One way to accomplish this is through rotational programs. At Bay Clubs, Gette has his IT employees participate in the "manager on duty" program, where workers take turns serving as onsite managers at different club locations. Because workers are directly engaged with club members, it helps them think more granularly about how to solve business problems, such as whether members are being offered the right sales opportunities or whether the onsite technology is effective, he said.
"It forces them to learn the business and be engaged," he said. Afterwards, Gette gets a report of what they learned and sends it out to other business executives.
Another way to get your IT team to understand its customers better is to embed workers in different areas of the business, a practice Harapanahalli at Genentech has implemented. He has sent out IT employees to shadow sales reps in the field as part of the "Ride Along" program. He said the takeaways from programs like this will carry through to IT's meetings with other departments.
"How do we add value to our business partners' strategy, goals and objectives?" he said. "Our role is not sitting behind office cubicles but is moving to where the customers are."
3. Develop a process to hire customer-focused talent
To find the in-demand customer-centric IT workers, CIOs need to develop a consistent sourcing and hiring process, which sometimes can mean discarding the old method and rolling out a new one.
"The landscape of how companies can source talent is far more complex than ever before," said Diana Bersohn, managing director at Accenture and part of the company's IT strategy and transformation practice. Some companies, she said, are ending up with a haphazard mix of talent, such as contractors, strategic partners or offshore service providers, due to lack of governance around their sourcing and recruiting strategy.
To fix this, she suggests looking at the core capabilities your business needs to work better with customers. Then provide clarity around which competencies employees vs. outside partners should have to meet those needs. When you get to the interviewing stage, show candidates how roles are involved in innovation, offer opportunities to move to different positions within the company and show that you embrace people with a flexible mindset.
4. Strategically convey your company culture
Also, during the interview process, IT leaders should show how their company culture can help blended IT/business workers thrive. "The companies struggling the most are ones that aren't viewed as being innovative," Bersohn said. "They are perceived as being old and there's an image issue that needs to be addressed."
At Bay Clubs, Gette competes for talent with startups and vendors in the Bay Area. To stand out, he conveys the company's openness to learning and risk-taking and touts it as a startup culture inside a traditional business. "There's a lot of opportunity to come in here with the startup culture, be free and open, and have the ability to take risks," he said. "We won't be out of business next week either."
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.