The Talent Portfolio

November 14, 2006

A recent ComputerWorld Article on IT Leadership had this to say about advancing to a C-level IT position:

While technology prowess is still important, it takes a back seat to leadership skills and solid business acumen… Many IT leaders still rise through the technology ranks, but the elevator doors now open exclusively for those who can effectively lead other people and who put business concerns first.

This skill diversity is something we have tried to instill in any of the people we have worked with, whether they are trying to manage their own careers or trying to hire a team. Unfortunately, it seems that one of the things that most people focus on is their technical skills – they think that having a strong set of technical skills is going to be enough to make them a leadership candidate. When talking to people who want to move forward in a technology career, the first instinct that they have is to work on getting a certification like the CISSP, CCNA, MCSE or something else. And when we see people trying to hire, they focus on the technical job description – “we need 6 years of Java programming experience”, etc.

Unfortunately, that’s a very limiting way of looking at it. Whether looking at my own career or looking to hire for a position, I have always viewed talent as a portfolio. And, as in stock investing, you want the portfolio to be tailored to the purpose – do you need growth, income, or stability?

In talent portfolios, I have always used the following model (another model was published in the May 2006 Harvard Business Review):

               - “Technical” Skill
               - Integrated Thinking Skills
               - Industry Knowledge
               - Relationship Skills
               - Company Specific Knowledge
               - Weirdness Quotient

When considering a job, I always evaluate it in terms of the skill requirements in each of these areas. Note that “technical” skills aren’t necessarily computer related – for example, in a marketing job, the “technical” skills are around designing campaigns, using marketing tools, copy writing, etc.

When you examine the needs of each of these for understanding either your next job or the hire that you’re making, you will find that there are considerations that you haven’t noticed – things you need to do in order to be successful that you would never have done when thinking only about the “technical” skills for the job.

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Comments

3 Responses to “The Talent Portfolio”

  1. Daniel R. Sweet on November 15th, 2006 6:45 am

    In the modern (large) enterprise, CIO is not a technical job. That’s why you have 40 technical people that you’re managing – they do the technical stuff.

    The job of a modern CIO (in this order) is to:

    1) Ensure the availability of the technology infrastructure (regardless, for instance, of natural disaster, power outage, moron users, etc.)

    2) Maximize the business value of existing technology.

    3) Investigate / impliment new technologies that increase profitability.

    And, while some of this requires some technology *management* experience, it does not mean that the CIO should be able to alter the parameters of the IDP system and more than the CEO needs to understand how to make a good weld.

    Just my .02…

    Dan

  2. DougV on November 17th, 2006 12:39 pm

    While I agree with you that these are tactical components of a CIO’s job, I would summarize that the strategic function of the CIO is to ensure that technology supports the overall business goals of the company.

    A CIO must understand technology at a high level but success on the technology side clearly rests on his or her ability to have clarity of the business vision and to hire the appropriate talent. A CIO should spend most of their time listening to what his/her peers are doing and asking questions.

    Having been a senior manager at both big and small companies, the biggest mistake I’ve seen with CIO’s who come out of technology (vs. business) is not considering the business goals when looking for solutions or managing existing technology (I would argue that implementing security is a great example of this).

    I see your .02 and raise you .02

    DougV

  3. Mike Murray on November 17th, 2006 12:43 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly with both of you. (I’m working on my political skills here).

    The point isn’t that a CIO can’t be a technical person, but that he doesn’t *have* to be one. You can be an incredibly strong senior manager and run an IT organization if you have the right people in place.

    The thing I didn’t talk about in this post (because I was focusing on the individuals) is that the same set of skills portfolios should be evaluated for an entire team… the CIO doesn’t have to have the technical skills *for* her team, but she certainly needs to have them *on* her team.

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