The Soft Skills for Hard Core Technical Professionals blog is maintained by Profitable Growth Partners, LLC. It provides a venue for the exchange of ideas on the topic of skill-sets that are required for today's technical professional.

Friday, March 23, 2007

IT Priorities - 2007

I was recently catching up on some reading, and was able to spend some time reviewing the results of CIO Insight’s annual survey of CIOs and their priorities. One of the things I found most interesting was the section where they asked CIOs “What are your IT organization’s three most important management priorities for 2007?” It wasn’t even a horse race. The top three priorities came through loud and clear:

(1) Improving alignment with business objectives
(2) Improving the performance and capabilities of IT management and staff
(3) Reducing IT costs

If you would have asked me same question during most of my career in IT management, I would likely have answered exactly the same. Well, maybe during 1998/1999 I might have added “recruiting staff with web skills.” But what I came to learn over all those years is that as much as I sought out better alignment of IT with the business, it was actually by investing in the skills of our staff that we were able to move the needle on alignment. Alignment is a noble goal, but until IT staff are more able to relate to, and interact with their general business counterparts, real alignment will continue to be difficult to attain. Oddly enough, when organizations begin to invest in the non-technical skills of their teams, they not only achieve better business alignment, but costs can actually be driven down as projects are delivered more effectively. So priority #2 from the list can often be the lynch pin that drives and delivers priorities #1 and #3.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

How are Your Soft Skills?

Want to have a little fun? My daughter sent me a link the other day to a little test posted on the web site. It is a self assessment of your soft skills. If you want to give it a try, click here.

Since we launched our Soft Skills for Hard Core Technical Professionals series, the response has been overwhelming. The genesis of the idea came a number of years ago when I was leading IT for a large company, and we found ourselves working more closely with a number of people from disciplines such as Marketing, Communications, etc. The VP of Marketing, now a Partner with our firm, and I started talking about the difficulties our teams were having in communicating and working as a team.

As we actively worked with our teams to improve their soft skills, we found the teams working more effectively together, and the solutions being delivered were better than ever. For talented professionals, especially in the technical fields, soft skills can make all the difference. So, how are your soft skills?

Monday, March 19, 2007

A Formula to Measure Business Agility

A post from the CIO Magazine Blog with a comment from Profitable Growth Partners, Managing Partner, Randy Bancino:

By Michael Hugos

March 12, 2007

This weekend I spent an afternoon sitting in a coffee house in my downtown Chicago neighborhood pondering what it means to be agile and how to measure it. The place was busy but I got lucky and snagged the cushy armchair next to the plate glass window in front that looks out on the sidewalk and the apartment building across the street. Watching the other patrons, looking at the people who pass by, and enjoying that burst of mental energy induced by a fine café au lait is often a good way to get inspired and be creative.
I started with the definition of agility in business as: the ability to consistently earn profits that are 2 – 4% (and sometimes more) higher than the market average. Agility enables companies to earn an additional 2 – 4 % because they can make a hundred small adjustments every day to reduce operating costs and increase revenues. And sometimes agility enables you to earn even more by sensing and responding quickly to opportunities for new products or services, that for a while, have terrific profit margins.
I decided to use this results oriented definition of agility instead of attempting to describe what agility is because we have a lot yet to discover about being agile (agility “best practices” as they say) so any description I offer now will only change later. Also, I figured that unless agility actually delivers additional profits then why go to all the trouble of being agile in the first place?
There is one caveat to this definition of agility though - true agility is self-sustaining, not self-consuming. By this I mean companies can always get a short-term boost to profit margins by cutting headcount, reducing customer service, squeezing suppliers for lower prices, and deferring repairs and improvements to infrastructure. But that is self-consuming, like spending down your bank account. It’s not agile because it isn’t sustainable; it does not create or renew; it only uses up.
So if business agility is the ability to consistently earn an additional 2-4% (and sometimes more) then what is the combination of factors that delivers this delightful state of affaires? At this point I ordered another café au lait. And as I sipped that hot, foamy, milky coffee, I looked out the plate glass window and saw a woman walking by with two big dogs; the dogs were so happy to be outside they pulled at their leashes and wanted to charge off down the street. She worked hard to keep them out of trouble.
Then I eavesdropped on a conversation going on at the table next to me. A couple of college students were discussing an upcoming organic chemistry test; one student was showing the other how to read a formula and draw out the molecular structure implied by the formula. Good coffee houses serve up a stimulating mix of impressions like this to go along with their fine fare and the resulting blend is often the source of interesting ideas.
Here’s the idea that emerged from the blend of that second café-au-lait and the impressions I just described. First of all, I think agility happens when we see something we want and when we are highly motivated to go after it. But we can’t just go charging off down the street; we have to focus on what’s important and act effectively. Secondly, I think there’s a formula to measure agility and it goes like this:
Business Agility = (Visibility + Motivation) x Training
What this means is that companies will consistently earn an additional 2-4% profit if their people can clearly see what’s going on in their area of operation and if they have the motivation to respond appropriately. The effect of this visibility and motivation will be multiplied and magnified by the training people get. The better people are trained, the greater the results will be.
This formula identifies the main factors that promote agility and it shows how they interact with each other to produce different levels of agility. It points out what factors to measure when we’re trying to assess the level of business agility possessed by a company. Visibility can be measured by the technology and procedures a company uses to collect, store, disseminate and display information. Motivation can be measured by the incentives and authority people are given to make decisions and act to achieve company objectives. Training builds peoples’ skills for using visibility, for making good decisions, and acting effectively to achieve objectives. So training can be measured as well.
Wow. Now we can start to discuss agility best practices using a common and measurable framework to compare one practice to another (did I leave out something important?). This formula is either a very useful insight or it's the result of too much caffeine.

