Completing the Circle

min read
As IT leaders, our singular focus shouldn’t be to partner with the business or to align our work with the strategic goals of the enterprise; it should be to develop our staff into business professionals who add value through the use of technology. If we do that, both partnerships and alignment become givens. If our profession is to complete this circle of transformation, we have to dramatically rethink our approach regarding the professional development of the IT staff working throughout our organizations.
Advances in technology, including the wide availability of cloud services, now allow us to shift our organizational focus away from the care and feeding of technology to the intersection of people, business needs, and the imperative to add value in whatever we do. Technicians focus on technical skills and the delivery of technology as the essential ingredients for personal and professional success. Business professionals, on the other hand, must focus on competencies such as communication, analytical thinking, process orientation, emotional intelligence, building relationships, change advocacy, and adding business value as essentials for success. Becoming business professionals requires that we in IT shift our focus from the development of technical skills to the development of the competencies that drive business success. That is not to say that strong technical skills are not a necessary component of success – they are – but by themselves they are not sufficient for IT practitioners who desire to take the next steps in their careers.
We are now embarking on an initiative at the University of Georgia to implement a new professional development approach for our IT staff that will provide each of them with a personalized roadmap to becoming a business leader. We are building on groundwork laid out over the past three years where our focus has been on the development of communication and teambuilding skills for staff, managers, and senior leaders. An additional prerequisite has been an assessment-based continuous improvement process that uses TechQual+ data to support the setting of organizational priorities. This annual program ends with the reporting of organizational goals and an accounting of how we fared against goals set the previous year []. Our work in both these areas now puts us in the position to take the next step, which is to work with each of the teams across our organization to identify the competencies that are most critical for individual and team success, and then to embed the development of these traits into our job descriptions and performance review processes.
We have significant work ahead of us.
  • This month, we’ll be surveying every employee in our organization, asking them to rate a set of competencies, ranging from decision-making to planning and organizing to self-confidence and continued learning, as critical to high performers among those who play a similar role. Technical skills will be one of 32 competencies listed on the survey.
  • Data from these surveys will be the focus of a series of workshops with staff from our organization and IT organizations across the University of Georgia. Staff will be broken into groups by their primary role (developer, analysis, or system engineer, etc.) and will be asked to come to consensus on the eight most important competencies for their role and how the development of those competencies should be mastered over an entire career, from the entry level to mid-career to late career stages. 
  • Based on the workshop results, rubrics for each competency for each position in each career ladder will be developed, which will become the primary focus of professional development plans and annual performance reviews. The new approach will be introduced individually to each employee as a part of his or her regular annual review in 2015. Individual performance plans will be reviewed six months later, during mid-year reviews, and the annual reviews in 2016 will be fully based on the competency-based model.
Our staff will guide us along the way, from the identification of key competencies that drive high performance to the mapping of these competencies within each of our career ladders. Two key outcomes are expected from this work. For our staff, we will expand their professional development focus beyond technical skills and each will benefit from having a personalized plan that puts them on a trajectory aligned with our goal of transforming our organization from groups of technicians to teams of business professionals. Organizationally, we all benefit from having a formal methodology that identifies the critical competencies that allow our profession to grow and evolve in a manner consistent with the same transformation.
IT leaders are uniquely positioned between both the academic and administrative worlds of higher education, and we have the opportunity to play a convening role in critical University-wide discussions. Business leaders, not technicians, can do just that – but only when actively demonstrating the competencies above and beyond technical skills that are both necessary and sufficient for success. There has never been a more critical moment for Higher Education – it is in desperate need of this type of leadership from its IT organizations.