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.
While I give Gayla tremendous credit for recognizing the soft skills, I’d like to point out 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, says that “there has never been a better time to be an IT professional”. We hear CIOs repeating that to their teams. But we need to be equipped with the right skills to be successful.
Having lived this as a long time CIO, I can deeply appreciate the core competencies required for IT to lead 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. For the purpose of this article, I’d like to emphasize two key points.
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 that 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 we simply can’t skip any steps.
For example, if IT is in Stage 1, as a basic Supplier of Services (or “keep the lights on”), they are typically not 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 emerging 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 demonstrate a culture of innovation. These teams have generally completed their Agile transformation and are consistently delivering rapid, measurable business value.
33 Years of Evidence
Our own experience at O&A, 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.
My experience as a long time CIO and trusted adviser to CEOs and Boards demonstrates the same pattern. We achieve excellent service and IT sees a dramatic improvement in their reputation with the business. We become better internal consultants and the business trusts us. And we demonstrate the real business value of IT and we gain the confidence of the business to move into a partnership and, eventually, leadership role.
I’ve done this numerous times and the formula just seems to work.
You NEED 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 has begun. 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 and making plans to develop people wherever possible, 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.
If you’re not looking three years ahead, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise. Watch for our upcoming article on IT Workforce Strategy for more on this topic.
And remember, your workforce strategy will have a lot of focus on those "soft skills", now considered the required core competencies.
Changing the Conversation
O&A focuses on Developing the Human Side of Technology. We prepare every member of the IT team to take their game to the next level, becoming Strategic Partners and Innovative Anticipators ™. We are changing the conversation about IT strategy, culture and talent by employing the new "core" competencies and an attitude of "we ARE the business."
For More Information
Today's leading executives are leveraging The IT Maturity Curve to change the conversation about IT strategy, culture and talent. Start your journey today! Call O&A at (603) 623-7373 or email Tracy Dinu at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn about the workshops mentioned above, or to see a sampling of each, visit the Unleashing the Power of IT page on our web site.
Have you ever noticed that the more you practice something the better you understand it? I experienced this with the Balanced Scorecard strategy management technique over the past 20 years.
I remember reading The Balanced Scorecard (Kaplan and Norton, 1996) and applying what I learned. A year later, I read it again and picked up new understanding. As I continued to apply the methodology, I would refer back to sections of the book and always learn something new.
One concept that always intrigued me was the idea that strategy transforms intangible assets into measurable financial results. What the heck did that mean? I probably skipped through that section the first couple of times that I read the book.
And then it hit me. Intangible assets refer to organizational capital (your culture), human capital (your people) and information capital (your data). Our strategy leverages these assets to create value for our clients and revenue for our business.
Information capital is probably the easiest to explain because most industry disruption, today, is based on technology or, more specifically, data. Let’s explore a couple of examples.
In the late 1990’s I worked for Reed Elsevier, one of the largest publishing companies in the world. We published, among many other titles, the Hotel and Travel Index, which was the “bible” of the travel agency industry. Microsoft approached us to see if they could use our database – the deepest and broadest source of hotel and destination information in the world. I then helped Microsoft create an online travel site called Expedia. Based on our data, Expedia became the world’s leading online travel company. Expedia transformed information capital, or data, into a new, fast, easy, inexpensive service for its customers and, ultimately, great value for its shareholders.
You can look at Amazon, Uber and Airbnb the same way. Like Expedia, they all transformed information capital into customer value and revenue. The key for all of these disrupters was that they used their information in new, unique ways to create value for their customers.
Organizational capital refers to your culture. If you ever stayed at a Four Seasons resort, you’ll probably never forget the level of customer service. And if you stayed at several Four Seasons resorts, you’re probably amazed at the culture of customer service that permeates their organization. The culture of customer service is central to the Four Seasons strategy.
Nordstrom has a similar culture of customer service. Zappos has a culture of happiness. Google has their rule about spending 20% of your time on anything you want, or searching your inner self. That’s embedded in their culture. Netflix has a famous culture of “freedom with responsibility”.
For each of these companies, and many more that are similarly driven, culture doesn’t just happen. It is central to their strategy. These companies transform their culture, organizational capital, into a great customer experience that drives revenue and profits.
Human capital refers to your people, with their unique skills, knowledge and experience. As your strategy brings your business to new heights, do you have the human capital to take that journey? I’ve seen too many organizations set lofty strategic objectives only to discover, after it’s too late, that they didn’t have the skills to achieve those goals.
Workforce strategy and talent development are getting more attention than ever. IT organizations, with the looming talent war, are becoming more and more sensitive to these.
Zappos, Four Seasons, Netflix and Google have created their own “culture brand”. Expedia, Amazon, Uber and Airbnb have created their unique “information brand”. What are you doing to create your Talent Brand?
Today’s competitive workforce demands personal development, internal mobility, and clarity of purpose. Companies seek higher levels of employee engagement and greater learning agility. When you put these together, you define your Talent Brand, which not only indicates how you transform human capital into tangible results but is also is crucial to recruiting and retention.
Transform Intangible Assets into Measurable Results
Efficient processes and strong technical skills are no longer sufficient to succeed, or survive, in this age of rapid disruption. Every organization has unique information, culture and talent – the intangible assets that are so often, sadly, omitted from strategy. If you are not leveraging these assets to differentiate or disrupt, then you are missing a huge opportunity and could be at risk of the next disrupter.
Changing the Conversation
O&A Unleashes the Power of IT by Developing the Human Side of Technology and Changing the Conversation About IT Strategy, Culture and Talent. Strategy, flawless execution, innovation and a service culture are fundamental requirements of every IT organization, and business, today. We prepare every member of the IT team to take their game to the next level, to move IT up the maturity curve to become the Strategic Partner and Innovative Anticipator (TM) that doesn’t just align with the business, but drives the business.
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