CIO Canada’s Brainstorm Centre

Collaborate with your peers on developing best practices around IT management and technology strategy in Canada. We offer resources to help you develop your best answers to questions from our experts. Please join us.


I have been with the same company for about 20 years and been through multiple versions and iterations of IT Steering Committees. It seems that we have never been successful in finding something that truly works. I actually now question if it is even necessary. Thoughts or comments? Anyone had success in this area and see the benefit of a well formed committee?
Asked by Ted Maulucci, CIO, Tridel Corp. | Propose a question to CIO Canada 

 

Question 1: How do you ensure new hires have the right mix of business and IT skills?Question 2: How are the expectations of new IT department staffers changing from five years ago?Question 3: What are some best practices you’ve developed around employee retention?Question 4: As the CIO role evolves, how is the career path for IT department staff changing?

Question 5: What could a new hire do to impress you in their first year on the job?

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Question 1: How do you ensure new hires have the right mix of business and IT skills?

Joe Jagodich
Vice President / CIO Information Technology, EllisDon Corporation Joe Jagodich
Relationship management is key; they have to have a business-oriented approach. There are programs now in colleges and universities that have woken up to the fact that it is more than technical skills that we are looking for today. We keep a very keen eye out for candidates that don’t actually fit the typical “techie” role of the past. We’re committed to continuous education.

Chris Moore
Chief Information Officer Office of the CIO, City of Edmonton Chris Moore
What we did is make an intentional decision two years ago to have people who have leadership skills managing and hiring new IT people. Because what happens in IT is that you get people coming up the ranks due to their technical skills and not necessarily their leadership skills. When we interview, we ask questions about attitude and behaviour. I actually end up interviewing everybody that we hire, not because I’m a hiring manager, but because I see myself as the gatekeeper of our culture.

Gary Davenport
Vice-president of IT Allstream Gary Davenport
What we look for is the critical skill: the ability to learn. So what you go out and hire someone, obviously they have the skills – usually hard and soft – and specific technology and industry sector experience. But it’s the ability to learn and adapt that sets apart those individuals that really have the greatest ability to progress in their career and also contribute to the success of the organization. And then within that, the mix between business and IT is critical. Gone are the days when you’re just hiring technical skills. You really need those individuals that can communicate effectively with the business.

Question 1: How do you ensure new hires have the right mix of business and IT skills?

Shawn Zanganeh
Program Manager Central1 Shawn Zanganeh
The mix of technical qualification in terms of business and IT and ensuring that everything on their resume is correct. Being active in the industry segment and knowing the players as well.

Kevin Pashuk
Chief Information Officer Appleby College Chris Moore
The mix is really dependant on the role. You could have a back office that never interacts with the customers but in the small shop where I’m at right now, everyone on the team has to interact with users. It’s not just business and IT skills, it’s every role in the IT department has to have some understanding of where they fit into the business processes and understand what are exactly the outcomes that we’re trying to achieve. So (for example) I’m no longer just administering email, I’m helping communication flow through – those kinds of things. If we operate in isolation and just do IT tasks, we’re going to be relegated to “keeping the lights on at the lowest possible cost” type of activities. I don’t have the luxury of hiring a back office people anymore, someone who is skilled but cannot interact with the customer or their colleagues.

Question 2: How are the expectations of new IT department staffers changing from five years ago?

Joe Jagodich
Vice President / CIO Information Technology, EllisDon Corporation Joe Jagodich
A few years back I saw a lot of students coming out of programs who were keenly interested in pay and opportunities. I think that is changing, quite frankly. What I’m seeing is that because programs are broader now and provide them with business acumen as well as IT, what they are more interested in is participating in work that goes beyond just the tactical efforts. They really are focused on goals that align with the business objectives and they want to feel a part of that business – actively participating and contributing to the bottom line. Obviously you have to remain competitive on pay and benefits, and you have to provide them with a culture of collaboration and teamwork.

Chris Moore
Chief Information Officer Office of the CIO, City of Edmonton Kevin Pashuk
What I’m seeing is that people are more focused on where can they contribute and be part of something innovative. Five years ago, it was all about the career and how much training they can get: “What do I get out of it?” The shift that I’m seeing is away from people focused on themselves to people seeing themselves as an asset. This is part of our retention component (as well) because we’re trying to help people realize that they are responsible for their direction. We’re trying to help people understand that their value is in who they are and what they contribute, not in what they know. For us it’s more about intrinsic value than extrinsic. Our focus has been around the development of our Communities of Interest. Most people want more

Question 2: How are the expectations of new IT department staffers changing from five years ago?

