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Are You Building Bench Strength?

May 29, 2009
by Tim Tolan
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Don't be caught on the sidelines when IT talent is needed for the game - it's time to start building that bench

Over the past six to 12 months, most of us have grown tired reading about the negative economic environment, layoffs and hiring freezes. Although HIT is a segment that has added talent and been somewhat less affected, many organizations have throttled back on hiring until the financial markets are more stable. Many CIOs are delivering projects, implementing new systems and IT infrastructure, and maintaining legacy systems with fewer technology resources than ever before.

That is about to change.

In sports, the starting lineup always gets to see action when the whistle blows to start the game. They usually stay in the game as long as they are needed. The bench players, meanwhile, rarely see much action unless there is an injury, or the score is so lopsided that the risk is minimal to give the second string players a few minutes of playing time to gain experience they will need later.

As CIO, you don't have the luxury of having a “bench” without having the expense of paying for additional IT players. But, it may be time to start building that bench, as the future of our industry is starting to look much brighter in the months ahead. We may just be few quarters away from some very explosive growth.

Unless the tea leaves are telling us something different, we need to start acquiring new talent as a result of the stimulus package and other drivers. It may be time to start building a strong bench now for the healthcare IT tsunami that lies ahead. Although fiscal budgets are firm, this is a very good time to begin networking your way to having a stable of IT professionals once you get the budget dollars you need to hire talent. The cost for being proactive in advance of your hiring needs is free. In today's economy, free is good. It is truly all about proactive networking.

You probably have some idea of the economic impact the stimulus bill will have on your organization, and the timing of those dollars becoming available is fairly straightforward. However, it is not a good strategy to sit on the sidelines and wait until the last minute to react.

Here are a few tips to help you to become proactive and start building a bench without spending unallocated dollars:

  • Review your current organizational chart to see where you will likely need to add or upgrade talent. Where are the holes? The weaknesses? Where are the opportunities?

  • Dust off your Rolodex or power up your PDA and call old friends, former colleagues and connect. Call them now - not when you are desperate. Ask them about their hiring plans.

  • Schedule a meeting with your HR counterpart. Discuss a strategy on how quickly they can engage to help you when it's time to start hiring.

  • Call a search firm you have used in the past to get a sense of the talent pool they are working with. Try to get a feel of what they are seeing on the horizon. Make sure they can be ready to help well in advance of the engagement letter being signed.

  • Make sure you have a social networking strategy in play. Sites like LinkedIn are a great way to keep your network stay current and to expand your network. LinkedIn has plenty of healthcare IT groups you can join - sign up now (try It only takes minutes to build your profile.

It takes planning and being proactive to take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead. You need a strong talent bench that you should assemble before the need arises. Your competition is probably already in planning mode; what is your plan?

Let the games begin.

Tim Tolan is senior partner at Sanford Rose Associates Healthcare IT Practice. Tolan can be reached at, or at 843-579-3077, x 301. His blog can be found at
Healthcare Informatics 2009 June;26(6):94