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3 Tips for IT Staff Development

Creative staff development techniques may help CIOs identify potential successors


If you’re a CIO who still takes your laptop on vacation, it might be time to begin grooming your potential successor in earnest.

While the CIO role in the midmarket has clearly evolved from decision maker around all things technical to business leader driving innovation through technology, naming a qualified successor and training them to think like business leaders instead of technologists can be challenging. Leaders challenged with attracting and retaining top talent are finding that flexing their creativity in terms of staff development is helping ease that burden.

Julie Gartner is Dir. of IS and Technology at Kenall Lighting outside Chicago, and Lori Polep is VP and CIO of J. Polep Distribution Services in Chicopee, Mass. Both admit that while their IT teams are highly adept at technical systems management and operations, the majority are not college graduates and lack the business acumen required to manage IT budgets and lead in an administrative capacity.

The majority are unwilling to step outside their comfort zone, and it requires a lot of encouragement to show leadership in other areas of their work, outside the scope of their IT responsibilities, Gartner said.

On average, only about one in every four to five CIOs has identified a potential successor. Not only does it tether executives to their work any time they’re away from the office, companies run the risk of losing valuable IT talent to direct competitors.

“Your staff needs to know when they’re making a difference, and leaders need to tie individual efforts back to company success,” advised IT executive coach Mary Patry.


Former IT Director turned CEO at Keys Federal Credit Union Maggie Sayer said a key to her career advancement has been both in seeking mentors throughout her career as well as offering herself as a mentor. Sayer expanded her skill set in the information security space by consulting on a part time basis and sought out professional mentors from her first post out of college all the way through her recent promotion.

Communication styles between new hires and seasoned executives also may be a barrier to fostering internal mentoring relationships, so gaining a better understanding around what mentees are seeking, clearly establishing goals from the onset of the relationship and celebrating wins are good conversation starters.

Liaise with a Local College

Polep serves on the advisory board of a local technical college, so her family-owned company extends the opportunity for students to intern directly with current staff. Not only do students received invaluable on-the-job-training outside the classroom, many land full time positions upon completion of their internships.

Mary Holler is VP and CIO at Integer Holdings in upstate New York. She said her company, not only the IT organization, has benefited from higher educational partnerships. Some of their best interns have been graduate students who come to positions with previous, practical work experience.

“Those are real gems,” she said.

Allocate Training Budget

Terri-Anne Crawford is the CIO for Polk County, Florida’s Tax Collector’s Office. The IT staff of 13 is moderately sized for comparable midmarket organizations, and she said recruiting staff into the public sector can be challenging since they’re unable to compete with salary potentials of private companies.

One way she works to develop and retain existing staff is to lobby heavily for funding her organization’s annual training budget, enabling her team members to achieve additional certifications and learn new development techniques.

“We work to function as a team and work family, planning team building and social outings that fosters engagement that you don’t necessarily get in a paycheck,” Crawford said.

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