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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.

Midlevel IT folks may be selected to participate in a leadership program that was developed by Direct Energy's IT group but is run in conjunction with other companies and outside leadership experts, according to Kumud Kalia, Direct Energy's CIO. Top-level IT execs are encouraged to participate in webinars, attend seminars and enroll in external leadership development programs for a more customized training experience.

Leveraging both internal and external resources makes sense for a company of Direct Energy's size, Kalia says. Although Direct Energy is bigger than Clearwire and maintains a larger IT workforce, Kalia says it would be far too costly, in terms of both money and time, to develop and run such a diverse leadership-training program internally. In addition, he says he doesn't think there are enough high-level IT roles within the company, which employs about 500 IT personnel in all, to justify funding an internally run, CIO-specific program.

Nevertheless, Kalia feels strongly that IT leadership development on any scale is essential for attracting and nurturing top talent. "People don't want to join a company and have a great first year only to keep repeating the great first year for 10 years," Kalia says. "People care about career development. They seek out enhanced scope of responsibility, and if they're not getting it from their employer, they will go elsewhere. We want to make sure we have those things here."

Purdue Pharma: No Faking Internal Training

Purdue Pharma, a $3 billion pharmaceutical company, also champions a mix of internal and external IT leadership training. Each of the Stamford, Conn.-based company's 110 IT employees has an individual development plan, and there are rotating IT job assignments.

Moreover, a handful of high-potential IT managers are selected to participate in an internal executive-coaching program that's run by the CIO in conjunction with human resources, to get exposure to senior management responsibilities. In this program, individuals take a battery of leadership assessment tests and are coached individually by HR professionals and top IT managers to nurture their strengths and improve upon their weaknesses.

Throughout a 12-to-18-month period, participants are formally observed by the CIO, given assessments every three months and take part in sessions where they get feedback from their peers. So far, seven IT employees have gone through the program.

CIO Larry Pickett says an internal program works best on this level because participants can't manipulate the scenarios they encounter, like they could in external leadership programs. "In external programs, it's a case study you're working on, not a real-world example," Pickett explains. "Our training is based on actual observation in the workplace, and you can't fake it."


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