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A review of some of the key challenges associated with mentoring a new generation of CIOs.

Could business mentoring be fashionable again? For the last 15 years there’s been talk of the ‘War for Talent’ and developing and coaching key individuals seemed to be the way that many organisations reacted to this. In times of austerity and pressure on development and training budgets, different ways of retaining and developing talent have been needed.

At the same time there seems to be a change in the air for CIOs, and the way that organisations manage technology and IT. A recent (August 2013) HBR Blog article by George Westerman asked: Should Your CIO be Chief Digital Officer? It seems true that CIOs, their teams, IT executives and managers are working in extraordinary times. We all know that business is transforming under the influence of advancements in digital technologies and behaviours of people (employees and customers) in the digital era. CIOs can observe this from their traditional IT viewpoint and keep reasonably abreast of what is going on around them. Alternatively they can look to get a true handle on it and take a lead in taking their organisation into the digital modern era.

The reality is that any up-and-coming IT executive who aspires to become CIO must also – in this digital era – have to consider how to become more of a business leader. That’s quite a challenge. And one of the things that will help them to achieve it is to have a mentor with some relevant experience. Not, perhaps, in digital – but in how to scale the corporate ladder, hold a proper business conversation and survive at the top.

At the same time there seems to be a desire expressed by leading corporate CIOs to ‘give something back’ to their profession. To use their hard-won knowledge and experience to provide a development boost to the next generation of UK corporate IT leaders.

By putting the two together in a mentor/mentee relationship, it is possible to:

  • Accelerate professional development for the up-and-coming IT executive
  • Provide insights and new challenges to both in the partnership
  • Create valuable, win-win relationships.

At CIO Development we are creating a cross company, formalised mentoring scheme. Those who join it will become members of a community, with training, mutual support and some fascinating conversations. For example:

  • Mark Dearnley, lately CIO of Vodafone and in-coming at HMRC, knows plenty about the value of managing IT; the organisations whose IT he controls depend on the effective utilisation of latest technologies. Mark was keen to offer his advice and experience but also get access to some external CIO exposure for one of his high potential IT executives.
  • Darren Price, Group CIO at RSA (Royal Sun Alliance) said: “I am personally driven to develop, retain and attract talent. The role of the CIO is changing and we need to develop the next generation of CIO business leaders to meet the ever changing needs and demands of our businesses. We need to develop business leaders who have the vision and expertise to influence and challenge the wider business agenda and position the function as a differentiating business enabler.”
  • Andy Haywood has recently moved to become Group CIO at the Co-operative Group. A long standing supporter of developing and coaching his people, Andy was immediately attracted to the potential for IT talent mentoring in the group. It is both cost effective and quick. He was attracted by the idea that mentoring conversations will encompass both present issues and future direction.

A good target culture for business mentoring should be the youth club rather than the crèche. There is certainly a benefit to be had from developing talent who are early in their careers, but there seems to be a much more urgent need further up the tree, driven by the need to embrace the changes afoot in IT.

How might your organisation take mentoring forward in the pursuit of managing the future digital savvy talent in your IT departments? Could some structured mentoring form a powerful part of your talent and succession strategy alongside coaching and other forms of development and training? Mentoring can certainly offer some of your talented people a leg up to apply their skills more quickly to the business. Our recommendation for how to get started is:

Think about who you have in your organisation that could really take the IT conversation forward to digital over the next couple of years? What are you doing for them right now? How much further could they go with a great mentor?


The authors

Peter Thornton (Director of Academy Programmes), Brinley Platts (Chairman) and James Caplin (Head of Coaching) all work for CIO Development (www.ciodevelopment.com)

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