by Eric Berridge

CIOs: Your next hire might not be an IT pro

Feb 21, 20124 mins
IT Leadership

By Eric Berridge

In 2012 a preferred IT candidate might be someone with a background in business rather than technology, who has sought supplementary tech certifications. How can this be? As Forrester analyst Stephanie Moore recently stated: “To build technology solutions that drive the business, as opposed to just enable the business, technologists need to have more contextual understanding — so they understand, intuitively in some cases, what the business wants without the business having to specify it.” It’s tough to tailor a solution to your sales department’s needs, for example, if you don’t understand pipeline management.

In gathering data for my firm’s 2012 IT salary guide, we found demand for developers in cloud solutions rising substantially. Coincidentally, many of the certifications for these technologies are pursued by non-IT professionals — and some of these folks may wind up under your sphere of responsibility. However, it throws a wrench into the traditional functioning of an IT department. There’s a new set of jobs cropping up that fall under the CIO’s umbrella but are equal parts accounting, marketing, logistics, sales, etc. You can’t compare them to IT pros of the past, and perhaps won’t even call them “IT” — call them what you will, you’ll have to deal with them. 

What to expect…

You may see unfamiliar work styles injected into a department that may not welcome the change. Patrick Thibodeau recently interviewed organizational psychologist Billie Blair, who described IT managers as viewing “…the world in terms of ‘us against them’ and seeing others in an organization as pests or threats to their IT universe.”  Even if you take issue with this, you’ve got to admit that IT staffers don’t always mix well with the outside.

Furthermore, research shows that certain personality types tend to gravitate to IT, and have a proclivity to react to stress similarly. Stress reactions among those you’re familiar with are bizarre enough — you may now have to deal with behaviors that utterly defy your sense of logic. So, as CIOs begin leading departments spiked with non-tech folks, it doesn’t take much imagination envision the issues that may ensue.

Here are a few tips for handling your newly diversified staff:

  • Get your team talking. You can count on intra-departmental silos (i.e. disaster) unless you get these people communicating and collaborating with each other.  
  • Get IT talking to other departments. The more the techies interact with people from the departments they support, the more they’ll learn about what they really need. As strategies are considered, this may go a long way toward bridging some of the very heated debates sure to arise with the less tech-oriented newcomers.
  • Lend an ear. I’ve focused mostly on the challenges, but bringing people from a wider variety of sources brings a larger perspective to IT. That’s a good thing, especially in a business world in which, as Moore put it, “technology solutions drive…as opposed to just enable” business. So be sure to keep the lines of communication continually open in both directions.
  • Loosen up. While you may have to reign in some chaos, you’ve got the makings of an innovative organization. However, if you try to control things too tightly, you’ll likely dampen the creative spirit of your newly diversified team.
  • Plan for stress. While these new developments will potentially position you for greater influence within your organization, the process of managing this level of change is bound to give you more than a few headaches. So be sure that you — personally — have a healthy strategy for blowing off steam. Inner peace, inner peace, inner peace…

Revenge of the IT manager

This doesn’t mean IT pros have to helplessly watch their turf usurped by people with less depth in technology. Those who make a point to understand the departments they support are poised to offer invaluable expertise. So encourage your staff to get out of the cube and start really talking to these folks to find out their priorities, challenges, processes and goals. By so doing, you’re preparing them to take their revenge by strategically embedding themselves in other departments … and consequently helping those departments in inestimable ways.

Eric Berridge is co-founder and principal of agile business consulting firm Bluewolf, which provides lifecycle innovation, cloud implementations, IT staffing, managed services and other services to sync business and IT for efficient, adaptive performance. He also co-authored the book “Iterate or Die” along with Bluewolf co-founder Michael Kirven.