META Report: Reskilling: Training the Talent to Shine

May 6, 2002

Jonathan Poe

META Trend: During 2002/03, as business organizations focus on strategic partnerships and customer needs, IT organizations will (re)evaluate ROI strategies. As IT/business collaboration matures, organizations will incorporate more balanced performance investment approaches. By 2004/05, scenario planning will form the basis of balanced value/innovation programs that manage dynamic technology investments and enable organizational agility. By 2006/07, 25% of Global 2000 firms will dynamically assemble, restructure, and dissolve virtual teams on demand.

Rapid changes in technology, markets, and vendors create increased demand for highly skilled IT personnel.

Although many corporations are able to hire talent, keeping talent current is a major concern for many IT organizations (ITOs). Several professors even speculate that the half-life of a software engineer is 18 months.

On average, an IT staff member currently receives 40 hours of training per calendar year. For world-class corporations, formal training averages 80 hours per year, with another 40 hours of mentoring and individual coaching to refine current skills. World-class firms find that applying more resources, including training, to their best performers results in increased productivity and institutional value.

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By 2005, more than 75% of Global 2000 firms will increase formal training of their best performers to 80 hours per year. By 2009, this training philosophy will expand to enable all IT employees to broadly select the skills to refine, improve, and receive reimbursement for. The corporate trend is to let high performers focus on what they do best for the firm and enable them to innovate within their range of talents.

However, for mediocre and poorly performing employees, companies will restrict additional training and provide periodic performance reviews through 2006. Those not transforming to higher levels of productivity and teamwork will be released. To minimize the amount of management time spent on poor performers, corporations will increase their recruiting standards to hire for talent (someone who can deliver on day one of the job). Through 2009, firms will continue to tighten their talent definitions, aligning employee job descriptions with stated corporate missions, visions, and values. As a result, we expect few employees to receive reskilling benefits within their first employment year.

The war for talent continues as IT continues to play strategic roles in business. Best-practice organizations hire for talent and nurture it to manage increasing levels of ambiguity, risk, technical complexity, and organizational politics. As opposed to just hiring smart people, world-class CIOs break down talents into specific skills required for IT success. In addition to the typical human resources activities of creating proper job descriptions, educational prerequisites, experience requirements, and just-in-time opportunities to learn, key reskilling best practices include the following.

Skill Gap Analysis
Smart ITOs measure the proficiency of their talent against both internal and external standards across hard and soft skills. Market or competitive intelligence provides a skill baseline that is refined, taking into consideration industry, organizational maturity (e.g., CMM, Six Sigma), and customer norms. Our research reveals that many mature ITOs are adding soft-skill requirements, such as communication, teamwork, and initiative, to hard-skill positions (e.g., software engineer, database administrator, architect). Therefore, good gap analysis contains combinations of hard and soft skills, individual and team norms, and current and future objectives measured against quantifiable objectives.

With gap analysis, managers target specific skills for development, refreshment, and applicability to strategy. For example, instead of universally offering training to all employees, one public-sector CIO uses gap analysis to allocate scarce training dollars to reskill specific IT generalists into project and sourcing managers (high-value IT functions) whose skills align with the agency's mission to maximize outsourcing.

Skill Development Plans
From this thorough gap analysis, IT managers create skill development plans for each IT employee, including themselves. Highly mature ITOs divide their employees into A-, B-, and C-level players with specific orientations (e.g., executive, management, technical, and administrative tracks). Consistently high performers (A-level players) receive increased capital to refine skills and increased latitude to enhance organizational performance and innovation. Erratic high performers or average performers (B-level players) receive biweekly management coaching to stabilize and gradually increase performance to consistently higher levels. Mediocre or poorly performing employees (C-level players) are managed out.

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Because different situations may require different skills, knowledgeable CIOs ensure A-level performers know all the advanced techniques and skills required for their current and future positions. Reskilling keeps top performers cognizant of all tools in their toolkits. At minimum, good IT managers conduct quarterly follow-ups with employees to accelerate skill development.

Personality Measures
World-class ITOs holistically measure top-notch employees to include personality, emotion, and aptitude. Many firms are not satisfied with any type of high performer, because top performers can have fatal flaws. Personality flaws that run counter to an ITO's culture are managed to convergence (to harmonize with group culture), or managed out. Experienced CIOs examine the root causes and apply organizational development techniques to rapidly evolve behaviors to IT norms. Experienced firms practice one-on-one mentoring to accelerate total person development, especially with IT leaders.

Because motivated and talented people are 4x more productive than average employees, IT leadership teams purposefully strategize to increase organizational talent; they use proactive human capital management indicators; they avoid unrealistic expectations (employees must become superheroes) and "be like me" bias (employees should be nearly the same, friends, or family); and they purposefully build a human capital management center of excellence to recruit, retain, and reskill talent.

Business Impact: Purposeful human capital management strategies to increase "people talent" amplify the corporation's productivity, agility, and rate of growth.

Bottom Line: Reskilling is critical in the management, development, and utilization of a corporation's greatest asset - its people. CIOs have policies, processes, and infrastructures to define and refine the skills necessary for IT success.

META Group of Stamford, Conn., is a leading research and consulting firm, focusing on information technology and business transformation strategies. For more information, visit


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