Communication, influence, innovative thinking, customer focus: They used to be called “soft skills,” a term that makes many CIOs cringe. But today, these are by no means “soft.” They’re some of IT's most-needed core competencies.
For a new two-part CIO Whisperers column, Dan Roberts spoke with Claus Jensen, CTO of CVS Health, Sue Kozik, CIO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, and Steve LeMoine, CIO of Cree, about the need for today’s IT employees to be “leaders, collaborators, visionaries,” as Jensen puts it.
In part one, Dan explores why the technical skills that earned you a seat at the table won’t earn you a voice at the table.
Read on to learn why IT must master a new set of core skills for high-level success.
In a new column for the St. Louis Business Journal, Greg Nichols, President of Technology Partners Inc., makes a compelling case for cultivating a strong pipeline of visionary IT leaders. “The lack of IT professionals with real business leadership experience is a challenge our region must meet to stay competitive,” he observes.
In fact, it’s a hard reality that’s affecting cities, communities, and regions across the country and around the world. That’s why we’re partnering with organizations like Technology Partners to launch The TechLX, an innovative six-month IT leadership development experience, in cities this fall.
Scott Livingston, manager of membership platform production support at HM Health Solutions, explains that it’s about building the abstract qualities that make leaders, not just managers. He credits his participation in a TechLX cohort in Pittsburgh for contributing to his recent promotion. “I’ve learned that what you can do is only as good as the people you surround yourself with and how much you can motivate them,” he says. “It’s about creating opportunities.”
Building the IT Hubs of the Future
The TechLX is launching cohorts this fall in Cleveland, Denver, Kansas City, Raleigh, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Sydney Australia.
Get in touch with us today to learn about available sponsorship opportunities for emerging tech leaders in these communities.
“Technology is the engine. If we don’t have the leadership pipeline, it’s not going to happen.”
That’s O&A’s Dan Roberts, talking with Technology Partners Founder Lisa Nichols recently about what we need to do to prepare our communities, leaders, and entire workforces for an increasingly disruptive world. Lisa caught up with Dan recently for an episode of her Something Extra podcast.
In a wide-ranging conversation about technology and what great leaders are doing to become trusted advisors in their organization, Dan and Lisa discussed how IT can deliver more strategic value, the importance of building a culture of learning agility, and why a “net-giver” mindset makes all the difference.
Listen to full episode here.
Find out more about the innovative Leadership Development Program mentioned in the podcast, and get in touch if you’d like more information about how to bring it to your community.
From talent magnet to business partner to official face of IT, today’s CIOs need to be communicating more than ever before. Great leaders rise to the occasion, armed with a learning mindset and the support of their IT communications partners.
That’s one of the big takeaways from the interviews O&A’s CEO Dan Roberts conducted with more than a dozen IT communications professionals at forward-thinking companies like Asurion, Boeing, and Dignity Health.
In part two of the two-part article for his CIO Whisperers column, Dan shares more lessons from these leaders and reveals how Claus Jensen, CTO of CVS Health, communicates his vision with authenticity and clarity.
Having studied CIO-led transformations over the past three decades, we’ve found that there’s a key differentiator that sets the best apart from all the rest: a strong Communications partner.
Along with the complexities and challenges of IT transformation, the overall business environment is escalating the need for future-focused Communications leadership that understands the strategic IT agenda.
There are a number of reasons why a strong IT Communications partner is particularly important today, including:
O&A’s CEO Dan Roberts recently interviewed IT Communications leaders at a number of successful companies to get an insider view of the role, from both a strategic and day-to-day level. Read part one of the takeaways in his CIO Whisperers column on how CIOs communicate success—and elevate their game.
Customer-centricity has become a hot buzzword across industries today, both in B2C and B2B companies. And there’s a good reason for that. Customer-obsessed organizations are winning.
But when we start to apply the concepts of customer-centricity and service excellence to IT organizations, we often find that CIOs and IT leaders don’t really understand what the terms mean in practice. So before we talk about what good service looks like for IT, we need to understand what good service doesn’t look like.
First, service is not subservience. It’s not about becoming submissive order-takers who deliver anything the client desires. IT cannot be all things to all people. You end up serving whoever screams the loudest — and satisfying no one.
