Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Five Traits of High Quality IT Professionals

IT should reinvent a healthy and professional culture via hiring the right people to the right position and updating talent management practices.

People are always the weakest link in any organization, this is particularly true for IT organizations due to the changing nature and complexity of technologies. IT skills gap is a significant challenge facing IT leaders today, the common complaints from talent managers include: people do not have the right competencies; they can’t find the right skills to fill the positions or their non-IT partners do not understand IT, etc. Are such problems an organization specific, or systematic? what are exactly the skills gaps and what are the resulting symptoms? What are the emergent traits to be high-quality IT professionals regardless of the specific skills, how to reinvent "IT geek" stereotype and build a healthy and positive IT culture for catalyzing innovation?

Cultivate “Thinking Habit”: Make thinking a habit is to compare, contrast, connect, create, choose with confidence! The technology keeps changing, and the information is overloading. Hence, IT professionals should be in a “continuously thinking mode,” not just doing something mechanically. For example, we all take shortcuts, make assumptions, and repeat erroneous generalizations. Therefore, Critical Thinking is important. Critical Thinking has more to do with how you process information, which is a complex mental activity that encompasses all aspects of one's cognitive styles, and the skills associated with critical thinking include exploring a problem from multiple perspectives, at the deeper level, it has creativity embedded in it. Analyzing the possibilities and projected outcomes provides an opportunity to apply Critical Thinking to the situation, Critical Thinking is a skill that has to be developed through a process, and continuous practices will shape it as a “Thinking Habit.” It takes dedication to be a real thinker and a high-quality IT professional, and you don't need to look like a "geek or nerd" to prove you are a profound thinker. Hence, break down the outdated stereotype and reimagine IT professional image.

Changeability and learning agility: 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. There are few and few “comfort zone” for IT professionals across industry sectors these days, because the speed of change is increasing, the knowledge life cycle is significantly shortened and the information is only a few clicks away at the age of digitalization. Also, the project development and management cycle is shortened based on Agile philosophy, and there are fewer multi-year projects, more customer-centric solutions with faster delivery. It might sound like a cliche, the trick is understanding that moving out of a comfort zone leads to the creation of a new comfort zone which in turn will require you to move out "of" it again. This continuous moving "out" of your comfort zone is complemented by the cycle of self-development. Top IT performers are more adaptive and learning agile, and high-quality IT professionals need to be life-learners and change agents.

Creativity: Creativity is the #1 wanted skill for the digital workforce, this is particularly true for IT professionals because technology is often the innovation driver and IT professionals are innovation harbingers. Both information and technology are not for its own sake, but to discover the new and better way to do things, it’s the means to the end. The innovators are likely to make a change to the structure for better problem solving. The way we manage structure has a marked impact on how we deal with problems and the types of solutions we envisage. The IT workplace needs to be designed to build a culture of innovation, and help employees at all levels within an organization (from leaders to front-line) understand and develop their creative capacity to solve problems and exploit opportunities in new and innovative ways, the tool utilizes cutting-edge narrow band psychometrics to diagnose, assess and train the core four factors of creativity namely: cognitive processes, personality, motivation, and confidence..

Problem-solving: While there are certainly a lot of IT people out there, there are a much smaller percentage who are really the "go-to" people, the ones who can work independently, have excellent problem-solving skills, are disciplined, have a "customer focus," and communicate well. Many IT specialists do not have enough knowledge and understanding about their businesses or customers, very few know their business’s strategy, and can’t map their daily tasks to the business’s strategic goal. Thus, it is no surprise that sometimes, instead of solving problems, they probably add more unnecessary complexity to the already tangled processes or products, to create the new problems. A high quality IT professional needs to be an excellent problem solver, who has the breadth of understanding of the business, the depth of technique expertise, and the creativity to see things from different angles to manage complexity and solve the problems in a systematic way, and the high-performing team with complementary skills can solve the complex problems collectively.

The capability portfolio: The business becomes more complex and dynamic, especially IT organizations, often the single-handed skill is not sufficient to adapt to changes. Just like IT is composed of hardware and software, IT professionals need to have both hard skills and soft competency, and the competency of high-quality IT professionals is a combination of capabilities with a focus. Each of these same capabilities may be combined in different fashions to yield multiple competencies, to build your professional capability portfolio. From the IT talent management perspective, there exists a stereotype about the skills set an individual is perceived to possess. But in reality, there can be more or even less than expected. There are talent arenas such as synthetic capability, not very specific skills, can't be easily analyzed and hence, a recruiter fails in fitting right person to the job. They might even sometimes reject the correct person for the job based on the same stereotyped perception. From accumulating working experience (do you have X years experience or one-year experience X times) to sharpening linear skillset to building the nonlinear, but cohesive capability portfolio, IT professionals can improve digital proficiency and maturity.

IT stereotype is real, and IT skills gap is a reality. However, sometimes, the gaps people usually pick are not root causes they are symptoms of outdated talent management practices. It’s important to define the updated competency model, assess the talent's overall capability to solve problems, strike the right balance of hard and soft skills, learning capability, character, dedication, communication and energy within the teams. Getting the balance right is a must. Through recognizing the truly high-quality IT professional (either high performer or high potential), IT can build a healthy culture to hire the right people to the right position, also building a high-performance team is at the heart of what talent manager should do and choose the right balance of team members is, as we all know, critical as well.


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