Let's face it, IT often suffers from a bad reputation. And in many cases it's well deserved. Over the years many IT leaders attempted to change IT's reputation by empowering other departments to dictate what IT should be doing — and in the process they became order-takers. And the portfolio of projects from well-meaning business leaders mushroomed. To cope with the overwhelming demand, IT established rigorous process around governance, forming committees with the power to determine what IT works on. And almost inevitably, many of these committees are bogged down by politics — meaning IT is not always working on the right things — and at the same time slowing down the whole pace of change. No wonder then that many people across the business spectrum view their own IT group as a slow, unresponsive impediment to getting things done.
But CIOs the world over are actively engaged with their leadership teams in changing IT's reputation. The goal for these CIOs is to shift IT from order-taker to business-partner, helping shape future business strategy and using technology to increase the value their organization brings to the end customers of the business.
This transition is not easy. Nor is it guaranteed to work. Sometimes an IT organization's employees are simply unwilling or unable to embrace the change. Sometimes the reputation of IT is so sullied that nothing short of a cold-reboot will work (organizations going down this route will start by outsourcing all of IT, then they gradually hire back key skills needed to derive more effective business outcomes).
There have already been plenty of articles written on the importance of creativity in the workforce. Assuming you buy into the importance of attracting creative types to your team, you will have an understanding of what to look for in hiring creative people. And then you will face the challenge of keeping these people on your team. I see this as a challenge because I don't believe our typical individual performance metrics are well suited to measuring creative individuals.
Consider some of the common metrics used to assess individual employee performance: on-time task completion; task management; completion of specific goals; project management — all of these measures are heavily geared toward favoring individuals who have a natural ability to be well-organized, methodical and goal-oriented. Perhaps this describes your ideal employee.
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?
A recent email got my attention. It highlighted a blog post on the MIT Technology Review website about a video from RSA Animate (copied below) illustrating a lecture by Dan Pink (@danielpink on Twitter): "The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us," based on his book of the same name.
What got my attention? We need to stop rewarding with a carrot and threatening with a stick. The video highlights multiple research findings that suggest knowledge workers are more motivated by autonomy, mastery and purpose than by financial reward. Pink suggests that financial incentives may actually have a detrimental impact on performance under certain circumstances. (The research suggests money is a motivator for purely mechanical tasks but as soon as some level of cognitive processing is required to complete the task, money is secondary to other factors.)
I was recently asked about the importance of selling skills for CIOs - does a CIO need to be a good salesperson? It seems to me the answer to this should be a resounding yes. After all, IT executives need to be able to sell themselves effectively in order to attain the heights of the C-Suite. Great CIOs must be great communicators, capable of delivering a compelling presentation or a memorable speech, and inspiring others to follow them.
But what of sales skills beyond being a good presenter? Since many sales skills are focused on understanding people and connecting with them, I've found sales training to be highly effective on two levels:
Developing better listening skills. One of the first things you learn as a salesperson is not how to make a pitch, but how to listen to a customer - only by listening can a good salesperson effectively satisfy the needs of a prospect/customer.
Understanding how products/services meet the customer needs. Salespeople spend a lot of time learning about a firm's products and services; they learn how they meet the various customer needs and they learn how to present them in the best light.
So go ahead and sign up for the next sales training class being run in your organization - you may be pleasantly surprised!
Are CIOs the only people in IT needing sales skills?
I'd like to make the case for putting everyone in IT through sales training - here's why: