7 principles for modern tech leaders

William Peachey

A new trend has emerged: tech leaders as tech talent orchestrators

Ten years ago, tech leaders focused on procurement and running data centers and networks. 80% of the spend was directed at supporting legacy; managing software licenses was a major task. But the advent of cloud freed up the tech leader’s agenda for the new. And the new is talent.

Typically, the tech leader delegates support functions aimed at shaping people (L&D), supplying people (recruit and subcontract), and mapping people’s skills and competences (HR). But because of the speed and scope of technological change, and the scarcity of skills in the market, tech leaders are stepping up to “in-source” these responsibilities.

There are seven key principles for taking control of the operational requirements to fulfill the new function of the tech leader successfully.

1. Take inventory

Your tech people are more than their HR record. This data is important, but it doesn’t tell the full story. We also need to capture project experience, current (not recruited) CV, and the set of skills and roles your people have—and aspire to.

If we are going to get this level of data about our people, they need to be sufficiently invested in the idea of building their skills. And, they need to be given the time and tools to do so.

As humans, we respond well if we can see a path—a role—that we can follow and grow into. Help your people move in the right direction; mandate at least one unique path for each individual to simplify progression of skills. Give them visibility to the new opportunities available to them once they acquire their new skills.

Engage and use their records as you review and plan for the future, so your teams get used to their profiles being used and valued. At Capgemini, we have mobile and web apps to make this process easy. Our people own their profiles and are required to keep it up to date.

2. Gain confidence

Have you ever met a person who professes to be an expert, and then asked yourself, “But how can I be sure they are?” This is one of the reasons why relationships are so important. We build trust over time and then give that gift to others through our endorsement.

But in big organizations, open hiring markets or gig economies, the inability to scale relationships leads us to ask, “How do we become confident in the capability of others when we don’t know them?”

Endorsing and testing skills are the most reliable ways to gain confidence in individuals. Endorsements are suitable for relational skills; testing is a better choice for discrete technical skills.

How do we become confident in the capability of others when we don’t know them?

3. Look ahead

Look beyond the two-month hiring pipeline because projects are not only filled by hiring. Rotation, progression and upskilling are better sources to fill project roles.

With a clear view of your plan, you can help your team build the skills they will need, understand where you need to hire to enable rotation and know when you need to bring people in from the gig economy to address tactical gaps. This strategy was instrumental in our ability to reskill service delivery masters—many of whom had been in their role for nearly 20 years—into much needed service management consultants.

Knowing the gap between the skills you have and those you need is key to strategically building skills, developing teams and shaping an ambition for the future of the team.

4. Make the case to build

When making the case to build, there are four dimensions to consider:

  • Upskill: Are there assignments in the queue that require skills other than the ones available team members currently have?
  • Defer the cost of hire: How much would you pay to hire someone with the skill needed to do the assignment? Remember to include the cost of a recruiter, interviewing, testing, onboarding and ramp-up. You might find that your attrition of new hires in the first year is higher than the average rate of attrition.
  • Reskill: If someone has a particular set of skills that don’t align to the needs of your future work, reskilling could be considered as part of a different budget, and is even covered by tax rebates in some countries.
  • Rotate up: If you train this person to move into a new role, is there an opportunity to move a more junior person into the newly available spot?  Bringing on people at the start of their career is vital for budgeting and efficiency, and provides an opportunity to shape a diverse and inclusive team.

5. Grow talent, don’t hire it

If we see the benefit of training people into new roles, then we need to control the capacity for managers to hire. This enables a strong tech leader to manage rotation and progression, hire juniors to grow within the organization and build dynamic teams.

First, hiring must follow rotation. Tech leaders are accountable for identifying people to rotate and the assignments to rotate them into. With planning, there is time for your people to train into the new role and to backfill the open one.

Next, agree on a plan for exception management. Set a hiring limit for each team (the FIX) and define the requirements for approving additional hires (the FLEX). This enables team leads to have control while continuing to rotate and build their people. Having a process to manage exceptions has been helpful to us at Capgemini, especially when it comes to hiring software engineers. Good engineers are always needed, and a formal exception plan has helped us create better outcomes.

Bringing on people at the start of their career is vital for budgeting and efficiency, and provides an opportunity to share a diverse and inclusive team.

6. Align skills

You need to be able to assemble and disassemble teams, keep track of who is working on which projects, know when your people have completed their work, and plan for what they do next. Your people need a safe harbor to land in when they are not actively working on a project. The safe-harbor practice gives them a “home” in which to build their skills.

To organize around practice with a team of more than 20 people, you need a work planning platform. Effective allocation and tracking ensure you have the right person in the right place at the right time, minimizes travel helps you discover the skills available, and provides stretch opportunities for staff. You may consider an AI engine to read and match CVs and demand descriptions across the group, with filtering to narrow down and find the best person for the job. This capability is common in recruiting, but less so in staffing and rotation. Make it part of your practice.

7. Measure effectiveness

Approach the job of building and managing tech people with the same data-centric approach used to manage operations: observe operations, improve efficiency of development and deployment, and measure and improve outcomes.

The previous six themes establish the foundation for effectiveness measures. If the tech team is using a unified or extended development management platform like Git or Rational, then velocity and release can be measured, along with how the team collaborates and addresses issues.

One approach to improve the effectiveness of roles and teams that cannot be simply tested is to assess by dimensions. The work of Jonathan Kessel-Fell, an Agile coach at Capgemini, along with the Agile Leadership model, gives rise to the kind of structure that can bring new ways of thinking and working. In the Agile Leadership model, each dimension provides a way to review capabilities and gain feedback.

Once we mix people who have skills that are easily measured in terms of effectiveness, and those who have skills that are not, we need to introduce a sense of purpose and effectiveness to drive these together. Multidimensional assessments are a good way to address this need.

The future of tech leadership is here

Your new focus on tech talent is driven by the speed and strategic imperative of digital transformation, agile working and new expectations. Those that win at this will have the systems and tools in place to be able to manage the magnitude of such a strategy and deliver speed and value as your organization transforms. In short, they will be adept at getting the right person, in the right place, at the right time.

William Peachey is the Executive Vice President responsible for People Supply Chain (PSC) at Capgemini S.A., leading the global staffing function responsible for putting the right people, in the right place, at the right time.

Prior to Capgemini, William worked at IBM Professional Services as an engineer, architect and practice leader. Before joining IBM, he earned a master’s degree in economics and spent four years working as an economist.