IT Managers Know That Trial By Fire Is The Best Way To Pick New IT Leaders

by drjim on September 1, 2011

Image Credit True IT Management Talent Is Forged In The Fires Of Challenge

True IT Management Talent Is Forged In The Fires Of Challenge

I’ve got some bad news for all of you IT managers out there: it turns out that 25% of the best workers in the IT department are planning on leaving within the next 12 months. Not to depress you even more, but it turns out that those internal job change programs that you have perhaps created that are intended to develop the next generation of IT leaders don’t seem to be working – 40% of the internal rotations that are made by IT “high-pots” (high potential) employees end up in failure. Let’s take a look at what problems you need to solve …

Problem: The Wrong People Are Managing Your Top Talent

Jean Martin and Conrad Schmidt are researchers who have been looking into what makes leadership transitions successful. What they have discovered is basically bad news for IT managers.

In order for an IT manager to grow their star talent, IT managers need to be able to first identify who this talent is and then they need to find ways to put them in positions of increasing responsibility in order to get them ready to lead the company. All too often this isn’t happening.

The people in the IT department who are best able to initially identify high potential candidates are the coworkers who are working with the majority of the IT workers. If developing the best and the brightest talent is left to these members of the IT department, it’s just not going to happen.

Instead, what needs to happen is that you as IT manager need to actively participate in the process. This means that you need to work with frontline staff so that when potential star talent is identified, they can be slotted into development programs. Make sure that you reward coworkers for finding high-quality talent so that they’ll be motivated to share their best with you and won’t be tempted to hoard those workers that they believe can make their lives easier.

Problem: Playing Over-Protective Parent To Your Up-And-Coming Future IT Leaders

Once you’ve identified your star IT talent and you’ve got them enrolled in your talent development program, you really don’t want them to fail. Or do you?

All too often what IT managers do is to hand pick the assignments that are given to up-and-coming stars. The goal is to find positions where they will be challenged, but not too much. Since you’ve already invested time and energy in getting them this far (and since there are a limited number of stars), you really don’t want them to fall flat on their face. This means that you don’t want to place them in a position where they might fail.

This is the wrong thinking. Although yes, you really don’t want to put anyone in a situation where they can’t win, at the same time you do want to put your best performers in difficult situations so that they can have a chance to become “battle hardened”. The military does this all the time – you have to have seen actual combat if you want to eventually become a General someday.

Only by coming face-to-face with a truly difficult IT / business situation will your talent be able to prove their mettle. Yes, some will fold under the pressure, but you’d rather find it out now than later on when you’ve invested even more in them. Place your best talent in situations where they can prove that they really are the best that the IT department has to offer.

What All Of This Means For You

Nobody ever said that growing the next round of IT leaders was going to be easy, but who knew that it was going to be this tough? Ensuring that the firm has a deep bench of future talent is one of an IT manager’s key jobs.

Mistakes that an IT manager needs to avoid when developing talent include allowing top talent to be discovered and managed by IT team members. These individuals are too important to be left to chance within the small world of a given department. The other mistake is for IT managers to work too hard to shield their star talent from failures. Talent needs to be exposed to challenging circumstances in order to be given the ability to fully develop.

IT managers need to understand that they can’t put their best and brightest staff in a closet with the hopes that they can bring them out when the need arises. Instead, they need to spend time every day working to ensure that the talent is growing and getting ready for the positions that they’ll eventually fill.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: What do you think that an IT manager should do if a star talent is put into a position in which they fail?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

When I work with IT Leaders who are looking for ways to get that next promotion, I tell them that they are going to need to demonstrate leadership. This is an easy thing for me to say and a very hard thing for them to do. Complicating matters even more is the fact that IT managers are finding themselves drafted onto team that they are just members of, not leaders of. What’s an IT manager to do?

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