Fresh Approach to IT Leadership Competencies

Last week, my colleage, Vaughan Merlyn ,asked me to join him on a post for his blog.  Below is the results of that collaborative work.  It builds on a piece of research we did last year called: ITC: Tomorrows Essential IT Competencies.  While the research was focused on the IT function specifically, the insights can be applied to a variety of disciplines. 

Virtually all CIO’s recognize they have a talent challenge – the competencies they have in their IT organization are often not the competencies they need today.  This is an issue I’ve wanted to post on for some time, but it’s complex and requires highly specialized expertise – people who both fully understand the Human Resources and Talent Management domains, and who really appreciate and have experience with the special needs of IT leadership.  I’ve therefore reached out to one of my wonderful colleagues, Dr. Margaret Schweer.  Margaret led our multi-company research last year on emerging IT competencies, and has worked with me on several important client engagements.  She and I have collaborated on this topic, and will post it to our respective blogs.

Being talent ready is a continuous journey – there is no steady state for talent.   Responsible IT leaders are always in the hunt for talent with key capabilities in anticipation of the organization or function’s needs.  This requires a robust competency model that describes contemporary IT leadership behaviors in observable ways.  A good IT leadership competency model helps people visualize what is needed from IT leadership in an era when technology is increasingly a strategic enabler, pervasive evolving rapidly. 

Margaret had a recent conversation with a client that wanted to design a technical competency model that would serve to stretch their functional capabilities from a high level 2 to level 3 Business-IT maturity, allowing them to develop talent in anticipation of business demands.  So what are they looking for? 

  • 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.

Let us finish the discussion of IT leadership competencies with a comment about the importance of developing a global mindset.  The question here is not whether your business operates internationally, but whether your talent does.  Even in a domestic organization, a global perspective is essential in IT because the global technology talent and services market is global.  What is unique about these competencies is how they are described and applied culturally.  And I think there is real value in calling these out as transitional competencies.

It’s important to anticipate your organization’s competency needs, as many of these require a long lead time to develop.  We believe that development is best accomplished using a variety of methods, including training, feedback and coaching from others, mentoring and job experiences, including developmental assignments.  While experts agree that the most powerful development is done in the context of assignments, don’t underestimate the power of ‘social learning and networking.’  As noted researcher, Rob Cross reminds us, much of what we know or come to know is learned through others, in formal or informal networks.  Unlocking the collaborative power of your organization can be a real source of competitive advantage as you move to develop key organizational capabilities.

 For more about critical capabilities required for the NGE organization, see my post titled “The Next Generation Enterprise: The Agile Organization.”


The Next Generation Enterprise: Creating the Agile Organization

Naisbitt begins his book, Mindset!, by saying that the future is always with us . . . social media acts as our collaborator, offering stories, facts, and opinions.  But it’s not just the information that’s important.  It’s the sifting process . . . the way in which we select and verify that allows us to bring the information we collect together to create a credible picture of the future that becomes key.   So how are organizations ‘sifting’ through the profound changes in technology, demographics, and the economy to identify their inflection points for change?  I think we are starting to see deep changes in the fundamental structure and operating principles of the corporation . . . for me a clearer picture of what it means to be NGE is beginning to emerge:

The very nature of work will change . . . and I say this with the full understanding that many of us have some amount of our organization involved in process based work.  While that type of work is different that knowledge work, we’re even seeing challenges to traditional process models with examples like manufacturing networks.  Processes, like software, can lend themselves to peer production too.  So, NGE work tends to be:

  • Project driven . . . based on roles not jobs.  Many of us are already transitioning away from jobs to roles to project based work for some portion of our organization.  This is an important paradigm shift for leaders — ownership for talent is shared and needs to be flexibly deployed against the areas of highest value for the organization.  This is particularly true given talent may come from inside or outside of the organization. 
  • Community based . . . the active use of collaboration tools to share information, create relationships, develop insight or create product is the work itself.  I often have senior leaders ask me about the value of social networking as though its ‘time wasted’ rather than an opportunity to enable and accelerate the real work of the organization.  Serena Software has “Social Networking Fridays.”  I mention it not because it is exceptional but because it’s simple.  Employees are encouraged to spend time each week on various social networking sites updating profiles, collaborating with colleagues and clients or recruiting for Serena. 
  • On demand . . .the style of work is ‘bursty’ meaning it’s discontinuous and done when required by the work not necessarily during ‘work hours.’  Productivity can be seen and measured through results as opposed to ‘face time.’   Much easier said than done.  In my mind, Best Buy’s ROWE performance management system, judging output rather than hours, is an example of responding to the bursty nature of NGE work.  To sum it up, my colleague, Tammy Erickson, wrote a wonderful blog on “Do we need weekends?” The upshot . . .work is bursty, and we need to recognize it from an organizational point of view. 
  • ‘Glocal’. . . requires that we simultaneously take a global and local approach and mindset to work.  Whether your business is global is not the issue . . . talent is. 

