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Grow your own CIO with in-house training

Beth Stackpole | Feb. 7, 2011
Last summer, about 30 hand-picked IT managers convened in an executive classroom for the third session of CIO University, a leadership development program for would-be CIOs. The agenda was chock-full of sessions covering best practices for stakeholder management along with role-playing exercises to explore the Thomas-Kilmann model of conflict resolution. Guest speakers included C-level executives as well as former attendees who had gone on to become CIOs. A post-session happy hour and dinner gave participants a chance to network, exchange insights and simply blow off steam.

Clearwire: Real-World Problem-Solving

Andrew Macaulay, Clearwire's vice president of IT, attended CIO U as a Level 3 Communications employee and then again when he followed Hart to Clearwire. He also had a hand in shaping the current curriculum. He calls it a "hybrid," since it includes input from Clearwire's own top executives, many of whom give presentations during the session, along with contributions from outside experts who are brought in to teach some of the leadership-specific tracks.

Hart and other members of the Clearwire executive team teach the classes and make formal presentations on business challenges and goals while relating their own personal experiences. Outside specialists with credentials in topics such as stakeholder management, conflict resolution and emotional intelligence lead discussions on their areas of expertise.

To Macaulay's mind, CIO U's emphasis on real-world problem-solving with company peers is the real game-changer. "In an external class, you have a person or two from 10 different companies, thus no common examples, and everyone has a different perspective on a different list of problems," Macaulay says. "With this approach, people are already applying what they learn with peers in the classroom. They're problem-solving using these techniques on real issues that can benefit the company."

As an example, Clearwire's 2009 employee satisfaction survey uncovered dissatisfaction with the quality of communication between rank-and-file IT and upper management. As part of the CIO U curriculum, participants were charged with brainstorming changes to address that problem, and Hart set some specific benchmarks for the team.

By engaging in role-playing and applying conflict resolution techniques covered in their coursework, CIO U attendees came up with recommendations to close the gap, including weekly one-on-one meetings between managers and direct reports to go over a manager/employee checklist, an "onboarding" program to bring new IT employees up to speed, a directive to tie IT performance goals to company goals, and sponsorship of additional communication forums, like roundtable discussions and newsletters.

When a follow-up survey was conducted six months later to gauge progress, the IT team had made some impressive gains. "If there isn't a benefit to the company, then the whole value proposition falls apart," Hart says.

Direct Energy: Three Training Levels

Direct Energy, a $9 billion electricity and natural gas utility with operations in several North American markets, offers a three-tier IT leadership development initiative that blends both internal and external resources.

At the junior level, the company recruits from the top engineering schools and then has new hires participate in an intensive, company-run two-year training program. The training includes work toward a range of certifications and rotating assignments in different areas of the business, including stints in non-IT posts and in various locales around the world.


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