How to hone your IT talent at times of great change

Do you have the right people on your team? Be strategic about where you spend your time and follow what I call the rule of thirds
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Speed and change have never been more prevalent or more important than they are right now to all businesses. Interestingly, there’s often an irrationally pessimistic view of what that means for individuals. For instance, discussions of AI and machine learning go hand-in-hand with worries that people will lose their jobs. Smart, knowledgeable people have nothing to worry about in the face of all this change. As technology becomes more and more a commodity, people will be the great differentiator that separates the winners from the losers. 

[ Are you ready to have tough conversations? Read 10 TED talks to sharpen your communication skills. ]

Of course, job losses will happen. But companies have more control than they might think over who rises to the challenge of adding value in a technology-driven future. They don’t have to just passively sit back and hope they have the right people on their team. The key is being strategic about where you spend your time and following what I call the rule of thirds. 

In the face of any big change or transformation, you’ll see people naturally fall into one of three categories. A third of folks will immediately get on the bus. They not only understand the need for this change, but they are ready to start implementing it. They are excited, passionate, and engaged. This group requires the least amount of your time and energy. Because they already get it, you don’t have to invest much to get them marching in lockstep with your vision. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you’ve got the people who sink their nails into the way things have always been. They resist change. They aren’t interested in evolving their skills and capabilities. They just don’t see your vision. And if you want to change their mind, you better bring your A+ debate game. 

Too many leaders fall into this trap and spend their time and resources trying to combat resistance to change. They view change management as an effort to get everyone on board and often spend a disproportionate amount of time spinning their wheels with people who, for whatever reason, are incapable or unwilling to adapt. They are fighting an uphill battle. 

Any energy you spend on this group will have a bigger payoff.

Instead, I focus on the middle third. The folks in the middle can be convinced to get on board with your vision with a small amount of effort on your part. Any energy you spend on this group will have a bigger payoff, because you’ll more quickly get them either into the group that’s engaged, or onto the next step of their career journey. 

When every decision you make as a business comes down to speed, you have to be diligent about where you spend your time as a leader. Trying to change people who are unwilling or unlikely to change is simply not a good use of your energy. Follow the rule of thirds and you’ll quickly build a team of people who can leverage any new technology or major transformation in more unique and effective ways. That’s your differentiator – a worthy investment, indeed. 

[ Want to give your team a greater sense of urgency? Get our new resource: Fast Start Guide: Creating a sense of urgency, with John Kotter. ]

Robert Walden is Chief Information Officer at Epsilon, where he is responsible for cybersecurity and global infrastructure services for Epsilon's portfolio of client-facing products and solutions, as well as internal corporate IT services.

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