One of the most enjoyable projects I’ve worked on in my IT career was creating an executive-level professional development and assessment program for the technical community at one of the leading UK employers. This project took place at the height of the pandemic, when many of us took the opportunity to review our careers and reassess our goals and priorities.
The program provides a structured path for an employer’s high-potential senior technical executives to achieve career progression to executive level, eventually reporting to CIO, CTO or CISO and leading high-level technology functions such as cloud, data, engineering and security.
The idea of a higher level career rank for a technical career path is not new. Indeed, many technology organizations such as Amazon, CISCO, Google, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Microsoft and others already use titles such as Distinguished Engineer, Distinguished Technologist or even Distinguished Designer to recognize the most experienced technical leaders. in these areas. Although titles and their usage are not universally adopted or well-defined, they generally indicate a higher-level technical career rank, usually with functional leadership authority and a very wide span of control, often reporting to senior executives at the level from the administration board.
What was the program I created?
The program I created with a UK client consisted of four distinct elements:
1. A standard for the assessment of knowledge, skills and behaviors.
2. A learning roadmap (formal and informal).
3. Mentoring support (SME peers and executive sponsors).
4. An evaluation model (formative and summative).
The program was designed as a reusable model for the accelerated career progression of high-potential senior technical executives and it provides a framework that other organizations could quickly adapt and adopt to their specific business environment; indeed, several other global companies have expressed keen interest in applying the same to their technical career paths while I was involved in its creation.
So what’s the opportunity here for BCS?
It’s been over ten years since I first qualified as a Certified Computer Professional (CITP), a professional registration mapped to the Competency Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) at Level 5 of the frame; Since then, I have undergone revalidation every five years. At the time of CITP’s launch, there was talk of a future SFIA Level 7 professional registration, but nothing came of it, well not yet. During this time, I would say the need for such a high level of professional registration has increased.
To note: SFIA Level 7 is defined by the shorthand ‘Strategy, Inspire, Engage’.
The advent of cloud computing and the accelerated digital transformation of commerce, industry, education, healthcare and government – driven by the COVID-19 pandemic – have highlighted the critical nature of technology in almost every aspect of our lives. Even before the pandemic, other global technology issues such as defence, information security, data privacy and the use of AI were already topics of daily debate at the highest levels of government and corporations. companies.
Despite this, very few organizations recognize the importance of technical leadership roles at the highest levels and only a few have a comprehensive career model for technology practitioners. Meanwhile, the pandemic has focused the attention of many employers who have belatedly recognized the need for job mobility, as the market for digital skills at all levels is under immense pressure. What some commentators call “the great resignation” has only intensified the need to attract, retain and develop top talent – in technical roles as well as elsewhere. Employers cannot get out of this “talent war” on hire – they must invest in the development of their own staff.
I believe the time is right for a BCS professional registration at Level 7 of the SFIA framework, a professional registration that recognizes the importance of senior IT leaders in setting strategy, inspiring the organization, its teams and its individuals to achieve business goals. and mobilization of organizational resources.
In short, I believe there is a need for a new chartered registration for technical executives that sets the standard and elevates aspirations.
What could a new registration approved at SFIA level 7 entail?
I’m not a fan of reinventing the wheel, especially when a short story has recently been produced, so I suggest relying on the four elements of the program outlined above. All elements can be met through a combination of existing standards, internal communities within organizations, BCS special interest groups, third-party learning content, and company-specific professional development activities. Let’s explore each of the elements of the program in a little more detail, starting with the standard.
A standard for the assessment of knowledge, skills and behaviors
The defining aspect of the program is that of a clear standard against which potential candidates can be identified, developed and progressively assessed, but where do you start with the standards?
The Competency Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) already provides seven progressive levels of competence within the IT profession, with crystal clear definitions of knowledge influence, autonomy, complexity and business skills at each level. SFIA has been around for over 20 years and is widely used worldwide by industry, government and academia – it is robust, reliable and with the recent announcement of SFIA version 8 it is also up to date . However, SFIA alone is not enough, as it only includes technical skills and underlying knowledge; it does not cover business skills or behaviors at the executive level.
To bridge the gap between the behavioral standards of competencies at the leadership level, I recommend the BCS Standard for Distinguished Engineers, which was developed under the guidance of former BCS President Paul Martynenko. This standard defines the skills and behaviors required to progress to the highest levels of the company, including:
- executive presence
- strategic influence
- business overview
- professional eminence
- technical direction
- thought leadership
In the case of the program I created, I also used my former employer’s experience in developing and implementing a similar technical leadership program over the past two and a half decades, to define the specific evidence required for the assessment of these skills and behaviours. The program in question has already led to the appointment of more than 1,300 executive-level IT managers, some of whom have gone on to create new companies or reach C-level positions.
The combination of these three aspects: SFIA, BCS standards and the experience acquired during more than 25 years of implementation at a single employer, results in a clear standard for identifying, developing and evaluating the high-potential technical leaders.
The next element is that of a learning roadmap to support candidates in their progression towards an appointment at the executive level.
A learning roadmap (formal and informal)
Developing senior technical executives to become C-level executives does not mean that they must acquire deeper or broader technical skills, nor does it involve the revalidation of skills they have already demonstrated, but rather the development of skills and executive behaviors identified in the standard. with formal and informal learning activities.
There are a myriad of learning programs readily available in the market to support formal and formal learning on these topics from vendors like Harvard Business Review, LinkedIn Learning, Korn Ferry, and others. Many large organizations already have high-potential leadership programs in place that can be quickly adopted, perhaps with the addition of selected content on technical leadership skills, case studies, extended assignments and observation at the workplace.
Nothing replaces experience; Opportunities to engage in projects (internal and external) that expose candidates to new and challenging environments are part of the learning roadmap. The candidate’s contribution to these projects should be observed and the candidate should be asked to set learning goals with a mentor and to reflect on what they have learned and how they will apply the knowledge at the end of each mission. It is also recommended that applicants create and maintain their own record of development activities as they progress through the roadmap.
A comprehensive learning roadmap will also support the development of professional eminence through activities such as writing articles, publishing, speaking at conferences, engaging with external professional bodies and perhaps communication with the press and the media.
Branches, specialist groups and events provide plenty of opportunities for senior technical leaders to learn about other organizations in their own industry and beyond, with opportunities for public speaking, panel discussions, etc
NOW magazine offers a great way to publish thought leadership stories and build professional eminence. Blogging is a quick and cost-effective way to raise a technical professional’s profile in the wider IT profession, as is engagement through social media (eg, LinkedIn).