It may take longer to find the right person, but it will pay off in the long run.

Curtis A. Carver Jr., Ph.D. is the Vice President and Chief Information Officer for the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In this role servant leader and enabler of others, he leads a team of dedicated professionals focused on providing solution to the UAB through world-class IT with a focus on innovation, agility and cost efficiency.

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