But even though IT can’t do everything the client asks for, it can convey a willingness to serve, and it does this by addressing the client’s needs with respect and concern. If you’ve succeeded, the client walks away from the transaction interaction thinking, ‘‘I really like working with these people.’’
Second, service can’t spring from a negative atmosphere. Many IT organizations weave IT service into IT governance, and the result becomes an attempt by IT to impose what’s “best” onto the entire organization. While IT absolutely has to keep its eye on regulatory requirements, security best practices and infrastructure needs, if all the business sees is you being an obstacle to meeting bottom-line objectives, you’re only undercutting your own effectiveness.
The result of this negativity is that IT is seen as “the Department of No,” and IT sees the business as inconsiderate, unappreciative and “unable to survive a day without us.” That’s no way to build trust, credibility and respect. Unfortunately, many IT departments are hotbeds of negativity, where the staff feels undervalued, angry and victimized.
It’s no wonder, then, that when some IT leaders ask their staff to improve their service, the staff might glumly play a role that they think looks like good service but isn’t. Think of the store checkout clerk who asks without expression or eye contact whether you’ve found everything okay, or the false smile of the ﬂight attendant who tells you to have a good day. All of us can spot insincerity or indifference under a thin veneer of professionalism a mile away. And none of us likes it.
Good Service Looks Like This
From an IT point of view, the characteristics of good service include:
When IT views its mission not as maintaining an infrastructure and getting through a backlog of service tickets, but as partnering with line of business workers to make the entire enterprise successful, a change happens. Their problem is our problem. Their goals — to be more productive, to succeed in the market, to capture a new business opportunity — become our goals.
An IT Service Mindset at Work
What this reflects is a change in mindset that’s required to achieve service excellence. And it’s easiest to describe that change with examples. Here are a few that might resonate with you:
By contrast, the Promiser just says, ‘‘Yes,’’ ‘‘We can do that,’’ ‘‘We can do that, too,’’ and ‘‘Is there anything else you want us to do?’’
Both roles are played with the best of intentions — the Rule Master wants to manage expectations and protect the company, while the Promiser is trying to build good relationships. But you can get better results and better serve your customers by taking those best intentions and pointing them in the right direction. A shift in mindset makes it possible.
> Learn more about Achieving IT Service Excellence.
Most companies understand the value of brand, and many work diligently to define and elevate it. But most of the time, they’re only getting it half right. In addition to your consumer brand—how people feel about buying your products or services—there’s your employer brand.
Your employer brand is the internal and external perception of your company as a place to work. As Kevin Martin, Chief Research Officer for the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) explains, “Via our research and discussions with our Talent Acquisition Board members, it’s clear to us that an organization’s Employer Brand describes the experience of working at that organization and should be nuanced for both internal (employees) and external (candidates) audiences. In essence, it presents an aspirational truth about your organization.”
Organizations faced with digital transformation must consider employer brand equally as important as consumer brand.
While the companies that put the most effort into employer brand tend to be national or multinational enterprises, every company that relies on talent (in other words, every company) should be looking to improve its competitive position in the labor market. That means Top talent must be targeted, courted, retained and developed in much the same way that you pursue your most important customers.
4 Layers of Employer Brand
Consider the four essential pillars through which employer brand manifests itself:
1. Location: Different regions and cities across the United States have their own unique “microcultures.” In places like, Boston, for example ,these microcultures are meaningful even at a neighborhood level. Organizations in Cambridge, heavy in education, research, tech, and pharmaceuticals, do not have the same employer brand found in the Financial District.
The impact of location is huge, but not easily malleable. Still, there are ways to affect how location affects your business. John Deere and State Farm have funded college programs to grow the talent market in less-than-top-flight locations, to huge success. Providence, RI, benefits from its proximity to Boston, drawing talent from Harvard’s back yard with its 14 percent lower cost of living. On the other hand, GE’s move from Connecticut to Boston last year is another prime example of location in action. GE intentionally chose the city’s Seaport district to distance itself from manufacturing and position the company as a high-tech, innovative organization.
