Technology Is Just a Tool.
Whether you are transforming a multinational, blue chip company or founding a new SaaS startup, your success depends on your people.
If you are undertaking significant change then your people will be affected, for sure. For example, you might ask certain team members to take on additional responsibilities in relation to data governance in order to improve data quality, or you might ask certain teams to adopt new tools, or maybe you will enforce new business processes that must be adhered to.
All of those things might be absolutely correct for the business, yet it is still wise to consider human psychology. Across various forms of change the human reaction is to ask the question:
What is this change going to take away from me?
The emotional reactions are often predictable, starting with denial, travelling through anger and frustration before ultimately reaching acceptance. The key is for you to be prepared for the associated resistance, since it is normal, and to have a strategy that will bring your people through this process.
Transparency will help with this, giving your teams an understanding of the need for their perceived upheaval. Then during the process use evidence that confirms the rationale in real time rather than asking people to take it on trust that this upheaval will benefit them in the long run. Offer small bits of value and reward as early and frequently as possible.
Specific qualities can be particularly valuable to high performing IT teams:
- Constant learning
- Effective problem solving
Specific skills such as programming languages and business processes can all be taught to a person with these foundational qualities.
This is vital, and we aren't talking about whether people are stealing paperclips.
If your company needs to rely on a high performing IT team in order to maintain competitiveness in a technologically advancing world, you need to be able to trust that your team members can do the job you hired them to do to a high standard. If you can't trust them, then don't hire them.
This policy allows you to maintain lightweight processes where micromanagement and excessive checks and balances can be removed. That reduced management overhead and fewer productivity blockers will enhance your innovative output.
It also opens up new opportunities. For example, home based working works best when it is not seen as a perk, but rather an efficiency gain. But that only works if you can trust that your team members are honest with the effort they are providing when there is less structure around where and when they work.
Honesty will also foster the best ideas and innovation. A team who will provide honest and critical feedback is more valuable than a team of ego strokers. At the same time, they will hold up their hand if they realise the project they championed looks like it is flawed mid project, allowing essential course correction before it is too late.
The best team members are those who are motivated to achieve something. They will push your business to be the best it can be, energise your team and look for opportunities inside and outside of their wheelhouse.
Technology is a very fast moving environment and what is current today can be obsolete next year. If your company is unable to keep pace with this change you risk falling behind your competitors if they are able to more effectively deploy new technologies to deliver enhanced experiences to customers or optimise internal processes for greater efficiency.
To take advantage of new technologies you need team members who are able to learn constantly even when there may be limited reference material available. The ability to learn by doing is hugely valuable in this environment, as is the ability to gain a thorough understanding of a great many technologies, rather than specialising in a single, narrowly defined field.
That said, keeping up with change is only one aspect of success. For many companies another success factor could be the ability to optimise the performance and accuracy of something like a convolutional neural network. In this case, the ability to constantly learn is still paramount, with necessary skills potentially spanning data, algorithms, software and hardware, but the focus is on much narrower but deeper excellence.
The key is to strike the right balance between specialists and generalists, but either way, look for constant learners.
Effective Problem Solving
Some people can solve a problem if they have been shown how to troubleshoot that problem. Other people can see a problem and work out how to troubleshoot it. The latter type will add huge value to your team, especially if you are one of those companies with complex, interconnected systems, vast amounts of data and significant transaction volume; a combination that can result in intermittent problems that are difficult to diagnose.
If that describes your situation then aim to add team members who can embark upon hypothesis based problem solving, who know how to collect and process the telemetry data that will reveal the cause of your problems.
Over time it is typical for corporate IT systems to grow more complex. Business processes evolve and the IT systems to which they map change and expand. Supplier data contracts can be nuanced, finance systems might sit on temperamental infrastructure, system dependencies might be undocumented and legacy software might rely on "magic" keywords to invoke backdoor, functions.
The long and short of it is that, assuming you hire team members with appropriate qualities their value to your organisation is always increasing and the cost of replacement is likely to be significant, even before factoring in the the risk of making a bad hire.
It is true, working remotely can significantly improve the quality of life for your team members. However, it should not be viewed as a perk. Remote working should be viewed as something that can enhance your business. This is why:
- Larger talent pool - you can hire from any geographic location
- Less tired/stressed - less commuting can improve wellness which can improve employee performance
- Less interruption - open plan offices have their benefits, but being able to concentrate on a complex task is not one of them
But there are some things you need to think about carefully before announcing your work from home policy:
- Security - how will you ensure your data such as code bases and customer data are secured if the team are accessing networks and storage from locations you do not control?
- Equipment - working with a laptop on the sofa is not as productive as working at a multi screen workstation. You should equip a remote office as if it is an office workstation in order to maximise efficiency.
- Environment - is there sufficient peace and quiet? Noise from children, flat mates, partners, neighbours etc can be barriers to concentration and remote meetings.
- Precedent - if one team can work from home, other teams will want to. Would it be appropriate for your finance team, sales team etc? How could you handle different policies for different functions?