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Critical Skills and Competencies for IT employees Fri 15 Dec 06

One of my more popular posts discusses critical competencies that CIOs need to succeed.  It discusses a paper entitled "CIO Leadership Diagnostic - A Pathway to "Best In Class" Performance" .  The paper was written by Eric Sigurdson who leads the Information Officers practice at Russell Reynolds and George Klemp, founding partner and President of Cambria Consulting, a Human Resources consulting firm.

This discussion generated an intriguing question from a friend of mine -- What skills and competencies do I look for in IT employees?

First, let me start out by explaining my take on skills and competencies because this will come into play later in this posting.  I view "skills" as task oriented.  For me a characteristic of a skill is that you can readily get training on the skill.  I view "competencies" as behavior oriented.  I see competencies as descriptors of a person's behavior, almost like a character trait.

By way of example, being proficient in Excel is a skill whereas analytical thinking is a competency.  Some people are gurus at manipulating Excel spreadsheets but don't know how to interpret the results.  Conversely some people can analyze and interpret the data but don't know how to fully utilize the spreadsheet.  And there are some people that can do both.  In terms of my earlier skill/competency characteristics; you can readily get training in Excel.  There are Excel training books, CD's, tutorials and classes.  While you may be able to get training in analytical thinking, it is much harder to find.  Likewise, if describing someone's characteristics we would be more likely to talk about their analytical thinking ability more than their Excel skills.

This is not an exact, precise description.  A friend of mine in Human Resources told me their are whole books written on this subject and even then it is still open to interpretation.  However, a good description of skills and competencies is by Vicki Heath of Business Performance Pty Ltd.

Having laid this foundation here are the critical skills and competencies I look for when hiring IT employees.

Critical Skills for IT employees

  • Technical Skills - These are the skill that are particular to a given position.  This would be things such as programming skills, knowledge of networks, etc.
  • Communication Skills - I look for the ability to communicate (written and oral) effectively.  IT people at all levels need to be able to communicate their ideas, IT concepts and sell their message.

Critical Competencies for IT employees

  • Analytical thinking - we are in the problem solving business so analytical thinking is critical
  • Conceptual thinking - we need to be able to see how all the pieces are "linked", changing something in one program will have ramifications where?  How does it all work together.  For higher-level IT positions we need to be able to see the strategic impacts
  • Service orientation - we are here to serve our customers, not the other way around.  It is essential that we maintain the proper perspective in all of our activities.
  • Empathetic attitude - in order to effectively work with our customers we have to be able see things from their perspective.
  • Passion - we need to perform our functions enthusiastically and motivate others through our enthusiasm
  • Bias for action - We need to get it done now
  • A sense of the practical - Our customers want workable solutions along with wanting in now.  A good solution now is better than a perfect solution sometime in the future.
  • A sense of curiosity - There is always something to learn and a better way of doing things, we have to let our natural curiosity roam freely.
  • A happy persona - Although we should take our work seriously we shouldn't take ourselves too seriously.  A good sense of humor can carry us through trying times.

A lot of people would point out that these competencies don't describe the stereotypical IT employees which takes me back to the earlier discussions on skills versus competencies.  In the past I know some of my subordinates have been frustrated when I refused to hire someone they thought was an excellent candidate because of their expert programming skills.  I truly believe that it is essential to have these skills and competencies.  So, while I can easily get programming training for a lesser skilled programmer with the right competencies it is much more difficult to improve someone with weak competencies.  I'd rather pay the price for skills training now than suffer continual poor performance due to weak competencies.

What skills and competencies do you look for in your employees?

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Last month Laurie Orlov had an interesting article on CIO.com. Her article Why Specific Tech Experience Shouldn't Define the CIO Resume has been rattling around in my mind (as things so often do) since then. Laurie was commenting on CIO [Read More]



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