2. Industry: As GE knew and addressed in 2015, the best talent is attracted to industries in different ways. While GE could attract best and brightest mechanical and electrical engineers, industrial manufacturing is not an industry to which software engineers flock. GE shifted its talent focus to in two ways:
3. Role: Titles are important to us. Whether we like it or not, they facilitate, or hinder, social mobility. They open doors to new opportunity, new networks, and new lifestyles. Anecdotally, it’s much more common to hear people answer, “What do you do?” with, “I am a software architect at iTech …” than what was more common a generation ago: “I work for iTech.” The implication: I happen to be at this company right now, but my role is more important to me than the organization. The organization certainly adds (or subtracts) some gravitas, but employee mobility means what we do is fast eclipsing who we do it for.
The best way to ensure you’re reaching your target talent market is to advertise. And recognize that the primary advertisement for a role is the way you describe it in a job posting. If you’re looking for top talent to help digitally transform your organization but are using a templated job description from years ago, the best potential employees will ignore you.
Advertising doesn’t only happen externally. Shamim Mohammad, CIO and SVP at CarMax, speaks to the importance of advertising the contributions of individuals and teams, internally:
Companies all around the world are competing for top talent. To attract the best and brightest to CarMax, we’ve worked hard to share stories about how everyone on these CarMax product teams – from our empowered developers, product managers, data scientists and store experts – are driving the car buying experience of the future. Cultural alignment with new talent is essential for success, and we seek out strong candidates that embody CarMax’s values of integrity, transparency and respect.
Make sure HR is putting thought into the skills being requested. The skills your organization needs to complete its digital transformation are the same skills that will attract top talent and retain employees looking to grow their own career.
4. Individual: This one is somewhat nuanced, but nonetheless might be the most critical. Think of this as the likelihood your employees’ peers will want to come and work for you, and then identify the signals your employees’ peers see.
“Employer brand is a matter of perception, not reality,” notes Claus Jensen, CTO at Aetna. “Until you hire someone, they can’t really know what it is like to work here, so they are guided by general market perception and input from their personal network. What we can influence directly is the input from personal networks, in particular what current employees are saying about the place. Investing in your current talent helps attract new talent. Of course, the opposite is true as well!”
Focus on these three categories:
Employer brand not only attracts the best talent, it helps you retain your leading employees as well. Working on all four pillars—maximizing the value of your location, the appeal of your industry, how you “sell” roles within your organization, and how you turn employees into advocates for your brand—helps you attract and retain the talent that will carry your business forward, especially amid the challenges of digital transformation and disruption.
As i4cp’s Martin points out, “Marketing and HR need to work in partnership to ensure consistency of corporate and employer brand and awareness of what the ‘social’ sphere is saying about the company — its employer brand as perceived externally and internally.”
Ouellette & Associates works with companies of all sizes, across industries, to build and maintain their employer brand. Our SaaS Learning Experience Platform (LXP) for strategic workforce planning, IT Skill Builder, leverages timely labor market data to help you understand the competitive forces at play, advertise effectively, and bring transparency to employee development.
Schedule a demo of IT Skill Builder.
Sales is often called the heart of the organization, and its health is measured rigorously. Performance is measured in terms of business development, and tracked against both historic performance and ambitious projections. Yet just as sales revenue is essential to a business, talent is the lifeblood of the organization, vital to the performance of every function. And every business is looking to improve performance to stay competitive.
So, why isn’t talent development subject to the same scrutiny and expectations as business development?
For starters, we haven’t been forced to (yet). The “war for talent” we find ourselves in, when seen from a broader perspective, is an effect of Industry 4.0, and we’ve only dipped our toe in those waters. The confusion we see in the labor force now is small compared to what we’ll see as new technologies—artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, etc.—begin to be distributed at scale.
A second reason is that we haven’t learned to effectively measure talent development is that we view talent as static when we should see it as evolving. Human capital must evolve, where less valuable skills are regularly replaced by more valuable skills, to maximize the viability of the career and value to the organization. Those responsible for talent development should be measured on their ability to grow the employee base (as we would existing customers), and acquire new talent (as we would new market share).
