CIO Straight Talk - Issue 4 - 10
CIO, Extruded Products Division, Norsk Hydro
"CIOs shouldn't wait to be invited to the table;
they should make themselves relevant to the
business and contribute to generating
to use IT to achieve business goals, digital natives also
help change the way IT does its work, especially in the
area of training and documentation. Ed Jurica observes
that digital natives, who grew up immersed in Nintendo
and PlayStation, approach learning in an entirely new
way. "There are no instruction manuals, there is no 'take
a class,'" he observes. "It's all emergent: 'Give me the
environment and let me play. If I have questions, I will
open up three different chat tools and I will pull other
people in to look for FAQs and shortcuts. I will learn by
doing.'" Consequently, the training materials these
professionals like to consume are more like games, allowing users to experiment and play with the technology.
In addition to doing the obvious to engage digital
natives - reaching out through social media - you may
want to appoint a member of your management team to
be the "digital natives czar," responsible for soliciting
innovative ideas from 20-something employees throughout the enterprise and addressing their specific IT needs
and requirements. That czar could also create a "digital
natives council" with representatives from various
departments and functions who meet on a regular basis to
provide input to IT.
5. Hire some business-savvy seniors
Young people are not the only source of new ideas and
fresh perspectives. Experienced professionals can change
the dynamics of any team, increasing its creativity
through a diversity of views based on deep knowledge and
extensive experience and serving as mentors to senior
executives. As one of Stephen Thurlbeck's senior people
told him, "I'm going to hire someone who is better than
me. I love to mentor my people - but who's mentoring
"Our senior people are looking for people who have
different experience," Thurlbeck says. But "different
experience" means not just experience with technology.
"My preferred job description right now is 'We are
looking for a .net artisan who will be missed by both their
technology and business colleagues when they leave their
current employer,'" he says.
Business savvy is a top hiring criterion for Ann Alrich.
"If I could have ten people on my team who know every
14 CIO Straight Talk
thing there is to know about IT or ten people who understand various aspects of the business, I would take the
business people any day," she says. "You can buy the
technology and the knowledge of the technology, but the
ability to connect with the business and have a businesslevel conversation is absolutely crucial. When I interview
people I always look for the softer skills - I try to find out
whether they have a customer focus, if they care about the
fact that this is a business we are running. What we do is
not just technology for technology's sake; it is applied
The business experience does not have to be
industry-specific. Observes Alrich: "IT skills are transferrable from one industry to another. I've seen people
tremendously successful in an area where they have never
worked before, because they were willing to adapt and
they had a well-rounded skill set, including soft skills."
Stephen Thurlbeck agrees. "It doesn't matter to me if
you are in our industry," he says. "A smart person who
cares and wants to make a difference is worth ten industry insiders." Alexandre Kozlov knows this from experience, having been hired at Norsk Hydro after a long
tenure as a CIO in the consumer goods industry. "Fortunately, the executives who interviewed me saw that my
lack of immediate hands-on experience in the aluminum
industry was not a showstopper in my case. There are
several important leadership skills - for example, how
you position IT in relation to the business - that can be
easily ported from one industry to another."
6. Understand those business buzzwords
Learning is a key to innovation. The CIOs we interviewed
stressed the importance of business learning, in particular, for developing the careers and skills of IT employees.
"IT people need to enmesh themselves in the area of
the business where they are working and take advantage of business-related educational opportunities
inside and outside the company," Ann Alrich says.
An IT employee working in supply chain management, for example, could attend a conference on that
topic, she notes. Alexandre Kozlov is also adamant
about the value of business education for IT but
urges people to look outside their own areas:
"Attending gatherings that are not directly related to
Former Senior Vice President and CIO, Fossil
"We hoped that a couple of lightbulbs would go
off and that the event would help [business and
IT] innovate together."