It’s no secret that technology talent is in short supply when, perhaps, it is needed the most. But what’s not so clear is what to do with technologists who you hire and are not business savvy. As CFO columnist Martha Heller wrote last March, if business executives had one wish, an overwhelming number would want to a magic wand that they could wave and impart business skills to their technologists.
As Heller wrote, “Their [tech] people, they worry, are so narrowly focused on the technology that they fail to see the forest through the trees. They do not understand the business context of their technology work, nor can they have a meaningful discussion with the leaders of the business areas their technology supports.” The challenge is pervasive, she said: “Lack of business-savvy technology talent is a serious problem for every company that relies on technology to exist (which is, of course, every company).”
Heller went on to give CFOs some tips for starting leadership development programs that “fight the natural order of things” and develop a new high-value generation of blended executives — those who understand payback periods as well as they do programming.
The column truly touched a nerve, setting off a sometimes heated debate. The technologists weighed in heavily, and their comments make it clear: Not only is this an extremely difficult problem to solve, but also, in some ways, management is its own worst enemy.
First, off, yes, most commenters agree, IT staff devoid of business and finance knowledge is a problem:
So what’s the solution? In general, readers thought Heller was barking up the wrong tree, and offered an alternative:
Has this been done before? Yes.
But there are issues with the middleman approach too.
If middleman can be the glue, however, why not IT staffers? There’s a deeper issue, it turns out, to developing one reader called the “miracle man” who blends IT and business skills: the technologists themselves.
But there are IT people who are interested in expanding their knowledge base and making the leap, and who don’t conform to the stereotype:
Some IT professionals insist that even if they have an interest in making the move, companies are not as sincere as they sound in their desire to impart business skills to IT staff.
Indeed, it can be hazardous to a career to stay pigeonholed a techie.
So where to develop the skills to understand the business context of an IT project? It won’t necessarily solve the skills problem corporations have, but, ideally, there is a path that could help develop a talent pool with these capabilities. It requires IT people to take a bold step.