A third inhibitor to measurable talent development: We haven’t standardized a method to measure and project human capital value. Business development is easy to measure, and the value is obvious. The same is true of talent, and the most successful organizations create proprietary methods of measuring and projecting its development. The important thing is not that we perfect the measurement, but that we can predict outcomes of our talent initiatives.
Finally, the HR function, like every other function in the modern enterprise, is changing. The implication should be obvious: In the same way we don’t have the skills we need in our workforce, we don’t have the skills we need in HR. We note the potential in data, and yet there has been a 6 percent increase in HR roles asking for big data skills, while the rest of the workforce has seen a 27 percent increase in such demand, according to recent data from Burning Glass Technologies’ Labor Insight. We need to apply the expectations of innovation and transformation to HR that we apply to the rest of our organization.
Taken in total, these four points indicate that HR has simply not kept up with the rapidly transforming culture, marketplace and technological era in which we live and work. HR needs to change its approach to talent development to be data driven and outcome oriented.
Updating Your Talent Development Approach
Your organization must act creatively about the way it measures talent development if it is to compete and win in the war for talent. We have the right model in business development, and here’s how we can apply the same principles.
Identify high-value skills for your organization. Do you need cryptography skills to protect digital assets in today’s cybersecurity arms race? Are those more valuable than project management skills? Identify which skills are strategically imperative so that you can build development plans to grow toward those targets.
Learning and development plans should function like strategic account plans. Target and measure your talent development plans on three core sales pillars:
Set appreciation goals for talent development, then monitor progression as you would a sales pipeline. Expect talent development to forecast future talent shape based on L&D rates, and reward talent development for internal mobility.
HR leaders trying to retool the business for an increasingly disrupted and technology-driven marketplace must look first at their own skill sets and methodologies, and then ensure that we can deliver the vision and execute the change that our businesses need.
Why do businesses consistently go to the trouble of hiring new workers instead of developing the talent they already have?
The reality is, hiring good talent—for skills as well as cultural fit—takes time. Onboarding slows down productivity and results. Not only that, looking externally for new talent feeds a perception that your company does not invest in employee career growth. That, in turn, reduces engagement and increases turnover, creating a vicious cycle.
Letting current workers’ skills “go stale” can also necessitate layoffs, hurting your employer brand and decreasing the morale and effectiveness of remaining staff.
So again, why does everyone prefer to hire? On the surface, it’s “easier.” A process already exists. “Talent alchemy,” on the other hand — the reshaping existing skill sets — is difficult to implement at scale. But with a little foresight, HR leaders can make internal talent development more successful and measurable.
Let’s look at three major inhibitors of internal talent investment.
1. We don’t know the current state of talent.
The vast majority of talent data accessible to organizations today is obsolete, missing, or wrong. A big part of the problem: Internal talent systems don’t inspire employees to share data. But it’s impossible to begin an effective retooling discussion without an accurate assessment of the tools our employees have.
Most talent development systems still rely on top-down management to incentivize employee adoption and utilization—which does not work. Instead, give employees a clear reason to participate: mobility, flexibility, career ownership, and advocacy from management in career mobility. The only way workforce planning works is when employees freely give you data, and people don’t give data unless their getting a lot in return.
Remember, while you’re apprehensive about how your business will remain competitive with its current skill sets, your employees have the same concern about their careers. So launch a program that delivers mutual benefit.
2. We don’t entirely understand what talent we need.
A hiring manager will tell HR what talents she needs (skills I require this person to have) to satisfy her user story (what I want this person to do). Too often, that list leaves the HR business partner in the dark about the full function of the role. That makes it difficult to effectively fill the position, especially from within.
Thus, we get the default pattern: That under-resourced hiring manager adds a few new skills to an out-of-date job description. (This helps assure that the role doesn’t challenge status quo on compensation structure, which is generally a whole other headache.) Now the HR partner is set up to search for the skills easiest to find, compromise on those skills that are most valuable, and deliver a new hire whose full function, actual value, and long-term potential he doesn’t clearly understand.
Instead, organizations should take the same scenario-planning approach to talent as they would any other investment. Competitive analysis, industry benchmarks, trend and projection data, and geographic availability drive better decision making. This level of diligence not only provides better insight into opportunities for internal training, it improves the hiring process, too.
