The following guest blog is provided by alumni Thomas Failor, who is speaking from the perspective of an IT practitioner. AIM graduates practice in a wide variety of disciplines, both technical and non-technical.
You might think that when you graduate with your AIM degree, you’ll be working in a purely IT role, either in engineering, IT development or service delivery, or otherwise focused on a single thread type of task. You also might think that you’ll only work in a technical role or never have to talk to pesky customers again. But that’s not always the case.
With the professional baseball season just underway, I am reminded of an analogy between sports and business that I’ve found valuable. Most companies, even very large ones, expect a knowledge worker with an advanced degree to be what in baseball is referred to as a “5 Tool Player.” In the big leagues, a 5 Tool Player can hit for average, hit for power, run the bases, throw for distance, and field the ball. The broad technology field is no different. Here’s my take on the 5 Tools you need to thrive on the technical side of business.
To be a 5 Tool Player in IT or elsewhere, you must be able to listen with intent, advocate for your customer, consult, collaborate, and communicate, both internally and externally, to be effective.
Listen with Intent
This is pure Steven Covey and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Don’t listen with the intent only to reply. Stop trying to think up your next reply while your associate is still speaking. It’s a challenge, but it’s so much more effective to listen with the intent to understand than just to come up with an answer quickly. Try counting to five before you answer, and preface your response with a validation of the other party’s statement, like “You bring up a good point” or, “That’s a great question.”
Advocate for the Customer
Some people refer to this as the “Voice of the Customer” or VOC in Six Sigma. After you listen with intent, you need to express the VOC or advocate for your customer to get your project done, solution approved, capital expenditures funded, or what have you. Promoting understanding and empathy by advocating for the customer makes you much more effective, (especially in the eyes of the customer), but also demonstrates to the teams you collaborate with your understanding of requirements when it comes time to dig deep into a project. If you fail to listen, you really can’t advocate and you waste business cycles trying to get things like requirements approved and your project moving forward.
Flex your technical muscles, and provide advice and solutions sets. This is usually the part of our work that we love the most but get to do the least. The truth is that the other 5 Tools get you to your consultation role more effectively. Consulting isn’t all about what you know. Often it’s about providing a range of solutions as a set of choices to your customer. In general, I’ve found that customers hate to be “sold” but they love to “choose.” (Credit: Jeffrey Gitomer)
In offering multiple consultative choices, you increase the likelihood that your customer will choose one of them and thus move your project/process/program forward without delay.
Play nicely with others. One of the pitfalls encountered by some brilliant technical people is that they’ve spent much of their career “heads down” perfecting their craft. Surely that’s important, but if you aren’t able to work with diverse groups with widely ranging technical skills, you only make more work for yourself. Project managers and program managers who may not have a technical background likely depend on you to translate and communicate with your friends on the development/engineering team and drive issues to resolution. I do this type of work every day. If you are able to gather stakeholders, project managers, and solution providers in a room and act as a collaboration facilitator, your work gets done more quickly and you’ve made allies for next time.
This is the Achilles heel of many technical practitioners. If we can’t convey our analyses in writing, pitch an idea to an audience without reading 20 slides of PowerPoint word-for-word, or expectations with a customer, you’ll likely be less effective. Don’t depend on your manager or the department extrovert to communicate for you. Speaking and writing effectively are learned skills. Being able to communicate an idea clearly gets your budget approved, a new headcount, more servers, etc.
I have to use the 5 Tools every day to be effective in my work as the liaison between IT and the many needs of the business. It’s all very good to be a highly technical player, and if you work specifically within software development, networking, or security you may be able to get by without work days like mine, but it’s not very likely. Businesses depend on technology leaders to deliver technology solutions, but they also depend on you to be a 5 Tool Player.