While the economic situation in 2023 may seem more volatile and less favorable than it has in the last few years, businesses are still investing in transformation projects. They realize that their customers, whether other companies or consumers, increasingly expect intuitive digital services. That requires teams to design, develop, and deploy applications that enable those services.
Boom time for skills development
So even as certain areas falter, demand for technical talent, such as software developers, remains strong. There’s a lot of debate about how to recruit talent – do you hire wholesale or develop the skills of existing workforces?
Realistically, the answer lies in finding a balance between the two. The demand for technology is such that if companies can add to their headcount, they probably will.
At the same time, there’s been a talent shortage for years, driving costs higher and pricing smaller organizations out of the market. In those instances, learning new skills and building on existing capabilities makes a lot of sense.
What skills should teams be learning? There are technical abilities, of course, such as coding languages. But in many ways, these are dictated by the wider business – if a particular service requires a specific language, then that directly influences talent acquisition through hiring or learning.
[ Also read Retaining IT talent: 5 tips for better training opportunities. ]
Soft skills are power skills
While businesses must always keep their technical skills up to date with the latest technological advances, they also need to consider their workers as more than just the sum of their role-specific capabilities.
As I talk to customers, it’s increasingly clear that what I refer to as “core” or “power” skills need to be prioritized and given the same attention in learning and development as technical credentials.
What do I mean by power skills? These are what others might term “soft” skills – those that we use to engage, interact with, and influence the people around us, as well as the skills of self-management. I don’t call them soft as it implies they’re less demanding than job-specific capabilities.
You might be the best coder in the world, but if you can’t communicate with non-developers, few people will understand what you’re doing. Plus, you’re going to struggle to know what they need.
I would much rather work with a developer who needs more time to get the code right but knows what the broader business wants than with one who gets the code right the first time but delivers products that don’t meet the organization’s needs.
Power skills often act as a multiplier on the effectiveness of your “hard” skills.
Leadership: the ultimate power skill
“Technologists need to communicate better.” This is not a particularly new lament; it’s been said in one form or another since computers entered the workplace.
Many people still envision software developers as technically gifted but socially restricted. Fortunately, that image is evolving, especially as more people change careers and come from other industries, developing those power skills and applying their technical knowledge to become valuable assets to any business.
But this creates a new demand: As developer teams grow, one power skill is increasingly needed: leadership.
Bigger teams have more people that need to be managed, coached, and led. That requires specific skills that aren’t always a focus when people start their development careers. For example, if you started your career through self-taught experience or by enrolling in boot camps, online courses, or even a formal computer science degree program, your skills are likely to be primarily technical in nature. Your exposure to power skills might not happen until you’re well-established in the workplace.
There’s also the issue of how people progress in software development environments. As you work, you accrue knowledge and develop expertise and specialisms in specific areas and languages. Ideally, you’re rewarded for your development and establish a reputation as an experienced team member. Then one day, someone decides the team needs a new leader, and they give it to the team member with the most experience.
Experience doesn't always equal leadership
When you’re leading a team, you’re responsible for its members' recruitment, personal development, career progression, motivation, and output.
Managing all that is a true power skill, but mastering it doesn’t necessarily happen with experience alone. Like any other skill, it must be taught. And some people will naturally absorb and apply those lessons better than others.
While experience and knowledge certainly contribute to being a good leader, they aren’t the only prerequisites. Particularly in smaller organizations – the only way to progress is to take on leadership responsibilities.
For some, this is precisely what they need and want; for others, it’s not. Therefore, business leaders must be proactive and encourage their tech team members to develop leadership skills. Retaining strong, experienced leaders is vital to the transformation projects companies need.
For any change program, you need leaders who can understand and disseminate the value to their teams. Those leaders will often act as the bridge between technical and the wider business. They need to be able to sit in both camps and communicate effectively so that both sides understand what the other is trying to achieve.
Focus on leadership
The demand for high-quality digital experiences won't diminish in the year ahead. Organizations will need the technical talent to develop the right applications and the ability to motivate, manage, and develop that workforce.
When we talk about non-technical skills, we need to recognize them as the power skills they are. The ability to lead teams isn’t something everyone can acquire. Still, businesses that identify the right people and equip them to be influential leaders will have a greater chance of success.
[ Leading CIOs are reimagining the nature of work while strengthening organizational resilience. Learn 4 key digital transformation leadership priorities in a new report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services. ]
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