Equally important is recognizing those skilled workers who want to advance in the company but not into management -- for example, a junior Web developer who wants to amass the training and experience to become a senior Web developer, or an application developer who is seeking a new challenge and wants to learn different IT skills. While these employees aren't on the management track, they still require care and feeding.
"Some people say 'I really don't have the desire to manage, I really just want to hone my technical skills,' or 'I really love being a Web developer,' and if that's what they want to do, you have to respect that," says Koster. "Putting them into something they don't want to do can hurt them."
IT leadership works on filling in gaps by providing potential managers with appropriate training, education and mentoring, says Koster. The multitasking millennial generation, for example, has much to contribute, but also much to learn. "The way they multitask is phenomenal; it increases productivity," says Koster. "We're incorporating things [from them] and putting those into the Prudential model. But they're also learning about the [company's] history and how our products work."
There's at least one latent benefit of nurturing multiple layers of potential leaders at different stages in their careers. If the company decides to change its business focus, management can leverage new IT talent quickly and reassign positions to support that new emphasis, says Koster. "You think you're operating with one set of objectives, but things change," she says. "You need to know your talent very well throughout the year if you're going to put a team together quickly."
Setting Realistic Expectations
Employees at Atlanta-based Southern Co., which produces energy and owns electric utilities in four states, tend to spend their entire careers there, says CIO Becky Blalock. That happens at a lot of utility companies, she notes.
While this continuity benefits the company, the downside is that entire swaths of people can end up retiring at the same time, says Blalock. Currently, the average age among the company's 1,100-strong IT staff is 44, and many workers are reaching the minimum retirement age, which can be as early as 50 with the appropriate accredited service.
To deal with retirement and other staffing changes, the company has what Blalock describes as a very robust succession-planning process. For example, every year Blalock is asked by her superiors to list five employees who could replace her "if I'm run over by a truck tomorrow," she says. She breaks this list into potential replacements who are ready today, and those who could be ready in a year or two.