Gary Davenport
Vice-president of IT Allstream Gary Davenport
Well I would think that five years ago we were probably a bit more siloed in our thinking and our hiring practices. Now, we’re looking for broader, more cross-functional skillsets that can do many different things. Obviously, they would have depth in certain areas but it’s that flexibility that we’re looking for. It’s really not about building things anymore, it’s about integrating a total business solution. The old axiom of “people, process and technology” that we often talk about in our industry is absolutely key.

Shawn Zanganeh
Program Manager Central1 Shawn Zanganeh
They definitely have to be more business focused. Much more than they used to be five years ago. Right now I think the wave of workers coming into the workplace have a mix of basic understanding of technology and then are looking for IT to enable them to do their work better. You really need to understand the business that you’re in and how you’re going to enable people. And I encourage that.

Kevin Pashuk
Chief Information Officer Appleby College Kevin Pashuk
In IT I’ve found that the expectations haven’t really changed; I’m seeing the expectations that IT people had five years ago are now being expressed. The people that I’m hiring today and the people that I hired five years ago really felt that they had something to contribute and they wanted to be recognized for that. Some of this is speculative, (but I think) it comes from people raised on video games: they want to be recognized and they want feedback. Today’s staff do something and want you tell them how they did. This is something that I didn’t have to do 10 years ago. This concept of instant feedback is there.

Question 3: What are some best practices you’ve developed around employee retention?

Joe Jagodich
Vice President / CIO Information Technology, EllisDon Corporation Joe Jagodich
We have a strong commitment to training and development of our existing staff. This has given us a tremendous retention level. It’s because we have an attitude of training and development on a continual basis. Leadership, business and technical training are all equally important. Involving them in challenging projects and encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset is a reality here. Our IT staff know that their ideas will be listened to and taken into consideration. We also ensure that there is open and transparent communication on the business objectives and (also) on setting expectations so they know what they need to do – so they we know they always can be relied upon to deliver. We’re also continuously looking at ways to eliminate barriers to team collaboration. We make use of collaborative teams to drive performance.

Chris Moore
Chief Information Officer Office of the CIO, City of Edmonton Chris Moore
Our focus has been around the development of our Communities of Interest. Most people want more challenges and want to move up the ladder. The biggest challenge we had is that if you were a technical analyst and you really wanted to become a project manager, they would be told that they didn’t have any experience. That’s like an endless loop because if you can’t get experience, how can you get the job. So we created our Communities of Interest, which approaches this. We bring in project managers and identify a project that emerging project managers can work on. So they get an opportunity to try and practice. Through this we’ve seen technical people be able to get a job in project management. So it’s about trying to show people how they can take charge of their career. Part of retention is being able to provide those challenges.

Question 3: What are some best practices you’ve developed around employee retention?

Gary Davenport
Vice-president of IT Allstream Gary Davenport
I think it is attraction and then retention. You want to attract people that it’s a good place to work and that the culture encourages people to do their best and closely aligned with where the business is going. So what we’ve focused on, and we’ve had some pretty good success with is making sure that we go after employee engagement. Our four core values – courage, empathy, passion and commitment – are things that we focus on from the CEO to each individual employee.

Shawn Zanganeh
Program Manager Central1 Shawn Zanganeh
It’s engagement. Over and above, they have to be compensated properly or else people will jump ship. They need be engaged, they need to understand the business goals and take part in that. People want to their work to mean something, so you have to keep them mentally engaged.

Kevin Pashuk
Chief Information Officer Appleby College Kevin Pashuk
The first thing about being a CIO is not to pretend that you’re a techie. They don’t regard you as one and you shouldn’t pretend to be, even if you have a background in technology. The leadership style is important when it comes to employee retention, from the directors, right on up to the CEO. It’s critical. You lead from the long side and hire smart people. It’s about giving them a voice; arbitrary leadership without reasoning doesn’t work with technology people. Recognizing accomplishments and contributions is always high value. If someone has done something well, make sure they get the appropriate credit.

Question 4: As the CIO role evolves, how is the career path for IT department staff changing?

Joe Jagodich
Vice President / CIO Information Technology, EllisDon Corporation Joe Jagodich
It’s changing significantly because, as you know, the CIO’s role is more business oriented. There’s still a requirement for technical competence but the CIO must be seen as a respected member of the senior management team. It’s a role that heavily involves transformation of the organization. IT staff, more than anyone in an organization, are really the agents of change. They are transitioning end users from where they are today to the desired state of the business. They become engaged in the business as a result and their career opportunities are endless. Their opportunities are no longer limited to IT; their opportunities are endless due to the business acumen that they are developing as their career is evolving.