Business Agility = (Visibility + Motivation) x Training
This is truly an interesting formula and hypothesis. I am especially interested in training as the multiplier. Considering that training is often the first expense to be cut, and least often measured productivity enhancer, this would suggest that most companies are missing out on what may be the biggest factor in “business agility.” I would also point out that training needs to be aligned with the strategic drivers in the business. As technical professionals we often get so caught up in training for the next new technology, that we neglect the equally important soft skills that can be used to leverage our technical skills in ways that harness synergy to deliver optimal solutions.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Grooming the 2010 CIO

Developing and expanding personal productivity is a key driving force of the Soft Skills for Hard Core Technical Professionals series, however an additional reason that many companies invest in the soft skills training of their technical professionals is to groom key people for future leadership roles. In the information technology world, the top leadership position is typically the Chief Information Officer, or CIO. This week, “CIO Insight” magazine published the results of a report entitled “Grooming the 2010 CIO.” Respondents to the survey listed personal characteristics that they regarded as essential for a technology leader. They used terms such as “edge,” “energy,” “execution,” “passion,” “ability to take criticism,” “negotiating, influencing,” “selling and visioning skills” as the abilities and traits that were required.

These are the skills that many technical professionals don’t receive formal training in as they prepare for their careers, or as they advance their careers. Yet, these are the skills that move technical professionals up the value chain within an organization, and the skills that are required of technology leaders.

Randy Bancino
Profitable Growth Partners, LLC.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


Grand Rapids, MI (PRWeb), MARCH 12, 2007: Profitable Growth Partners, LLC., a Grand Rapids-based business strategy and training firm, announced the national launch of its highly acclaimed Soft Skills for Hard Core Technical Professionals Series. The training series, which is intended for technical professions in such fields as information technology, engineering, research, etc., strengthens the skill-set of professionals in areas such as communication, interpersonal relationships, customer focus, leadership, and teamwork.

“Serving as the Chief Information Officer for a large global company, and then later as the V.P. of Sales and Marketing for a national firm, I was able to see first hand how these skills contributed to successful projects, and successful implementations of technology,” said Randy Bancino, Managing Partner with Profitable Growth Partners, LLC. “Rarely did projects fail because the technology didn’t work; because the staff didn’t understand the technology; or because we hired the wrong consultants. A lack of soft skills was almost always the culprit.”

Profitable Growth Partners worked with the Center for Organizational Design and other top organizations to put together a comprehensive program that measurably improves the skill sets of today’s technical professional. The end result is a team that implements more successful projects, improves customer focus, and elevates their contribution to the success of the organization.

About Profitable Growth Partners, LLC.
Profitable Growth Partners, LLC. works directly with the leadership of companies and organizations to help them harness their potential to accelerate growth and enhance profitability. Through their exclusive Business Acceleration Process and their Top Gun for Business People TM series, the experienced business growth experts with Profitable Growth Partners deliver improvements to a business’s strategy, processes, structure, systems, and culture, resulting in measurable improvements in both the top line and bottom line.