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6 ways to nurture IT leadership talent


In an age when digital capabilities can make or break business, tech talent is in high demand and short supply.

Skills sets are changing at a fevered pace, making it harder to retain a seasoned bench of talent. According to IDC research, more than 90% of organizations worldwide will be impacted on some level by a shortage of skilled IT workers by 2026, amounting to an estimated $5.5 trillion in losses spurred by product delays and lost business.

While technical knowledge about artificial intelligence, IT operations, and cloud top the list of desired competencies, the IDC research also pointed to digital business, human interaction, and leadership as areas where companies are desperately trying to fill in gaps.

Organizations need to be more strategic and creative about how they find, develop, and retain IT leaders, according to Melissa Swift, vice president of workforce and organization change at Capgemini Invent and the author of “Work Here Now: Think Like a Human and Build a Powerhouse Workplace.” In a panel discussion at the 2024 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, Swift and other IT experts shared six ways companies can foster future leaders and improve talent development and retention.  

1. Pay attention to what motivates employees.

A high salary isn’t the sole aspiration for many beginning tech leaders. Younger generations value meaningful collaboration, opportunities that expose them to interesting work, and the ability to work with the latest technologies. “What motivates people today is not ‘my job sounds cool’ or … a great title or an office with a foosball table,” Swift said. “The younger generations are much more keyed to building their skill set more broadly. They want to be in a role where they can expand their horizons.”

2. Emphasize resiliency with an equal dose of empathy.

The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic proved the importance of agile IT leadership as many organizations quickly transitioned to digital processes and business operations. In the era of hybrid work, it’s now critical for technology leaders to hone softer skills, including empathy, said Vagesh Dave, global vice president and CIO at McDermott International, a global engineering and construction company. “In a hybrid or remote work environment, building a culture that creates touch points so employees feel connected and supported is really important,” Dave said.

3. Don’t micromanage — give up-and-coming leaders their space.

One of the most important attributes of a great leader is giving others the space to grow. While aspiring IT leaders will make mistakes, it’s important for them to be tested along the way. “I believe in the umbrella model of leadership, but you have to expose people to some rain so they can grow and develop,” Swift said. “It calls for not being a business helicopter parent.”

4. Instill confidence so IT leaders are comfortable with not knowing everything.

Between digital transformation and AI, today’s pace of change is unprecedented. IT leaders are not only expected to stay abreast of technology but also to understand the business and share responsibility for outcomes. It’s important to let leaders know that they don’t have to know everything. “That’s the sweet spot,” Swift said.

5. Be mindful of work intensity and “greedy work.”

High work intensity means having to perform too many units of work per unit of time. That could mean being on too many Zoom calls a day or being peppered by Teams messages around the clock. “Greedy work” spills outside the boundaries of a working day, sucking up weekend or vacation time. Neither is good for the business or leadership, Swift said.

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6. Rethink job architecture and markers of success.

Employers and employees tend to focus on upward mobility, and younger generations want transparent career planning and guidance from leaders. It’s important to create structured paths for both vertical and lateral advancement. In addition, leaders should establish new performance metrics and rewards so promotions and pay raises aren’t the only concrete markers of success.

“Changing employee needs and preferences are challenging some of the fundamentals of how we build companies,” Swift said. “It’s a very live issue.”

Swift advised IT leaders to make accommodations for asynchronous work and to hone skills in communicating, listening, and building empathy. “With some creativity, a little old-fashioned leadership, and not making everyone work at exactly the same moment, we might have a formula for success,” she said.

Read next: Technology expert to business leader — the evolution of the CIO 

For more info Sara Brown Senior News Editor and Writer