Chris Moore
Chief Information Officer Office of the CIO, City of Edmonton Chris Moore
I wonder about the future of IT in organizations. The CIO position may not even be available. My analogy is the typing pool: there isn’t a need because there are no typewriters, but because we empowered everyone to do their own stuff. We’re currently reclassifying all of our IT positions; the reason why is because all our job definitions/families were from the 1990’s and didn’t make sense anymore. We’re actually reshaping the career ladders from a technical leadership and management perspective. I really believe that the CIO path that we’re creating could come from or through this. The key thing is you need to have all the components in IT to be credible. Somewhere along the line, you need really good advisors and mentors who can help you get to the next level.

Question 4: As the CIO role evolves, how is the career path for IT department staff changing?

Gary Davenport
Vice-president of IT Allstream Gary Davenport
Gone are the days where you start as a programmer, then a programmer analyst, senior programmer analyst, etc. Now people are much more fluid in moving in and out of specific disciplines including out of IT, into business, and back again. Our desire is attract the best, keep the best and while they are here they can be the best that they can be. That’s where I see us evolving to and we’ve made some great success in the last few years.

Shawn Zanganeh
Program Manager Central1 Shawn Zanganeh
The jury is still out on this one. I don’t know that they come out of the IT ranks. I read an article that in Europe, 52 per cent of CIOs come from the business side. And we are seeing that here in Canada too. The qualifications of the CIO aren’t all technical, they really want you to understand the business too. You need to have some sort of technical aptitude (but also) it’s the understanding how to manage projects and programs and seeing things to the end with proper checkpoints and clear governance. These are the things the CIO role calls for: the guy that understands business, can manage the major initiatives of the company and understands what the technology trends are.

Kevin Pashuk
Chief Information Officer Appleby College Kevin Pashuk
What you’re seeing is the core skillset of the IT team is changing. You’re looking at the development of specialists, you’re looking at analytics, you’re looking at business intelligence and the ability to do these types of things. If you’re a lifelong learner in IT and constantly looking to build your experience – and in an environment that allows you to grow – there’s always a demand for IT skills. So what’s the career path? Learn to learn. Don’t lock yourself into “This is what I’m going to do for the rest of my career” because life is not life that.

Question 5: What could a new hire do to impress you in their first year on the job?

Joe Jagodich
Vice President / CIO Information Technology, EllisDon Corporation Joe Jagodich
First and foremost, they have to be able to develop relationships. That is key. They can’t just hide in a corner and hope that nobody communicates with them. They have to build a relationship with the business. That’s the thing that impresses me the most. They can’t be afraid to bring forward suggestions, because that’s what I look for. And they have to demonstrate to me is that they are committed to continuous learning. I think that the IT role is a profession – you never stop learning in IT. The technologies change and shift every few months and they aren’t just minor shifts. Staff need to ensure that they are keeping on top of things.

Chris Moore
Chief Information Officer Office of the CIO, City of Edmonton Chris Moore
People who I get impressed with have a good process when they’re on the job. They’re the people who have done all their homework and research and found out as much as possible about us. People that are passionate about their work, to the degree that they are prepared to take calculative risks because they believe in what they are doing. They can be passionate about technology and passionate about business process. Those that are the kind of people who are comfortable in their own skin.

Gary Davenport
Vice-president of IT Allstream Gary Davenport
We really look for people who are prepared to look outside of the box and not just a defined set of responsibilities and deliverables. Those that aren’t afraid to push the envelope, suggest other things and get involved in broader activities. We have some terrific new hires who we look to get their opinions on new technologies and approaches that they want to try. It’s great when they can step into a meeting with directors and vice-presidents and be completely comfortable in expressing their opinions and (understand) where we’re trying to go.

Question 5: What could a new hire do to impress you in their first year on the job?

Shawn Zanganeh
Program Manager Central1 Shawn Zanganeh
How people impress me is when I ask them to do something and they take things an extra step. Understanding the type of business we’re in and able to reflect that in your work is what impresses me.

Kevin Pashuk
Chief Information Officer Appleby College Kevin Pashuk
How well did they hire? Not only from a skillset point of view but personality and their ability to integrate well. But the type of person that impresses is right from the interview process. Then, what’s going to bear out is their curiosity, their desire to learn more and (that) they’re not coming in like they know everything. In their first year, they don’t come in and need to be told what to do.


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