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How can CIOs improve their IT mentorship programs?

According to Deloitte's Anjali Shaikh, CIOs are no better than their C-suite peers at mentoring. An IT talent shortage demands CIOs do better. Here's how.

The best executives know they're only as good as their teams, yet many organizations fail to implement effective programs to develop their bench strength.

Anjali Shaikh, senior manager, CIO program, at Deloitte Consulting LLP, said IT leaders are no better than their C-suite colleagues at launching mentoring programs that can build up their next generation of managers and leaders.

Shaikh, co-author of the recent report "Cracking the code: How CIOs are redefining mentorship to advance diversity and inclusion," offered her thoughts on how CIOs can do better.

Editor's note: The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Why do CIOs need to get better at developing IT mentorship programs?

Anjali Shaikh: One of the biggest things is what we label the IT talent war. In the conversations we have with CIOs, IT talent is identified as one of the top technology challenges today; 60% of CIOs from our global CIO survey last year reported that finding top IT talent is their No. 1 challenge. CIOs have the most difficulty finding talent in the top technologies: analytics, cybersecurity, all the emerging technologies.

Anjali ShaikhAnjali Shaikh

But that's not all. It's not, 'Let me find just deep technical experience or an experienced technologist;' it's also augmenting that technology expertise with soft skills. That includes creativity, cognitive flexibility and the emotional intelligence they'll need to effectively collaborate with the business. We're seeing organizations, especially the most successful organizations, really adopt a technology-led business-enabled mindset to drive transformation and growth. And without this balance of skills within their IT workforce, CIOs are going to struggle. We're shifting the mindset of what is a true technologist in an IT organization, and that's where diversity and inclusion really matter.

What are CIOs doing around IT mentorship?

Shaikh: When we started diving into what IT mentorship means, especially in how it's unique to IT, we found that it came in many different forms. It came in peer-to-peer mentorship. You see the traditional top-down mentorship. You see mentorship in the moment, so just a hallway conversation that motivates somebody. And then you also see cross-functional mentorship, so by that we mean pairing a technologist with someone on the business side to get that business perspective and experience.

Should CIOs institute formal IT mentorship programs?

Shaikh: The jury is out on whether it should be formal, informal or a blend of both.

In my conversations with CIOs, I hear that [people] sometimes get paired up in a formal mentor-mentee relationship and there's no natural chemistry. So, how effective is that? How can that be effective versus an informal mentorship relationship where somebody you've been working with just naturally gravitates to you?

What's a common mistake you see with formal IT mentoring programs?

Shaikh: Sometimes it relies on one person, maybe somebody who has a direct role between HR/talent and IT, who then owns [responsibility for] the diversity mandate or the mentorship mandate.

But what we found is when you make it a part of the IT culture, where a mentorship and sponsorship program is something that's advocated for -- and where there are metrics built around it -- that is actually much more effective.

Diversity in tech

Read Anjali Shaikh's expert advice on how gender and minority diversity relate to the current IT talent shortage in "Why is diversity in tech becoming a CIO issue?"

What should CIOs be doing differently when developing an IT mentorship program?

Shaikh: Mentorship and sponsorship programs have been around as long as organizations historically have looked at talent strategy and talent models and at bringing rising stars along. But CIOs should really be looking to encourage these conversations to happen naturally. They need to make sure they're educating the IT leadership team, and also the levels below that executive leadership team, to think through the benefits of mentorship. And CIOs should be giving employees and staff the room to do it. They need to build [an IT mentorship] culture.

What other steps should CIOs take to ensure their IT mentorship program yields value?

Shaikh: CIOs can look at what their organizations are already doing across the entire enterprise and look at what they're doing within their own IT organizations. If it's a formal mentorship program, then making it more tangible and measuring progress is important, as is holding leaders accountable. Also, they should be making sure it's not so rigid that you lose flexibility around it, because it's not a one-size-fits-all kind of program. And individuals at all levels should be able to volunteer and say, 'This is important to me and I want to help lead it.' So, CIOs should be giving people opportunities to help shape the IT mentoring program versus the program being something that's pushed down from the top.

So, encouraging programs that are inclusive along with that mentorship is really important.

It's making it tangible, formal, measuring progress, giving people the opportunity to raise their hands, holding leadership accountable, making people feel included and remembering it's not a one-size-fits-all program.

How should a CIO measure success?

Shaikh: I think that needs to be tied to the outcomes, both from the mentor side and the mentee side. So, it's important to outline upfront the goals of the relationship and have progress checks along the way. Both the mentor and mentee should be held accountable to their metrics timelines, their outcomes and their responsibilities of that relationship. What we find is that, oftentimes, this is where the programs fall short. You assign someone a mentee and a mentor and there's no follow-up on measuring progress. Did the actual outcomes that both the mentor and mentee want out of that relationship actually happen during the established timeline? Accountability is key there.

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