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Advancing in Information Technology

How to Develop Management Skills

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Advancing in Information Technology Overview: The importance of information technology in many industries, including financial services, is growing in importance. However, information technology professionals often are not treated as peers by their counterparts in general management, and are rarely serious candidates for transition to general management positions, especially executive posts. The reason is that IT people, including senior IT managers, tend to be viewed as narrow specialists who lack business understanding, strategic vision and interpersonal skills. A comprehensive 11-year academic study finds that these perceptions are largely correct, and indicates what IT professionals should do about them.

Leadership: Important information technology initiatives, the researchers find, are rarely proposed or led by IT professionals. Instead, IT managers and executives tend to wait for direction from general management. This passive, reactive stance is not what is sought in a strong leader in general management.

Strategy: The researchers find that IT managers tend to have a weak grasp of overall company strategy. Too many are narrowly task-oriented, and fail to anticipate what they should be doing in the longer term to support company strategy.

Synthesis: The researchers conclude that IT managers have difficulties pulling together, or synthesizing, information from disparate sources to solve a business problem or to achieve a business goal. In particular, IT professionals often fail to ask appropriate questions of business managers, and frequently rush to premature judgment on the nature of the problem and the appropriate solution.

Communication: While the researchers find IT professionals to be well-spoken and helpful as a group, certain key deficiencies nonetheless exist. These are in questioning (see "Synthesis" above), listening and sales. Among sales skills is closing, in which you ask a crucial question that demands a yes or no answer, then wait patiently for it. Without such a definitive answer, the IT professional does not know where he or she stands.

Influence: IT professionals generally are poor at marketing themselves and their organizations. They often fail to convince their counterparts in general management to appreciate the value that they contribute. The researchers recommend that IT professionals be proactive in educating other managers about the importance and relevance of emerging new technologies. Meanwhile, the researchers find that IT professionals tend to be pragmatic thinkers who see the big picture and are not overly caught up in details, traits that are valued in general management. However, general managers do not usually have this perception of those in IT.

Relationships: The researchers find that, while IT professionals usually know what characterizes strong relationships, they often fail to do all that is necessary to build them. For example, the IT professionals that they interviewed did not always appreciate how small missteps, like not returning a call or being late for a meeting, can work to erode trust.

Acquiring the Skills: IT professionals should do what all they can, through formal training programs if available, to understand all the principal functional areas of their firms. They also should be eager to take advantage of any employee, managerial or executive development programs offered by their employer.

Source: "Why CIOs Are Last Among Equals," The Wall Street Journal ("The Journal Report" section, produced in collaboration with the MIT Sloan Management Review), 5/24/2010. Authors: Peter S. DeLisi, Dennis Moberg and Ronald Danielson, all of Santa Clara University.

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