How we do the work will also change . . .  organizations will be networked with a more fluid structure and transparent processes that are:

  • More horizontal and self organizing in nature.
  • Peer oriented with minimal control being provided from the center of the organization.
  • Supported by processes that are modular and can be assembled and re-assembled in a flexible repeatable way.

The organization chart in an NGE world is not necessarily vertical.  It may in fact, be circular.  Mozilla, the non-profit producer of Firefox web browser, has an incredibly effective peer development model.  With a tread bare budget and a small cadre of internal developers, it has effectively marshaled an external development community of 400 regular volunteer contributors, and thousands more who patch and test to create viable product. 

The NGE organization will embrace . . .

  • Agile experimentation for innovation . . . it will use shorter development cycles with fast feedback enabling the organization to rapidly accelerate when an experiment is successful. 
  • Industrial analytics or embedded process based analytics that are used to assess business performance on an on-going basis. 

My favorite example of an organization demonstrating NGE behavior is British Telecom.  This organization has embraced a wide range of on-line tools . . .  using wikis and internal social networking applications that act like Facebook and Twitter, for example, to create a peering culture of collaboration.  Doing so, has allowed them to see how groups organically develop . . . so that they can deploy them against important projects, accelerating the rate of effective collaboration.  Using social networking tools, they can also identify key talent hidden deep in the organization . . . people who don’t show up on the organization chart or in key talent reviews but are the ‘super communicators’ or key enablers in the organization.  Talent the organization can’t afford to lose. 

The tools we leverage will also change . . . we are already seeing wonderful examples of web based tools that reside on responsive platforms . . . that are available on demand . . . instantly reconfigurable. . . agile and adaptive to circumstances.  Products, services, or interactions are co-created with customers and vendors, blurring roles.  A wonderful example of a platform business is, of course, Amazon.  Starting as an on-line book seller it has morphed into a portal for purchasing options.   Simple examples abound.  My son David, pointed me to Faceforce, a mashup that integrates Facebook with sales force data enabling you to leverage your social network in a new way.  Check out the demo.  At the core of all of this, is of course the interesting but thorny issue of who owns your social network.

As you identify your inflection points for this change . . . here are some parting questions that may help you sift through the information to create a picture of your organization’s future:

  • Where is your business model experiencing the most pressure . . . and in what ways will the NGE model facilitate your transformation?
  • What is the right level of openness, flexibility, and agility for your organization?  And how can HR facilitate it?
  • How can you harness the power of the “community” and for what purpose . . . are there natural pockets of “peering” . . . what collaboration tools make sense for your organization?
  • How will this change your talent proposition?  How are you preparing leaders for this new world?  How will your core capabilities need to change?

What NGE examples have you seen?  What are you doing in your own organization?

The List: Provocative Ideas for Talent Management

In point of fact, we are no strangers to tough talent issues having survived many of the business challenges of the last several decades.  But balencing the demands of the business with a ready flexible pool of talent given the demographic changes, will require an increasingly sophisticated set of solutions that many companies have not yet considered much less developed.  Over my travels this past year, I’ve developed my “list” of talent trends. My hope is that there is a nice balence of ‘near in’ with a fair bit of ‘stretch’ to challenge thinking.   So here are a few of the ideas on my list:

