Foster these non-technical skills in your IT team

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I've come to realize over the last several years in the IT service industry that having the latest new technology with all the bells and whistles is not what sets an IT organization apart from its competitors. Nor is hiring an IT team based on its bleeding-edge technology know-how alone. Rather, I believe, empathy is the No. 1 asset you can bring into your IT organization – and when it's missing it could be among the biggest barriers standing in the way of digital transformation.

I've seen the following scenario play out over and over again in my career, and I'm sure many IT leaders would nod their heads in agreement. When a very technical person talks to a consumer of technology who is having trouble, the technologist is often very focused on the technology. They may say, “Hey, if you just push A, it’ll work for you.” Or, “I don’t know why you’re trying to use it that way, but this is what you are supposed to be doing.” These technologists aren't taking the time to really understand how the customer's view of the world is clashing with that particular tool or technology, preventing both parties from moving easily toward a solution and potentially creating ill will between IT and the rest of the business in the process.

Alternatively, the empathetic approach would involve IT walking in the customer's shoes to get a better understanding of the problem from their viewpoint. It's treating the consumer of technology like a customer who has choice – and the ability to go elsewhere for their technology needs. And today, when all technology is being democratized and consumerized, an empathetic approach is more important than ever for IT organizations seeking to disrupt the business with technology.

To infuse more empathy into my IT organization, here are the three fundamental attributes I seek out when building my teams.

  • Curiosity. You have to be naturally curious. You need to have an internal desire to want to know new things and to understand why things are the way they are. Technology moves so fast today that if you lack an inclination to continually learn, you’re going to be left behind. So, first and foremost is a sense of curiosity.
  • Humility. The second thing I think a person should have is a sense of humility. And I don't mean they should be passive or demure. They should be able to put someone else’s needs above their own and create an environment where other people feel safe to address their problems with anyone in the IT organization. Customers shouldn't have to feel like a nuisance for bringing an issue to IT.
  • Teaching disposition. Lastly, I look for those who have a desire to teach people how to do the things that they don’t know how to do themselves. This requires a great deal of patience. You have to treat each individual's issue as though it’s the first time it’s occurred because, for the person with the problem, it probably is the first time it’s occurred, even if it's something you've seen 100 times.

Whether you are inheriting a team or building one from the ground up, these attributes can help to separate the truly outstanding performers on your tech team and create a culture in which IT is working harmoniously with the business to drive out problems with technology. 

Randy Franklin is currently VP-CIO of Premier Healthcare Alliance, a Group Purchasing Organization and Healthcare Informatics company headquartered in Charlotte, NC.  Randy is responsible for infrastructure, service delivery, security operations and enterprise applications at premier and has been in IT for over 15 years, spending the majority of his career in the data center hosting and managed

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