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.”

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