3. We can’t measure the gap between the current and desired state of talent.
Today’s processes consider skills as a collection of equal, individual attributes. People can recognize thematic similarities between skills, but our systems and processes don’t. The scale of talent management forces organizations to look for exact matches on skills and competencies, rather than seeing approximations—and potential.
If you measure how many of your developers know Python, your system will overlook the developer whose competency in four other programming languages suggests she could quickly learn the new skill. And QA engineers will not describe their product management experience, but good test scripts are built on user stories and prioritization, two key elements of working in product.
Businesses can’t manage talent this way. Just deciding it’s easier to hire a Python developer for a key project, or bring in a new PM, dismisses the organizational and cultural knowledge existing employees would bring. And recognizing opportunities to develop internal talent lets you focus your hiring process on areas you genuinely can’t develop from within.
Transforming Talent Opportunities
Businesses have to evolve quickly against an ever-shifting technological landscape in which digital disruption is a constant fear. You can’t hire your way out of every strategic challenge, because a core requirement is a culture that adapts to change. For that, you must understand and develop your base of talent.
This approach comes with numerous positive side effects:
Ancient alchemists sought to turn lead into gold. Today’s HR leaders need to work a similar transformation, helping employees turn outdated skill sets into high-value new competencies. Fortunately, the process doesn’t have to be a mystery. It requires nothing more magical than a focus on the opportunities at hand.
Did you know that your company is a tech company?
In fact, today, every company is a tech company. The pace of technical innovation has made any business model that differentiated on service, physical assets, infrastructure, and even data ripe for fatal disruption. Technological innovation determines winners and losers in every industry.
But technological innovation is not just new software or new data. You need processes and people to use the software, to glean transformative insights from the data. That means that “digital transformation” is not just an IT strategy; it’s also an HR strategy. When Robert Leduc, president of Pratt and Whitney, opened 8,000 jobs in Connecticut, he told The Hartford Courant that it wasn’t keeping up with tech that troubled the aerospace manufacturer:
“The thing that keeps us up at night is, 'Are we going to have enough people, and are they going to have the right skill set?’”
So, what does a CEO need from HR to develop and deploy a technology-focused workforce strategy? There are three key elements: data, change management process guidelines, and employee adoption.
Data: Internal and External Perspectives
It’s well-documented that HR struggles with the quality and availability of people data. Industry estimates put the amount of “dark data” at 80-90 percent. HR needs to work out the tools and processes that will give it the cleanest, most complete data possible about its employees.
There are several questions that need to be answered when developing a holistic, data-driven workforce strategy:
Change Management: Turning Learning into Behavior
People analytics are great—organizations focused on digital transformation may put considerable effort behind improving their data. But that investment is only as valuable as the decisions and changes those insights drive. When you’re facing wholesale changes to the core function of HR, the real effort of implementing a workforce strategy lies in the day-to-day change management. Specifically, organizations must use analytics to align incentives properly.
Employee Adoption: Value Over Effort
Longstanding research has found that engaged employees are 22 percent more productive than their disengaged counterparts, and organizations with engaged employees see up to 25 percent higher profit margins. The bad news: Only 32 percent of U.S. workers are engaged.
Engagement is a key priority today, but workforce planning platforms aren’t always designed to support that outcome. Here are two critical criteria for evaluating the effectiveness of a potential workforce planning solution:
Every Job is a Tech Job
Digital innovation is redefining every business. Whether an organization is faced with a new challenge of securing its digital assets or a new delivery model, the impact on its talent requirements is broadly distributed across the entire organization. With every new innovation, organizations that have not invested in strategic workforce planning fall further behind their competition and face higher risk of disruption.
Successful organizations will recognize that this talent development must be informed by new data sources and driven by employee adoption. Because when you come down to it, every job is becoming a tech job.
Getting Strategic About Your IT Workforce Planning
IT Skill Builder is a strategic workforce planning platform that emphasizes data analytics, change management and employee adoption to attract, grow and retain the best talent. Want to see how it works? Click here to schedule a demo.
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