Dealing in Strengths

Technology people know that there’s always a “next new thing” coming down the pike.

That’s why, when the day comes that they can’t shift their career ladder onto the next new technology, they start digging in their heels and looking for ways to make “their” technology last forever.

It’s not just the staff that do this. I’ve met people who’ve been in management for a quarter century or more who still, no matter how good they are, bias their decisions to hold onto the technologies of their time in the trenches, even if all the other ones from the past are easily removed.

A lot of this comes from the way we handle people. When we evaluate them, we look at their weak points.

If you’re feeling that you’ve become exposed, because your technical skill base is receding into the past, an analysis of your weak points, no matter how gently done, is frightful.

What these folk do, of course, is look to their job description. Thanks to the ways most of us build these, with many small points to be fulfilled, they focus on accumulating many small positives to make up for the big negative they fear (whether their manager is looking at that or not!).

Here is how the make-work starts.

Of course, evaluating people against every element of their job description, so that their performance measurement requires them to show accomplishment against every line item, rather than stepping back and taking the big picture of them as a contributor, doesn’t help this.

In fact, it institutionalizes it.

IT job descriptions also don’t tend to pull out the three aspects of any role in a clear fashion, to help guide a manager to think about a person holistically.

There are people skills, also known as business or soft skills. These are the ones that go with being a person in an office setting in an organization. Communication, some nous about money, organization and planning, negotiation, etc.

There are process skills, also known as “why you’re here” in the business, but seldom why people in IT think they’re there. Task achievement, flow, anticipation of future problems, risk management, etc. go here.

Then there’s technology skills. You can program, you can analyse, you can design, you can schedule, you can problem-solve. (Every job function in an organization has its own specialties in this area: understanding pay equity or the nuances of benefit tuning is key to a human resources person, for instance.)

Focusing, in evaluation, on the strengths a person brings rather than their weaknesses allows you to see how best to put them to work now (the focus on weakness stems from not having the slack capacity to actually reward accomplishment: it allows for a general capping of pay expectations and thus manages a budget).

For all of us, our time on the cutting edge of technology comes to an end, either because we made a choice to work on this rather than that (and the market went the other way) or because we get locked into a role and miss the chance to keep adding new products, languages and tools to our arsenals.

Strengths, though, are deeply needed in IT from the people and process sectors. A focus on strengths in evaluation would help both the staffer and their manager see how a person could contribute and succeed, removing the fears.

With that, the organization gets better. Much better.

Right now, most IT organizations (as with the enterprises of which they are a part) waste most of their talent. Think of the productivity that could be unlocked simply by focusing on putting people to work where their strengths lie rather than focusing on their weaknesses. Think of the defensiveness that would leave — and think of how much more fun managing might be.

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About passionateobserver

I am a passionate observer of our society, the economy, and politics. Mostly I don't like much of what I see, so I write as a concerned citizen. To the fray, I bring a background in the philosophy of history, a lifetime's reading, a work history in information technology management, consulting and education.
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