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CIOs struggle with the great talent hunt

Stephanie Overby | May 2, 2013
Finding IT pros with business skills has always been a bear. So award-winning CIOs are taking radical steps to train, recruit or grow the hybrid staff they covet.

It Takes Two

Sometimes, however, a techie is just a techie.

And that's not a bad thing. "It's hard to be a technical person today," says Kushar. "If you can find people who keep their heads when all about them are losing theirs, that's valuable." Gallo's IT infrastructure staff, for example, is very focused on the technical aspects of the environment to ensure it is relevant, usable, world-class and ready for business growth, says Kushar.

"I don't want all business savvy," agrees Takai of the DoD. "If you only have that with a light dusting of the technical, you would never adequately address the challenges we have here."

Takai is careful not to chase away the experts. "The thing that hasn't worked is my trying to make technical people less technical," she says. "You might move them a little bit, but they're never going to step back and take a management perspective. It's just not who they are. It's frustrating for them."

Instead, Takai finds someone with complementary business skills to work with them.

"I may have an area where I need a lot of technical expertise and also the ability to interface with our business people--like cybersecurity. If I have someone who understands the technology but is not as good at dealing with the front office, I bring in a second person who's better at marketing skills and dealing with senior leaders and pair them up," says Takai. "You don't have to get all your expertise from one person."

"Success in IT comes from building an organization that has a mix of strong technical individuals as well as business-minded individuals that are leading in a way that helps the techies understand how they fit into the business and why what they do is important," says Smoley. "Simultaneously, [you have to help] the business-minded folks understand the technical strategies and road maps so they can leverage them and represent them to the business. It is a continuous challenge."

The Making of a Strategist

Are IT strategists made or born?

At Gallo, Kushar recruits about half of his strategic thinkers as ready-made hires from the outside world and develops the rest internally. "In part it's about allowing some people inside the organization to think differently," he says.

For Suzanne Best-Foster, vice president of enterprise infrastructure services at Jacobs Engineering and a Ones to Watch honoree, the key is "investing in more listening than talking and suspending the techie drive in me to provide solutions based on what I know and not what could be."

Her transformation to strategic thinker has been fueled by listening to others challenge her thinking or encourage her to broaden her vision. "I have grown immeasurably through the opportunities they have made for me to gain insight," she says.


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