3 roles CIOs play in workforce transformation

By Rose de Fremery

CIOs are playing a surprising role in workforce transformation. Bringing in new blood to shake things up isn't a new strategy. But there's a twist this time: one fundamental aspect of this trend is the critical role strong IT leadership can play in achieving the goal of integrating technology into the business.

And chief information officers, recognizing this imperative, are increasingly prioritizing IT skills development as a path toward greater enterprise innovation. Here are three ways CIOs are enhancing IT skills to meet the challenges and opportunities of today and tomorrow:

1. Keeping IT skills current

Continual change impacts industries, businesses and individual roles. According to the latest edition of IBM's Global C-suite Study, 31 percent of CIOs — a significantly greater proportion than other members of the C-suite — report feeling a high degree of urgency to transform. This may reflect the rapid evolution of their responsibilities, including the need to take advantage of new technologies before the competition does. With that in mind, CIOs are taking a close look at their own skills in order to best capitalize on present and future opportunities for strategic innovation.

Whereas once CIOs were the sole gatekeepers of all organizational technology, now they may don a variety of hats depending on the situation: strategic advisor, pioneer, change instigator, reinventor, leader, business co-creator, conduit or a combination of those qualities. While CIOs are increasingly clear on the imperative to evolve their skills and capacities in this way, not all of them are always certain how to go about it.

Reinventors, who outperform their peers in both revenue growth and profitability while leading in innovation, offer a useful example in this regard. As the Global C-Suite Study notes, 14 percent of them see themselves becoming platform builders in the next two to three years — a sharp uptick from 2 percent today. According to the study, nearly six in ten reinventor CIOs consider themselves quite effective at building out the digital platforms that will create new opportunities for the enterprise and its ecosystem of partners and customers.

As they pursue the journey toward digital transformation, CIOs will need to further develop their own capacity for bold innovation while seeking out the resources they need to fortify their own skills.

2. Taking a tactical approach to building IT staff skills

According to the Global C-suite Study, CIOs pursue enhanced training and talent recruitment as top priorities. They understand that these initiatives are vital in order to excel in today's digital environment. When asked what organizational improvements their companies were most likely to implement within the next two to three years, CIOs ranked training employees in emerging technologies and hiring talent equipped with digital skills at numbers one and two, respectively.

"Today, we are focused a lot on soft skills, to make sure that we hire people who are passionate [about] learning, comfortable taking risks and very consumer and business focused," says Renata Marques, CIO at Whirlpool Latin America. "We understand that people with soft skills can adopt and learn new technologies much faster. Our internal IT teams are also consumers. They can use their own experience as a consumer to understand the business needs and to bring new capabilities to the company."

Taking a creative or unconventional path can be particularly beneficial. For example, today's CIOs may need to revise job descriptions or even be willing to consider different types of candidates from those they might have in the past, including those without specific advanced degrees. Some companies hire nontechnical professionals with strong leadership qualities, assigning them to a mentor able to coach them on the technical aspects they need to succeed in their new role. In this way, they're able to build the skills and qualities needed within their teams for the enterprise to reach its next stage of digital transformation.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit's "Pioneering leadership: CIOs reinventing technology and business" report, some companies that previously outsourced certain IT functions are bringing them back in-house while retraining and augmenting the IT team. Others, no doubt, will increasingly emphasize leveraging and securely managing cloud technology. It will likely be particularly necessary to train hires in skills that are in short supply, such as AI, security, blockchain and data science.

3. Fostering workforce transformation through employee engagement

CIOs are engaging with tomorrow's IT experts today, cultivating the IT skills needed to transform their workforce for future enterprise innovation. In fact, as the "Pioneering leadership" report notes, investing in talent is one of the top four strategic areas reinventor CIOs pursue as they strive to redefine and expand their scope. Some are pursuing prized IT skills in unconventional ways, acquiring companies in order to bring their talented employees on board, while others are placing a premium on recruitment methods such as sponsoring competitions where they have a chance of spotting a diamond in the rough.

Traditional enterprise talent-management methods still apply, of course, which means that some CIOs are still aiming to attract the valuable IT skills they need by revisiting the compensation packages they offer or taking a second look at attractive employee benefits such as internal training and education programs. But they would do well to keep one overarching point in mind: It's increasingly likely that skill gaps will emerge on the business side of the organization as well. In that event, CIOs' expanding leadership role may well involve helping the business develop new technical skill sets as it matures toward its next stage of workforce transformation.

CIOs are at an inflection point, increasingly understanding that they must reinvent their leadership positions to encompass a far wider range of responsibilities, skills and roles in order to guide their enterprises through what now looks likely to be a continual process of digital transformation. In order to do that, they're taking a careful look at the qualities and characteristics they themselves need while also creatively and assertively seeking out the IT talent that will propel their companies to greater success. This is a moment of significant challenge, but also one of great opportunity — and the CIOs who rise to the occasion will spearhead the most disruptive and transformational innovation of all.

This article was originally published on Mobile Business Insights.