Discover Performance

HP Software's community for IT leaders // September 2013
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‘Hallway marketing’ and the soft CIO

Rise of the soft skills: Author and IT consultant Dan Roberts says that more than ever, an IT leader needs to be a people person to succeed.
 
Author and veteran IT consultant Dan Roberts says there has never been a better time to be in the IT profession. He sees a tremendous opportunity for IT managers who “reinvent themselves” to thrive in the new era of business and IT. But this will require a new way of thinking—and very likely a new skill set—to ensure that IT professionals are consultative, client-focused, customer-focused, and market-savvy.
 
As president and CEO of Ouellette & Associates Consulting, Dan strategizes with IT and business executives on IT transformation, culture change, and marketing the value of IT to the organization. He is the lead author of Unleashing the Power of IT (Wiley 2011). His next book is Confessions of a Successful CIO: How the Best CIOs Tackled Their Toughest Business Challenges, due to be published in February by Wiley. In it, he and co-author Brian Watson talk to leading CIOs about transformative decisions.


Dan Roberts
We recently talked with Dan about what role the CIO should play in IT transformation and culture change—and which specific skills should be considered most valuable. As Dan sees it, “In an environment where change is a constant, the pace of business is accelerating, and complexity is becoming the norm, CIOs are transforming their culture and developing a new 21st century IT workforce.” His research with CIOs has identified 12 core competencies, heavy on leadership skills, that are critical for success today (see graphic).
 
We also asked about emerging trends like mobile and big data/analytics and how these change the emphasis of Dan’s message to CIOs. “These trends and others are forcing CIOs and IT leaders to come to the table as business people first, who just happen to bring technology expertise, too,” Dan observes. “They are also creating the need for IT professionals at all levels of the organization to make the shift from reactive, technology-centric order-takers to consultative business partners that work as one cohesive team.”
 
Discover Performance asked Dan to tell us more about his views on how the CIO’s role is evolving in the midst of a new era:

Q: Nearly every enterprise today speaks of the need to focus on customer centricity and the user experience. How does this change the role of the CIO/ IT manager?

Dan Roberts: Savvy CIOs and IT leaders are building a cultural foundation based upon service excellence and customer centricity. This doesn’t mean that they’re subservient in any way. Instead, they’re focused on the external "Big C" customer of the corporation and determining how to increase their company's value proposition and ability to compete and gain market share. They’re focused on their internal clients or business partners, delivering value as a strategic partner who anticipates the needs of the business. And they’re also focused on service delivery across the IT organization, knowing that exceptional service starts within.
 
Only a small fraction of IT leaders have moved their IT organizations up the maturity curve, evolving from a provider of basic services to a strategic partner. Those organizations who have achieved that milestone find themselves in the coveted position of being trusted and credible members of the strategic decision making team who are in a position of influence.

Q: When talking with CIOs and encouraging them to change their thinking, what specific things do you recommend to help them transform the culture of the internal IT team?

DR: Develop an IT service strategy that ensures that we are delivering the right things to the right people at the right time. Create targeted IT marketing plans that create an awareness of IT’s value. Assess and invest in the development of your team to embed the new mindset and develop the new skill set critical for success in today’s environment. Change the metrics and start to measure how we are a business-impacting member of the business team.

Q: Let’s talk a bit about balancing “soft” skills and tech skills in today’s enterprise IT organization. How does the CIO balance the need to understand (if not master) new technologies, to improve the soft skills that help them relate to the business, and master the skills needed to source and manage external cloud/SaaS services?

DR: This is an interesting balance, and one we are not managing well at all. On the one hand, it is our technical skills that get us in the door, whether that be a new job or engaged with a business partner. But it’s our soft, or what we call the “core” skills, that position us to understand and deliver strategic value to our company. We recently had an IT executive at a Fortune 25 company tell us that they hire for technical skills, but when it comes to reducing their headcount, it’s the people with the strongest soft skills that they keep.

Q: Can you tell us a bit more about what a targeted IT marketing plan looks like? What should it include? What do IT managers typically miss in attempting this approach?

DR: The first thing they miss is the need to “market” what they do—or, as we say, creating an awareness of your value. Everyone in IT is marketing IT’s value, so it’s important they understand what marketing is, and the fact that they are involved with what we call “hallway marketing” every day. For more than 25 years, we have taught IT leaders how to market their organizations. We help them understand the value and power of marketing. We teach them a 13-step process for developing IT marketing plans. Interestingly, today’s CIOs are looking for marketing plans that communicate the value of their organization to business partners as well as to IT. They realize that marketing IT’s value to IT is just as critical, knowing that all of their people are marketing that value every day.

Q: How, specifically, should IT leaders/CIOs be approaching the issue of core/tech skill development in line workers, middle managers, themselves?

DR: They should be providing a framework that helps everyone in their organization have more accountability and ownership of their personal and career development. This includes having the ability to assess both core and technical competencies, and getting feedback on where you are today in your current role—where are you strong, where you have gaps, and so on. 
 
We want to see more and better-quality discussions between manager and employee around development, and this framework will help foster those quality discussions. It will provide a guide to the resources that our people can take advantage of to grow and develop—to close skill gaps and to further enhance our strengths. From this, each staffer can develop an individual development plan for self-improvement, ensuring they have great success with their projects and client interactions. And then, assuming this framework is automated, the CIO and IT leadership team can benefit from an IT talent dashboard that shows a talent heat map—where they have good bench strength, and where they need to invest.

Q: Business/IT is evolving: mobile, cloud, big data as tech challenges, plus trends in working from home, social-media-style collaboration, and BYOD. Can you name one tech and one core skill that will be most in demand now or in the coming years?

DR: Architecting is a critical skill that our people need today and in the future. And as we source more and more of the technical work, it is going to be critical that everyone in IT have refined consulting and relationship-building skills. Increasingly, we are getting closer to the business, becoming integrated with the business, and we need the ability to engage as consultative, strategic business partners, moving beyond our comfort zone of tactical order-takers.
 
For more of Dan’s perspective on IT transformation, visit ouellette-online.com. Find out how leaders from T-Mobile, United Airlines, and more are mastering an era of change at HP’s free virtual conference, Power to Change.


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