  • Mindset . . .ways of creating or shaping new ways to see the world.   From a talent perspective, I see organizations changing the way they think about ‘who’ is their talent, where is their talent, and how they engage or deploy the talent for maximum flexibility.  Infosys, a hot Indian engineering firm, is reverse hiring talent by setting up shop in the US with a new Global Talent Management Program.  What’s different?  Certainly not the job level or the pay . . . the point of difference is the way they are establishing a global mindset with their new hires.  And programs like Your Encore have certainly changed our mindset about the who, how, and where of our talent pipeline.  The point here is not that traditional organizations are going away, but that they will need to reinvent themselves to participate fully in a networked world.  This is about creating a permable menbrane around the organization, increasing flexibity and agility.   In the end, my favorite examples come the Manpower ads on You Tube . . .they will most certainly challenge your mindset about talent.  Have you seen them?
  • Cultural Consciousness . . . the concept of organizational culture is not new, but being conscious about developing, shaping, and communicating culture is taking on a new significance from a talent point of view.  Business Week recently reported on a survey of 43,000 US college students asking them to name their ideal employer.  Ernst and Young jumped up to #4 on a ranking of 220 ccompanies.  Their rise was specifically aided by social networking.  In fact, they are branding themselves with ‘social networking.’  They purposefully do not use Facebook to post jobs or look at profiles, they use it as a way to inform — their values, what they have to offer, and to answer questions.  Vlogs, designed by interns, are designed to illustrate what it’s like to ‘work here.’  Not everyone wants to work at E & Y, but for those who do, creating cultural transparency through social networking can increase the probability of finding, selecting and keeping talent . . .the talent right for them.  
  • Creating Relevance . . . tapping into what is pertinenet or applicable from a talent perspective.  As global talent needs have increased , even governments are starting to address the issue.  So let me confirm what we’ve always know . . . despite globalization, location still matters.  Local communities and even countries have strategically developed distinctive advantages from a talent perspective.  Stockholm is focused on succeeding in the knowledge economy by attracting talent with highly valued skills using a vibrant urban environment.  Singapore is focused persuading multi-nationals to establish a base or regional headquarters with generous tax breaks and affordable land.  Anticipating industry needs, they are proactively establishing policies so that they can rapidly respond . . . including equal employment guidelines.  Frankly some of the best work in creating relevance comes in the form of benefits and workplace policies.  In an effort to attract their target talent demographic, people 45 and older, Border’s offers a  ‘passport’ program which allows employees to work in multiple geographic locations.  Think warm winters in the south and cooler summers in the north  . . .what’s not to like?
  • Open Source . . . Mass collaboration has become a disruptive force that has created new possibilities in every sector.  New social networking tools have changed the very nature of what work is in a 2.0 world.  For me the interesting question here is what does open source mean for leadership.  Gary Hamel in his book, The Future of Management, challenges us to innovate our management models . . . creating new ways to  mobilize talent, allocate resources, and build strategies.  Mozilla, a non-profit software development firm has created a new type of management mantra.  Open source management means: 
    • It’s all about getting community buy-in
    • Volunteers are willing to do more than you think . . . just ask
    • Managers are more powerful when they follow
    • Innovative things happen when you nurture renegades
    • Blend . . . open source is powerful when paired with conventinal approaches
    • Think globally. . . your talent certainly does
    • Listen . . . very carefully. . .and always
  • Social Learning . . . increasingly learning happens through others.  It’s multi-threaded, searchable, physical or virtual, collaborative and personalized to each learner’s role in a specific context.  Social networks are certainly not new, but technology has accelerated their importance and impact on a variety of talent processes — development being one.  But how do you do that on a global basis.  Triple Creek offers a networking application that is being used by a number of companies.  Instead of matching individuals based on personal preferences, they are connecting people based on job skills, leadership qualities or the experienes they want to gain.  In my mind, this puts the responsibility for developing and maintaining the relationship where it belongs . . in the hands of the mentor and mentee.  Many of us are familiar with Second Life, which has developed an interesting business model selling virtual property.  Some companies are using Second Life as collaboration hubs for employees and alumni, places to create ‘cross-border’ networks in a 2.0 world, and virtual learning classrooms.  Going one step further, Sun Microsystems, Inc. has developed its own software and simulated building that even allows employees to walk through the hallway for a ‘water cooler chat’ in a 2.0 workspace. 
  • Sustainability . . . I want to end the list with a conversation about sustainability . . . the ability to provide the best outcomes for humans and the organization now and in the future.  Issues of sustainability are everywhere — even in talent processes.  HIP Investor helps organizations realize that human impact and profitatility are simultaneously important with a very procative scorecard approach.  My favorite example of sustainability is one that my son David brought to my attention — Patagonia.   As trendy as they may seem, they have been at this sustainability issue for a long time . . .it permeates their very approach to the business, their management mantra, and even the way they attract, develop, and engage their talent.  As their CEO and Founder says, “Most people want to do good things, but don’t.  At Patagonia, it’s an essential part of your life.”

Now that you’ve heard what on my mind, let me invite you to share your thoughts.  What resonated with you?  What other trends have you been watching?  What examples would you like to share?

08/25/08 Update: Creating Cultural Transparency

A colleague just sent sent me a link to a very interesting website . . . Jiibe is designed to help people find corporate cultures that fit their values and style of work.   How do they do that?  They use an on-line assessment, user-driven content and social networking to help people find good cultural matches.  Check it out!