Home > IT Management, Management, People Management > Building an IT Team: What are the IT Competencies?

Building an IT Team: What are the IT Competencies?

It’s not so often that one has the opportunity to (re-)build an organization. It’s equally seldom that you have that chance to do it twice. Now you might be thinking that for me to post about this, some brown stuff has hit the proverbial fan. Eh, well, hmmm, sort of – FUBAR has become SNAFU and turned into BAU for quite some time now. Yet, I’m not drinking the ubiquitous management Kool-Aid here as I honestly view this as a golden opportunity to follow a famous Drucker maxim:

Management is doing things right, leadership is doing the right things.

Yay! I get to kill two birds with one stone! (And try again not to screw it up big time, lucky me!).

So, if you have any self-awareness of the enormity of the situation, you might be like me at the present moment – experiencing a veritable “Extra-Strength Tylenol Moment”.
Tylenol! Tylenol! My head hurts!
We’re in serious business (excuse the pun) here because if you don’t do it right, imagine the so-called “The Day After” scenario. (Ok, I grant you I’m spouting hyperbole here, but…) I’ve no doubt having lived through FUBAR’ed (re-)organizations to know that if you don’t get it right, the “total cost of implementation” is very real in minus territory (like most of the world’s stock markets at the moment) starting from the talent fleeing from the “tyranny” of a failed organizational change.

Where is the right starting point? Is it, as I wrote, “Balancing organizational sustainability is not about getting a team of “A-players” but a diverse mix of skills, capabilities, expertise, personalities togethers as broadly and deeply as possible.” quoted from here.

Or, is it following Drucker’s systems approach – Jim Stroup’s First things First blog post sums up nicely the three key starting questions:

Q1: “In what area is excellence required to obtain the company’s objectives?”
Q2: “In what areas would lack of performance endanger the results, if not the survival, of the enterprise?”
Q3: “What are the values that are truly important to us in this company?”

Alternatively, how about Vaughan Merlyn’s thought provoking blog post from itorganization2017 called Fresh Approaches to IT Leadership Competency Assessment on building the right business focused IT organization (which mine is)? He lists out 4 major points for the IT manager to carefully consider:

    • In terms of leadership competencies, they are looking for leaders who are always sensing in anticipation of business needs and are able to identify and clearly articulate opportunities in and out of the function. They want people who are sensitive to how the organization functions, can position initiatives effectively, and are experienced leading organizational change on a broad basis. The breakout competencies revolve around demonstrating strategic agility and driving innovation.
    • In terms of technical competencies, the focus is on taking the business partner relationship to a different level, proactively planning and creating new, innovative, even transformational ways to create business value through technology. Using their knowledge about the business, these leaders can leverage technology for revenue generation, not just automation and cost reduction. The breakout competency is clearly relationship management.
    • In terms of personal competencies, collaboration takes on new meaning – it’s about developing networks and building alliances across boundaries; routinely contributing to and drawing from others to inform, influence, create, and leverage ideas and services. And traditional ‘management of others’ competencies give way to a competency that enables talent flexibility and engagement. It’s about creating a well supported process for assessing and developing talent to fill an ‘on demand’ pipeline; quickly and seamlessly moving talent in a ‘marketplace’ approach; and engaging talent in a way that enables them to deliver a signature customer experience. And the talent we are speaking about? Well, they may or may not be employees.
    • The Importance of developing a global mindset amongst the IT talent.

Starting from Merlyn’s line of inquiry, there’s some obvious truths which to me aren’t just for IT folks’ benefit to adopt. Firstly, in leadership competencies, it’s certainly true that having good commercial or business sense is a must for today’s manager. Being a pure “functionalist” is just being another subject matter expert. Consulting might then be the better career track for those individuals. IT managers we know cannot survive relying on technology know-how. That know-how must serve the business interests and help achieve the business objectives in growing the top line or reducing the bottom line.

