Gayla Andrews-Smith of Sprint recently published a great article titled “Why Soft Skills Matter for CIOs.” She quotes John Reed, Senior Executive Director with Robert Half Technology, and our friend Katie Ross, Executive Recruiting Partner at Heller Search Associates, a strategic partner of O&A.
This topic is of critical importance to all businesses, governments and educational institutions, and it happens to be the foundation of O&A for the past 30+ years. So let’s expand on what Gayla described.
First, while Gayla is spot-on for recognizing the soft skills, it’s also worth noting that there is nothing soft about them anymore. In fact, these skills are mandatory today to become world class.
The first line of our book Unleashing the Power of IT points out that “there has never been a better time to be an IT professional.” We hear CIOs repeating that to their teams all the time. But IT professionals need to be equipped with the right skills to be successful at leading the business through disruption and digital transformation.
Navigating the IT Maturity Curve
O&A conducted a year-long research study with Babson College, resulting in the IT Maturity Curve, a topic that we write and speak about quite often. There are two key points that deserve special emphasis in relation to your IT workforce strategy.
First, the Babson research showed us that it is no longer sufficient for a CIO to develop IT into a strategic partner. IT needs to be the Innovative Anticipator ™ that leads the business. This is reinforced by executive recruiters who tell us that boards expect the CIO to look around the corner and protect the business from disruption or, better yet, lead disruption and digital transformation.
Second, there are specific skills that must be developed across the IT organization to evolve through each stage of the Maturity Curve, and you simply can’t skip any steps.
For example, if IT is in Stage 1 as a basic Supplier of Services (in “keep the lights on” mode), it typically won’t be included in new business initiatives. But when these teams develop specific skills, including service excellence, project management and business requirements management, they become regarded as a Solution Provider — Stage 2 of the Maturity Curve.
The Stage 2 IT organization matures to Stage 3, Strategic Partner, when they excel at internal consulting — becoming a trusted adviser. They also develop the credibility to negotiate with their business partners to drive better strategic decisions. Another key to evolving from Stage 2 to Stage 3 is capturing and communicating metrics that are meaningful to the business. These teams are effective at communicating their contributions, or marketing the value of IT.
The Stage 3 Strategic Partners become Innovative Anticipators ™ at Stage 4 when they consistently lead change and establish a culture of innovation. These teams have generally completed their Agile transformation and are consistently delivering rapid, measurable business value.
Our own experience transforming thousands of IT organizations tells us that certain competencies are prerequisites to growing through the stages of the IT Maturity Curve. It’s no wonder that Achieving IT Service Excellence is our most popular workshop, followed closely by Internal Consulting Skills and Marketing Your Organization’s Value.
Your own experience probably bears this out: When you achieve excellent service, IT sees a dramatic improvement in their reputation with the business. When you become better internal consultants, the business trusts you. And when you demonstrate the real business value of IT, you gain the confidence of the business to move into a partnership and, eventually, leadership role.
You Won’t Get There Without an IT Workforce Strategy
The required competencies don’t just happen. You need a strategy to develop and continuously improve in these areas.
Whether your IT organization is at Stage 1 or Stage 4 or somewhere in between, now more than ever you need an IT workforce strategy. The talent war is underway. Many believe it will be more challenging then during the dot-com era. That makes sense with so much emphasis on digital transformation and disruption.
Leading CIOs are looking out three years and contemplating what their team will need to look like. They’re assessing talent, making plans to develop people and identifying the new roles that they’ll need to hire. These leaders are building their workforce, now, in anticipation of what the business will need in the next few years.
The reality is, if you’re not looking three years ahead, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise.
And remember, your workforce strategy will have a lot of focus on those “soft skills,” which are now considered the required core competencies.
Don’t go it alone: Get in touch for expert advice and help on building your disruption-proof IT workforce strategy.
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