Way back in September, I promised a series of blogs addressing this subject. I had high hopes of delivering a post a week for five weeks on the topic. Needless to say . . . life interjected!
So here, a little later than planned, is the second post in the series.
Step 1 - Change where you work
If I had a thousand bucks for each time I’ve heard someone in technology management say “IT and the business,” I’d have retired long ago. And it’s not just something we hear in technology circles either. The plain truth is technology professionals have been using isolationist language for decades. I say isolationist because any time we refer to "IT and the business” as if they were two different entities, we are creating an artificial divide. As a department of the business, IT is very much part of “the business.”
When technology leaders create this divide between the technology group and the rest of the business, it separates their actions from the purpose of the business. Technology professionals start to see themselves as some sort of technology service provider to the business. But the truth is that the technology team should be integral to delivering value to the customer. If “the business” wanted a technology service provider, the leadership team would outsource IT. Unfortunately, one consequence of managing IT like a vendor is that it becomes much easier for the leadership team to make that outsourcing decision.
It was Sunday morning and I got up around 6:00 as I do most mornings, and picked up the Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition over a cup of coffee. I was moved by a story about middle-aged professionals struggling to find work for 3 years or more, and it got me thinking about how the role of I&O professionals is changing right now, who is at risk, and what skills will offer the best chances of staying employed (and hopefully happy) for years to come. Many of us are approaching or well into our 40s and beyond, and the older we get, the more difficult it can be to find new jobs.
How you are perceived by others matters most
I'm a strong believer that our employability (true for everyone - analysts included) is directly proportional to the perceived value that we provide to the people around us and those in the hierarchy that we are directly accountable to. Customer value that we create is a factor as are formal metrics, but let's face it, peer feedback often matters more than anything else in many organizations, and there is inevitably an invisible org chart in addition to the one drawn by HR. Few of us are lucky enough to work for companies where the measures of performance are clear and include a strong customer-focus component (I work for such a company, but it's not common) - let alone what behaviors and skills will give us the best shot at job security and growth. There are just so many variables.
Perception is a function of your mindset and daily conduct
Firstly, let me explain: I am not really a fan of Dolly Parton but I heard this song last night and this got me thinking further about my I&O FLB exclusive report on ‘Tomorrow’s I&O Leaders Require An Equal Blend Of Technology And Business Acumen,’ which addresses changing skills and recruitment practices. Specifically I asked myself:
“Do current I&O contracts of employment really support agile, customer centric IT operations?”
Now I know the majority of I&O professionals have never lived Dolly’s dream of ‘working 9 Till 5’ anyway but with the fast pace of technology innovation and demands by the business, will we see a time when I&O leaders ring the bell on current formal contracts of employment?
I also take into consideration that a signed employment contract is a legal requirement for a number of reasons but can I&O executives continue to state a set number of working hours, e.g., “you will work x hours per week” as a requirement? I am not advocating flexi-time contracts here but with I&O moving to customer-centric deliverables does this mean that I&O leadersneed to align contracts of employment to specific customer I&O services/deliverables and take into account the social lives of their employees?
As we move toward 2012, I can guarantee that many I&O leaders will have reviewed/defined what their strategy priorities are for the coming year, 3 years and maybe 5 years are. Hands up though: Who has had in-depth planning conversations around I&O people skill requirements?
I am not just talking about what technology skills are required to support these strategy initiatives but about I&O professional or soft skillsrequired to ensure that your I&O function survives and prospers during the evolution currently happening in the world of enterprise IT - How many hands are still up?
During a recent Forrester I&O Leadership Council meeting, I led an interactive session based on my recent I&O Council exclusive report entitled "Tomorrow’s I&O Leaders Require An Equal Blend Of Technology And Business Acumen." This session utilized the results of an I&O Council Leadership survey to analyze what skills are required by successful I&O leaders and which skills should I&O executives be looking for when recruiting high-performing teams. From a high level the results show the following:
The results may already be pretty clear to you but how will you develop business and industry experience personally? How will you work with HR to ensure that these skills are uncovered during future recruitment processes? Also take a look at the executive-level skill requirements - do you think that these are easily applicable to a CEO role as we progress through this decade?
Michael Masterson's book "Ready, Fire, Aim" is one of my favorites. Masterson, a serial entrepreneur who has built dozens of businesses, some to $100 million in revenue and beyond, explains that the biggest determiner between success and failure is how quickly we get going and execute…even if the plan isn't perfect. Spot on!
But, Masterson also takes great care to explain how critical (and often misunderstood) being truly "ready" is, and that "firing" without actually being ready is as bad as if not worse than delaying for perfection. So what do we do? Where do we draw the line when it comes to projects like client virtualization, with hundreds of moving parts, politics galore, and very little objective, unbiased information available?
Answer: The winners will get going today…now...and will get ready by talking to the people their work will ultimately serve, and learn enough about their needs and the technology and best practices to avoid the mistakes most likely to result in failure -- knowledge that they will acquire in less than 90 days. The fire process starts the moment they make an investment in new people or technology, and the aiming process continues through the life cycle of the service, steadily improving in value, effectiveness, and efficiency.