"Succession planning in the IT department is critical, because you want to make sure the business is always prepared and protected. We can never be in a position where we're leaving the business worried about getting the support they need," says Koster, who manages some 2,200 tech employees in the U.S. "You want the business to feel very confident that you have it covered."
Succession planning is particularly important in high tech because the field is so specialized, CIOs say. The high level of technical expertise often required for IT jobs limits the potential talent pool when managers are looking to hire internally from another department.
And often IT leaders will find that a proportion of workers with a certain set of skills -- Web development, systems architecture, network design -- aren't interested in developing the nontechnical skills required for a management position.
"IT skills and people skills don't really go together, so it becomes hard to identify and develop those soft skills," says Dan McCarthy, a corporate leadership developer who writes the Great Leadership blog.
To be sure, high performers who don't want to move into management are still essential to the organization, and management experts say the key to retaining such employees is to ensure that they receive support and training in the latest technologies and are given interesting, challenging projects.
As for the employees who do show leadership potential, McCarthy and other industry watchers recommend that IT managers scout them out early in their careers and shepherd them along accordingly.
Identifying Top Talent
The key to maintaining departmentwide continuity and reliability is identifying not just the stars of tomorrow, but going a few levels deeper to scope out employees with the potential to step up to the plate years from now.
At Prudential, as part of the company's succession planning and management program, managers in IT and other areas are instructed to look for three types of rising stars: next-generation leaders who currently exhibit the required skills to step into management; emerging leaders who have good technical skills and, with grooming, could become leaders within a few years; and employees who work well with management and in teams -- those with soft skills that can blossom into full-blown management potential.