Workforce Development CIO's Most Important Role

Ann All

Back in August, IT Business Edge colleague Loraine Lawson interviewed Aheesh Nagraj, a systems analyst at Accenture who believes companies should create a C-level position for integration. He's referring to data integration, ensuring that cloud and legacy applications play nice together.


But there's a broader integration role for IT. In a strategy+business interview, Charles Feld, former CIO for Frito-Lay, founder of the Feld Group consultancy and author of "Blind Spot: A Leader's Guide to IT-Enabled Business Transformation," says CIOs must broaden their thinking and see IT as the glue that ties together all other functions of the company in a way that ensures optimal business performance. He likens running IT to running an airline:

... In an airline, for instance, if you optimize the gate schedules you cause problems in maintenance. If you optimize maintenance, you cause problems in flight ops. Whose job is it, if not the COO's and the CIO's, to make sure the whole system works - for customers, for employees, and for shareholders? In many cases, fixing the "seams" between functions gives you more value than fixing problems in any individual department.

One of the CIO's most important responsibilities, says Feld, is helping create IT leaders for the future. He categorizes it as both a challenge and an opportunity:

The bigger challenge, and perhaps the bigger impact over time, lies in the development of the next generation of leaders - both on the business side and in IT leadership roles. We need versatile, multidisciplinary, multicultural leaders who can think strategically about systems and patterns and who can take leadership of an organization and drive execution. If you're at a company that doesn't develop this sort of leader deliberately, you need to foster that effort more deliberately. In most companies, people come into the IT function and stay there for 20 years, as opposed to being moved about and given different experiences and a wider aperture. You've got to make investments in future high-potential leaders.

IT Business Edge colleague Susan Hall noted that this kind of attention to professional development was one of the characteristics that differentiates the best CIOs from their more average peers, according to recent Accenture research.


Feld suggests ensuring that high performers enjoy a variety of career experiences. He offers Tom Nealon, the CIO of JCPenney, and former CIO of Southwest Airlines and of Frito-Lay, as someone who benefited from this kind of experience. In his first decade at Frito-Lay, Nealon worked in computer operations, in systems development and in systems engineering before doing a stint in the financial planning department. Feld says:

Within 10 years, he had developed into a well-rounded leader who had seen the business from different places. He'd been a user, so now he knew why IT frustrates people. He'd been in operations, so he knew what a poorly designed system looks like, and what to do when you get a call in the middle of the night and there's no documentation. It made him better at everything. At 32 years old, Tom was ready to become a vice president. By his mid-30s, he was Frito's CIO.

Earlier this year I wrote about several companies, including Xerox, General Mills and Johnson & Johnson, that encouraged employees to work in different roles by offering job rotation programs and flexible career paths, with an emphasis on creating professionals at the intersection of business and IT.


Feld also says companies should base a hefty portion of senior leaders' performance reviews on how they lead, manage and develop their employees. He says:

... You sometimes have to base half their bonus on these factors at the beginning, to get their attention. They still get a pay increase if they deliver their projects. But, if you're an executive, and the company has to keep looking outside for new people because you haven't developed your team, then why should you get a bonus? For sure, you're expected to get your projects done. But what assets did you leave behind?

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