Secondly, technical competency is a question of which (1) information technologies and (2) technical technologies, the two components of Information Technology. Being a pure technology specialist is an IT manager masquerading as a CTO. By the same token, being an IT manager knowing only about information technologies is a management consultant by any other name. A true IT manager, the Career Is Over guy, is one who can utilize both sides of the same coin to enable business successs.

One can argue that purely speaking, IT competencies fall in either of those two components. The first one about leadership is more or less a management competency, not an IT competency per se – assuming that any manager must have business and commercial knowledge to effectively manage. I believe strongly this is fairly good assumption.

Third point on personal competencies – definitely need ability to work collaboratively as well as cross-functionally. Any employee, any manager, must have the “soft skills” to be effective. Having strong “soft skills” can one only be able to develop all management capabilities, especially in the area of leadership or the ability to influence others. Again, this isn’t an IT specific competency but a general one that is unfortunately all too lacking in many people.

Merlyn’s last point on having the global perspective, not sure. Depends on the organization. A true enterprise company, yes, I heartily agree that having this broad mind-set is a critical success factor because an enterprise employee must be able to empathize with his or her peer across a common enterprise culture. While having this however, the person must still have a solid footing in the “local” requirements of the business. In other words, think globally, but act locally with respect to IT capabilities only.

So then, the “right IT talent” are those who (1) got some business sense, (2) know their technical craft, both information and technology, (3) have strong soft-skills, or as Bob Sutton would say, “No Asshole Rule”, and (4) have the right broad mind-set to be effective across the enterprise organization.

But the inquiry doesn’t end here because we’ve established some of the qualities of the individual – albeit a general one. We still haven’t talked about the overall organizational needs – this is where in IT-speak we are talking about requirements gathering. It seems this is where Drucker’s guidance in establishing the right structure can help us focus on the right analytical path. My reading is that he would argue that the business strategy would dictate the appropriate build-out of the IT organization. I agree.

On the other hand, some colleagues I’ve heard would focus on the IT strategy as a first step, but often times, this IT strategy isn’t properly grounded in business fundamentals. On top of this, a functional strategy is meaningless in some sense because without the right people in place, the strategy simply cannot be achieved. In other words, translating into IT-speak, you need to know your constraints (and risks). Ah, you say, that’s where HR comes in and you go out and find those people to achieve the strategy. Excellent, sounds good! But for a simple fact… It’s %&*#!(@ hard to find the right people, talent wars and all that. I’d go so far and say, be thankful with what you have and do your best to maximize current IT talent (see Ben Simonton’s unique treatment of leadership and people management).

“In my organizational version of 40 days and 40 nights in the desert, I’ve had to operate with 1/3 of my managerial staffing levels. When do you bend/break your hiring rules just so that you can put a warm body in the seat before you lose it? That there is the crux of the matter.

I don’t know the answer to this conundrum, I was totally flying by the seat of my pants not knowing if I had a working parachute. And at this point in time, it’s almost moot and for a future post. I also still don’t know if I ejected in time and whether my parachute is working because the only question is whether I’m doing a Wind Beneath My Wings or Crash ‘N Burn.”**).

Continuing Drucker’s line of questioning, we get to see how it the team definition becomes clearer. Certain competencies are clearly defined by the company’s objectives (and needs). It is perhaps useful to note at this point of the analysis, Michael Watkin’s excellent organizational framework from his “The First 90 Days” to better understand where your company’s current-state is to know who should be recruited. However, for question three, the value question, here is where one needs to decide based on the previous analysis and conclusion, how much will you factor people’s moral and ethical values into your decision-making? For obvious cultural change scenarios, maybe this becomes much more important (above and beyond the yes, we need to hire people with working moral compasses – see Dilbert for his riotously funny treatment of the topic).

Now as we wind down or more like coming full circle (have you finished the Tylenol yet?) the journey, what have we learned? Maybe that I should’ve started out with my first statement – “Balancing organizational sustainability is … about getting … diverse mix of skills, capabilities, expertise, personalities togethers as broadly and deeply as possible.”

Maybe the blog post really should have been titled, “Building an IT Team: What are the IT People Competencies?”

** Music Videos


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