The new core competencies IT must master

The technical skills that earned you a seat at the table won't earn you a voice at the table. A new set of skills is essential for high-level IT success.

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A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with Claus Jensen, CTO of CVS Health, about the shifting challenges facing today’s IT organizations. He calls the current state of affairs a triple whammy.

“We all know that the environment is changing — the rate of change accelerating. But also, the expectations of large enterprises are changing around social responsibility, consumer expectations, and more. And finally, what we expect of employees is changing: They now need to be more than just good soldiers. They need to be leaders, collaborators, visionaries.”

And CIOs today are expected to deliver on all three expectations, moving faster than ever, in new directions, while creating and retaining a new kind of workforce.

“But you can’t instantly re-engineer your corporate culture,” he says, “and you can't just replace your team, either.”

So that’s the triple whammy, and for years, IT leaders have been telling me that the answer is not more of what got IT this far. In the past, IT was expected to demonstrate technical skills above — even instead of — the soft skills like interpersonal communication and influence, innovative thinking or customer focus.

Those are the competencies most needed today, but every CIO I work with hates the phrase soft skills. It doesn't capture how essential they are to today’s IT professional. They’re the new core skills.

The new core competencies

Jensen’s triple whammy isn’t about the classic objective of “having a seat at the table.”

“We're there,” says Sue Kozik, CIO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana. “Now it's about how we behave, how we enable.”

She has a simple lens on the issue: “I always ask my team, ‘If the business had a chance to use another group of people to get their IT work done, would they still choose us?’ We need to earn their business every day.”

Research my company performed with experts at Babson College identified an IT maturity curve that shows that leading organizations earn the business by becoming strategic partners, then evolving further to become “innovative anticipators,” the prime movers driving the business forward.

An IT organization moves up that curve by changing how it does things. It’s through showing up as a willing partner who understands the business and as an innovative strategist who understands the market that CIOs and their organizations earn the trust to enter higher-level discussions.

When we looked at how those leading organizations were doing it, hard skills were not the differentiator. In fact, we identified 14 core competencies, and technical acumen was just one. Every other essential ingredient for high-level IT success, the real differentiators, were what we’ve been calling a soft skill. These skills are how IT earns the trust to move further up the maturity curve and gets a voice at the table.

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