By Peter Weis
Innovation for CIOs should not be limited to technology. Throughout my leadership career at both start-ups and Fortune 500 companies, I’ve experimented with new ideas within the IT organization and then sought to take them enterprise-wide. While some ideas flounder and some plateau as useful but limited, others have been major successes.
Three major successes that we’ve had in place for some time now include:
- The introduction of a spot bonus program for non-bonus level employees
- A skip-level mentoring program that reaches several levels down into the organization
- A community service program that allows employees to perform volunteer work during normal business hours
While each of these initiatives started within the IT organization, there is no reason that they must stay there, and in fact you’ll likely find that they’ll all spread if you’re willing to lead the way.
Let me now add a fourth initiative that I’m convinced is a winner. We’re now providing executive coaching for non-executives within the IT organization.
I’ve hired an executive coach to run a pilot program for a promising team of IT managers, offering them a combination of customized feedback on their performance and formal training on the very leadership skills I wish I had been offered two decades ago.
What are those skills? Three overlooked “must have” skills for great IT leaders don’t even involve technology: corporate finance, formal negotiation and change management. These are all learned skills. These don’t come naturally, and they demand effort and practice in order to be truly mastered.
It’s also crucial for leaders to carefully choose an executive coach that will fit an organization’s culture and engender credibility. In my case, I engaged a former colleague with whom I’ve had a high-trust work relationship for some time and whom I knew I could count on to balance the desire for candor with the need for tact. The feedback from these managers has been spectacular, and their excitement is palpable. We’ve never cut back on training, even during the recent great recession, but this training goes well beyond traditional skills development.
While talent retention is a happy byproduct of this initiative, its primary goal is to develop a new generation of leaders who possess a more mature and well-rounded set of leadership skills at an earlier stage of their careers. This effort is resident only within IT services for now, but I fully expect this program to have a long shelf life.
Why? Because we’re simultaneously developing stronger leaders and stronger loyalty. We’re letting them know how critical they are to our company’s success. Do you want to make someone excited about their careers? Tell them you’re betting the company’s future on their ability to help lead it.
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