For most CIOs, the day-to-day work of getting products out the door takes priority over managing people. Many CIOs spend just minutes each month on the people part of the business. But to deliver on goals and promises, CIOs must know their bench strength — employee competency, plus the number of staff to do the work. When your dashboard shows technical bench strength, you’ll know whether your current team — from leadership all the way down to the front line — has the skills and capacity to deliver mission-critical work or to respond to a rapid change in business strategy.
If common HR metrics, such as employee engagement scores and demographic profiles, are just a subset of talent data CIOs should be tracking, what’s missing from the dashboard?
Who does what work and where?
Adding bench strength data to your dashboard is remarkably straightforward. You can get that data by tracking exactly what each person on your team actually does. When you compare their day-to-day tasks against the work that needs to be done going forward, skill and capacity gaps, redundancies and under-utilized staff are suddenly and clearly revealed.[ Learn from your peers: Check out State of the CIO 2018 report on the challenges and concerns of CIOs today ]
I see an essential need to track the work people do when there’s a change in business strategy, such as when a CIO tries to staff for emergent tech like AI, machine learning, and blockchain. When companies buy into new technologies, they tend to rely on a handful of already-busy and overcommitted key experts to deliver it. Even if your three AI experts’ engagement scores are through the roof, you’re tempting fate by putting your team’s ability to deliver innovation in the hands of a few key people. In real life, even the most engaged employees can get sick or retire early. Happy employees still get better job offers. And satisfied employees have spouses who land jobs in other cities.
If you’re closely tracking skills and expertise, the importance of each team member will leap off the page. With that data at your fingertips you can mitigate talent risk by making better decisions. You can try to make sure your AI experts stay put, prepare to hire replacements or build bench strength through knowledge transfer.
A Simple Exercise for Assessing Who Does What Work, Where
Collecting skills data sounds intimidating, but it can be a quick, even fun, process. Here’s what I advise when working with CIOs.
First, identify and list all the areas of work for which your teams are responsible. Then, make an inventory of your employees and classify them as one of the following for each area of work:
- An “expert,” that is, they set the standard for the team in an area of work
- “Consistent with expert,” or they work at the standard set by the expert
- “Actively learning” and needs more support to become consistent with the expert
- “Not working in an area,” which means they do not contribute to a particular area of work
The result of this exercise is a talent roster you can use to assign workers to teams and tasks that make the best use of their skill sets and levels of expertise. The roster also makes matching mentors and apprentices for knowledge transfer a cinch, allowing you to close critical gaps and reduce talent risk.
Who’s got influence?
In addition to mapping skills, employee data should reveal a worker’s role as a technical leader. By that I mean who are the foundational building blocks — imagine a game of Jenga — that, when removed, will topple your strategic initiatives? Beware if only a handful of experts set the technical standard and pace of work for their teams, a department or, most worryingly, a whole division. If you lose those experts, an entire enterprise can fail.
By tracking influence, you’ll also see whether you have ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ setting technical standards. I see this happen most often after a reorganization, acquisition, or senior leadership change when there’s a lot of role ambiguity. It can result in inconsistencies that lead to serious mistakes and to endless meetings where no one has the authority to make decisions. Instead, identify your experts, ask them to set technical standards, and ensure they have the bandwidth and tools they’ll need to communicate and teach those standards to others.
Up-to-date skills data
Too often, CIOs are working with HR data that’s six months to a year out of date simply because it’s tied to performance evaluation cycles. Talent data must be current, accounting for changes in team members’ skill levels and domain knowledge. These are some critical moments to update your bench strength dashboard:
- When your business goals change, so you’ll know exactly how to level workloads and re-assign skills and expertise across teams.
- When your company completes a merger or acquisition. Then, you can easily classify incoming workers and compare their expertise with existing team members for immediate role clarification.
- When a key expert requests a transfer to another office. With an up-to-date talent dashboard, you can consult current technical data to determine whether a bright up-and-comer is ready to step into the expert’s shoes.
Only granular, who does what where data can inform these kinds of complex people and operational strategy decisions.
It’s a hard truth that CIOs are under relentless pressure to deliver, so they can be tempted to put talent issues on the backburner. But when you have visibility into technical bench strength, you can know with confidence that your team’s got what it takes to deliver quality work on time.
Steve has a message for frustrated executives: “If you’re not 100% sure your technical teams have what it takes to deliver on strategy, then you’re taking a big risk.” Steve pioneered a revolutionary way to identify and solve technical talent issues using hard data. Now he's sharing his insights on CIO.com.
Steve is the author of three books including Do You Have WHO it Takes: Managing Talent Risk in a High-Stakes Technical Workforce. He lives in Seattle with his family and is halfway through their quest to visit all the US National Parks.
Latest posts by Steve Trautman
- A CIO’s Dashboard Must Show Bench Strength. Does Yours? - August 6, 2018