Most people in the IT industry are familiar with the phrase “people, process, and technology.” While there are many technology and process standards within organizations, and while they are created by people and supported by people, the innate “people” component of technology development and management is often neglected.
The overemphasis on logic, analytics and process has led to leadership challenges such as poor communication, poor relationship management and poor stakeholder engagement. Critical IT projects have failed because IT leaders neglect the equally important “people” aspect of these programs. But as IT departments work to plan for 2021, IT leaders will need to reevaluate, prioritize and advocate for the technical and interpersonal needs of their employees.
I’ve laid out three best practices to make sure IT professionals are being effective when it comes to interpersonal skills in the new year:
Prioritize effective communication
Communication skills are often undervalued in the realm of technology, but they are key to effective leadership. According to a study published by McGill University, three in four employees see effective communication as the no. 1 leadership attribute, yet less than one in three employees feel like their leaders communicate efficiently.
There are simple ways to implement and encourage effective communication:
- Schedule regular team and individual check-ins to share necessary information in smaller settings – in today’s work from home landscape, consider video and phone calls to ensure teams stay connected.
- While disclosing limited details to employees might be necessary, the purpose behind any information given needs to be communicated. It’s important for employees to see the full picture to encourage motivation, but they should not be overwhelmed by looming issues.
- IT departments deal with difficult problems daily. Create a receptive atmosphere where employees are comfortable talking through issues. They should not be met with hostility or additional stress.
- Understanding that interpersonal skills are often not IT professionals’ strongest assets, differentiate the way information is presented. Some learn best through visual presentations while others need to hear information for it to sink in. Accommodate all types of learners by utilizing presentations when appropriate.
It is also crucial to remember that communication is a two-way street. Listening is equally important as telling. A strong IT professional not only listens carefully to colleagues and the issues they are describing, but also for subtext. It is easy to blame the process and technology, but sometimes it’s a lack of soft skills that keep problems from being solved. A skilled listener can “hear between the lines” and help their teams work through issues related to information technology projects from both a technical and interpersonal angle.
Lead by example
Professional development and continued growth are necessary in technology-focused roles due to the fast-paced environment we work in. While leaders need to encourage continued training for their team members, an effective leader has the self-awareness to know where they personally need to develop.
IT leaders often focus on external factors when working through difficult situations. By only prioritizing the process, technology and people they work with, executives are forgetting that they too require ongoing development to make them adaptive and effective in their roles. Through self-leadership, individuals are able to be reflective and develop a better sense of self.
Most importantly, developing this growth mindset will not only make leaders more effective and skilled in their roles, but it should have a trickle-down effect onto the team members that they lead. If team members are seeing the importance placed on development by those above them, they will inevitably take more seriously the importance of sustained improvement. Self-leadership skill development allows IT leaders to lead by example, once they have first led themselves.
IT leaders should also set an example of healthy habits. Because cyber threats can attack at any hour of the day, it’s especially hard to stick to a traditional 40-hour work week. But 88% of CISOs admit they work beyond traditional business hours, including weekends. Overworking and an unhealthy work-life balance leads to burnout and a lack of motivation. Set a clear example of balance and encourage your team to live mentally and physically balanced lives, and you will support your company’s success tenfold.
Nurture the next cybersecurity workforce
As cyber threats continue to grow in sophistication, organizations face a persistent challenge recruiting skilled cybersecurity professionals who are capable of protecting their systems against the threat of malicious actors. In response, it’s important for IT leaders to prioritize closing the gaps that currently exist in the national cybersecurity workforce. This can be done through continued education and training.
We cannot expect colleges and universities to produce cyber professionals who are prepared to work to protect systems on day one. Organizations need to make an investment in creating cyber training assets to provide a path of growth and learning for those studying to enter the workforce and those just beginning their careers.
By creating a growth-mindset culture, team members will more likely seek out training and mentoring opportunities. Leaders should offer a combination of certification training and self-directed training to again encourage self-leadership in team members, allowing individuals to make investments in their own careers.
Fortunately, this year’s crop of talent has already demonstrated their work ethic in a virtual environment under unprecedented circumstances while exercising their skills through practical offerings such as the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition. What sets many of them apart from their more tenured counterparts is that they have experienced and successfully performed while facing real-world threats even before earning their degree. By working to offer continued education and training, IT leaders should keep this in mind and utilize this unique insight for further organizational growth.
Organizations and IT leaders can also get ahead of necessary skills education by continually assessing performance and investing in means to fill skills gaps. It’s important to recognize that it takes time to develop cyber assets and training, but organizations should take that responsibility on to develop their own people. When employee goals are aligned with the goals of the organization, everyone will feel more motivated in their roles.
While technical knowledge is often considered the paramount asset within the information technology space, it’s important to equip IT leaders with the tools necessary to improve their understanding of others and to help others understand them. By creating a workplace focused on effective communication, self-leadership and growth, IT teams will be best equipped to handle and adapt to the fast-paced and ever-changing cybersecurity and IT environment.