In today’s businesses, it is technology that drives strategy and transformation that we see across happening. As such, the lines between businesses and technology functions are increasingly becoming indistinguishable. IT personnel of an organization are an active part of their company’s business dealings. And some are opting to upscale themselves by becoming innovative initiators. Below we will discuss why an innovator should helm his own business.
But does that make IT guys to progress beyond being strategists to become entrepreneurs who could anticipate the digital needs of businesses and could initiate transformative action?
It could prove to be a double-edged sword for IT consultancies that all of the sudden has to pitch a new technology and best practices in the name of innovation and improvement to their pre-existing customers.
The result could be a complete implementation of a new technical solution — for which leaders can claim success — with a trail of unhappy staff members left behind. This tends to then create silos and employees who will inevitably find ways to work around the new implementation to get their jobs done, defeating the value proposition and diminishing returns on the investment.
Instead of this, IT Teams have to find a workaround this problem, they must master the art of service excellence, deep listening, communication, and leadership. In other words, they need to perfect their soft skills. When coupled with technical savvy, it will be the only way for IT teams to have high impact –– to become leaders who play a vital role in identifying new value streams, driving business opportunities, and redefining the customer and employee experience.
Why Soft Skills matter this much?
Even leading tech behemoths on the planet understand the importance of soft skills. Google, a company founded on hard technical skills, audited all its data around hiring, firing, and promotions in 2013, according to the Washington Post. What the company learned shocked its leaders: Technical skills were the least important qualities for Google’s top employees. Rather, what mattered most was the ability to be a team player, coach, communicate, listen well, have insights about others, be empathetic and supportive, solve problems, and make connections across complex ideas.
As Google implies, being the “challenger,” one who innovates and brings new ideas to the table, and human skills are not mutually exclusive. You can talk at people about best practices all day, but to onboard someone to your way of thinking requires persistence, patience, the ability to relate and not being dismissive of how their business works. To create a positive shift in an organization, you first have to earn the team’s trust and establish your credibility.
Adapt to Barefoot Innovation
Patrick Lencioni’s book Getting Naked describes it perfectly. It says that even though a client hired you as an expert, you’re going to hear them out before you start talking.
As the author puts it, “Naked consulting is a term that refers to the idea of being vulnerable with clients, being completely open and honest with no sense of pretense or cover. … So many service providers and consultants feel the need to demonstrate that they have the right answers and that they don’t make mistakes. Not only do clients see this as inauthentic and something artificial, they often feel that they are being condescended to and manipulated. We’ve found that what clients really want is honesty and humility.”
At our company, when we began implementing this approach — going into client discoveries with an “empty cup” and seeking first to listen and learn — we avoided imparting biases or preconceived notions as to what they might need. We built relationships with their team and took the time to understand the nuances, workflows, and challenges each faced. And this set us up to truly problem solve, gain their trust and support their goals for creating a culture of innovation.
High-impact IT teams will embrace this philosophy of “I am responsible for being an expert in this business and I have to know how things work first.”
How do you evolve yourself as an Innovator?
To help your IT staff become initiators, focus on continuous improvement and nurture your in-house talent. Be steady and you’ll see these steps helping you grow :
1. Be an Ace service provider.
IT Teams must be fluid to their client’s business and technological requirements. Seek to observe and learn and promote a work culture rooted in empathy and utter professionalism.
2. Refine communication and Marketing skills.
IT teams have to fine-tune their consulting skills to establish trust as business advisors, while marketing and communication skills will be needed when presenting new ideas that may challenge engrained philosophies.
3. Become a true partner.
Getting to the stage of “innovative initiator” requires earning credibility and trust across the entire team. To do that, you have to take the time to learn about current systems and the prevailing culture and consider innovating on a small project first to gain trust and then expand from there.
4. Hire for soft skills.
If you want your company culture to be built around soft skills, you must hire them. Implement a structured culture interview to look for fit. Look for individuals who have customer service experience in addition to technical skills.
Many IT teams have technical expertise. What sets the leaders apart, however, is the ability to listen and learn about every aspect of the business (the systems, processes, and people) and help create and sustain a culture of innovation that strives toward continuous improvement.