Monday, November 4, 2013

What Differentiates Top IT Performers from the Norm?

Talent is both nature and nurtured. 


With the changing nature of technology, IT talent may also need to present such ability to adapt to the changes, so what differentiates top IT performers from the norm? Or an alternative question might be to consider what personality and behavioral characteristics are displayed by top IT performers. Are there any key differences between IT leaders (like CIOs) and top performers on their staffs? With the pace of change speeding up, are those key performance indicators changing?


Top IT performers advance business goals first and foremost: IT initiatives are not discreet from the business as a whole. CIOs knows/makes the 'scope' while the top IT performer makes an excellent work breakdown structure that results in an accurate cost, time and resource estimation. The good IT leader has to be prepared to constantly realign technology against the enterprise's business needs. He/she has to orient the IT organization for constant realignment therefore and has to communicate vision with credibility and passion, motivating business stakeholders and the IT team to collaborate effectively in everybody's success. Top IT performer, just like top performers in any other discipline, seek a balance of their influence with others disciplines to effectively add value to the whole, through their specific knowledge and experience base. Sometimes people only focus on what they know and have no interest in understanding the world from a different perspective. Sometimes their view will be limited by others around them unintentionally because of old paradigms or intentionally for self-serving reasons. All of this adds up to people vying for influence within an organization to achieve their own objectives or the objectives of the organization. But high-performers believe the whole is better than the sum of pieces. In short, understanding the relevant role that each functional discipline has within the organization, actively pursuing influence to achieve a balance, and focusing on the practical application of your knowledge base to achieve the objectives of the organization are all characteristics of a top performer.

Top IT performers are those who keep themselves updated with the latest in technology: Because it relates to business and those who can suggest to the business what they can do to improve their business. By changing nature of technology, it’s not ok if people who are in the IT operations and think what they learned ten years back is sufficient for a lifetime. Top IT performers are more competitive, "adaptive, adaptive, adaptive, adaptive," have a knack for meeting the business requirements while improving existing infrastructure and operations; to put simply, top IT performers need to be life-learner, as the knowledge life cycle is significantly shortened and information is only a few clicks away at age of digitalization. Top IT performers, either a CIO or an IT operation person, all have the same drive to innovate and capacity to find ways to deliver. Although there are different skill sets between a CIO and a Technical IT top performer, but the common denominator for these top performers is the understanding of the business requirements with stakeholders engagement in the activities they perform. This could range from a simple as spending extra time or shift priorities to resolve a critical request important to the business to a high level adjust the strategy to adapt to the business environment in the next three years. Top IT performers are top business performers. IT needs to measure its impact in the eyes of the business value being created - looking at ways to improve employee productivity, enable business growth, business efficiency in addition to improving the way IT runs (costs, availability, agility). Top IT performers at all levels often display
1) They care about 'the customer'
2) They are happy to 'go the extra mile'
3) They are always on the lookout for ways to improve
4) They realize the technology is just a means to an end
5) They can bridge the gap between the technology and the people who use it

TOP IT performers have the ability to talk and walk on both sides of the fence: Top IT performers don't think of themselves as IT guy/gal only, they understand the business as well as the business people they work with and focus primarily on solving business problems and creating business capabilities. The best IT leaders are focused on success at all levels - from the success of their own team to the success of their boss, the organization, and even the business sector. What's key here is the ability to talk and walk on both sides of the fence. Top IT performers "get" technology and are astute at the solution and implementing it. However, they also fully understand how the business operates and how technology helps/supports obtain business objectives.Top IT performers have three main differentiators, as IT exists to enable and facilitate the business and the top performers are the ones who understand the business requirements, delivering on time,  with the right technology and solutions in collaboration with the business.
1) Business orientation; Enabling both Business and IT to achieve organizational objectives
2) Ability to define, articulate and execute the IT strategies and priorities needed to win
3) Leadership skills - ability to listen, align, motivate, inspire their entire organization to achieve the desired results


IT leaders like CIOs, should think like the CEO and then use IT Innovation and technology to drive business value. The best CIOs connect the dots and lead their organization to embed the culture throughout the entire IT organization and the business. In the other words: Future IT leaders will be business leaders who are IT savvy. As top IT performers are identified in their early career they will need opportunity, exposure and mentoring in the business space. Know the business that you are in from the business perspective. Leverage knowledge to get buy-in on the business level. Talk about the business. Don't talk about technology except with your team. The final measure is whether you actually influence and get the buy-in for the initiatives that you strategize for and actually bring these ideas into the business as an adopted methodology. The more successful IT leaders:
1) display good self-awareness,
2) are comfortable communicating at all levels,
3) inspire confidence through honesty and integrity,
4) work hard to engage with stakeholders,
5) invest in personal development as well as technical skills (for themselves and their teams)
6) maintain a good balance of inward (IT) and outward (business) focus. 

What about the quantitative measure? Most of the items that are mentioned above are qualitative. Are there any systemic ways that organizations can identify their top performers? From a statistic perspective to quantify, that one must first group the likes, select key values, establish baseline then measure. So, the top IT performer is really the top performer of the like in the group. CIO may be measured by the impact on the bottom-line efficiency or top line growth. Project Manager may be measured by the success of the project delivered.The developers may be measured by how many business problems via their work being solved (such as adding the new feature., etc), not just by how many lines of code they write. Therefore, top performers are differentiated through their attitude, aptitude and altitude (3As), as well as communication, creativity and collaboration (3Cs).  

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