Talent truth bombs and eye-opening stats from the 2022 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium

This article was written by Ginny Hamilton.

As the CIO role continues to evolve, there’s one constant: The MIT Sloan CIO Symposium. Known for blending academic insights with the real-world experiences of CIOs and other technology executives, this year’s event tackled some of the thorniest issues IT leaders are facing today – from cybersecurity to the Great Resignation. 

MIT CIO Symposium 2022

In its 19th year, the annual event was back in-person this week on the MIT campus in Cambridge, MA, after surviving two virtual editions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s a rundown of some of the topics discussed at this year’s event. 

Starting with eye-opening stats 

On Cybersecurity: The average cyber attack goes more than 200 days before being discovered, said Stuart Madnick, founding director of Cybersecurity at MIT Sloan (CAMS). 

On Cloud: The cloud has created over $1 trillion in benefits that are up for grabs in this decade (thanks to cost-optimization and value-oriented business use cases), said McKinsey & Company Senior Partner Steve Van Kuiken, citing McKinsey research. He noted that early adopters will get a disproportionate amount of cloud value.

On Talent Development: HR spends three times as much time on talent acquisition as it does on all of talent development, said Mercer’s U.S. Transformation Leader Melissa Swift, citing Mercer research. 

On Hiring: By reimagining the way it hires talent using Design Thinking, a public sector company reduced its hiring process from 90 days to under 10 business days from first touch to extending an offer, said McKinsey & Company Partner Suman Thareja, citing an example from a client she worked with. 

The new sexiest job of the 21st century 

Now let’s turn to a prediction. In discussing technology trends in the next decade, Sabre Hospitality CTO Eben Hewit cited a sobering reality of the NFT market – the infamous auction of Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s first tweet. Hewit reminded the audience that it originally sold for $2.9 million in 2021, but less than a year later, the NFT only received a high bid of $280 when it went up for auction. 

“It questions the very meaning of a fundamental word that we say 100 times a week: What is ‘value?’” Hewit said. 

Hewit used this example to segue into a prediction about a unique C-Level role that he teased could displace data scientist as the sexiest job of the 21st century: The Chief Philosopher. As Hewit described it, the job could play a pivotal role in removing machine learning bias. For example, Hewit said the Chief Philosopher could be in charge of making sure machine learning algorithms are trained correctly to avoid demographic biometric and racial facial recognition biases. 

Talent experts share their pet peeves 

Up next, pet peeves. We all have them. One speaker referenced how much she dislikes hearing anyone in IT refer to people working in business units as their “customers.” Using that word results in business leaders thinking of IT as their “vendors,” she said, and drawing laughs from the audience when she jokingly added: “And we all know how we treat our vendors.”  

Panelists for the Mastering Talent & Learning in Today’s Digital Ecosystems discussion got to air their pet peeves when moderator George Westerman asked them a light-hearted, yet poignant question: What is something simple that people say that sounds nice, but just isn’t? 

Here’s how they responded:

  • “We just need a better HR team,” said Wafaa Mamilli, EVP and Chief Information & Digital Officer at Zoetis, a global animal health company that has begun incentivizing some leaders to actively engage in talent development on their teams. 
  • “We hire for potential,” said McKinsey’s Thareja (who also referenced the earlier stat I cited about reducing a client’s hiring process down to 10 days). 
  • “We just need the right curriculum,” said Mercer’s Swift (who shared the eye-opening stat above about how much time HR spends on hiring versus learning). 

Dropping talent truth bombs

More importantly, these panelists engaged in an hour-long discussion worth the admission price, debunking many of the myths around hiring and training talent. Among the truth bombs they dropped:

Organizations spend a lot of time understanding the skills of a person they’re recruiting. But once they hire them, those employees are “a little forgotten until it’s time for them to become a people leader,” noted Thareja, who explained it’s only then that they get plugged into training. Depending on how long it takes an early-career professional to work their way up the ladder, that means it could be years before anyone zeroes in on training and understanding their skills again. 

One potential solution is to incentivize business leaders to make talent development a formal part of their job, said Mamilli, who noted that the responsibility shouldn’t fall solely to HR. Without incentives, it’s too easy for talent development to become the last thing leaders take care of or the first thing they drop if they become overloaded, she said. 

Another pain point the panel addressed is the question of why companies seem to be quick to hire talent externally versus filling roles with internal candidates. Swift noted that many companies struggle with a simple skills inventory – they aren’t good at defining the skills they’re seeking and identifying employees who may have them. The problem is exacerbated when a boss doesn’t understand the work an employee is doing. In that scenario, the boss likely doesn’t understand the skills required to do the work. This can be especially challenging with technical roles. All of those gaps make it easier for employers to go out and seek talent externally, Swift said. 

What is this all for?

Finally, I have to share this deep question that came up during the technology trends panel. 

When Hewit was asked to make a prediction about the future of the travel industry, the Sabre Hospitality CTO predictably said he’s hopeful the recent upward trend will continue, certainly because it will be good for the industry he works in, but also because he hopes that “people like seeing each other again.”  

Then, he poignantly added: “Because if they don’t, what is this all for?” 

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