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The Way Business Is Moving

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Issue Date: February 2008

Culture over technology

1 February 2008
Mike McGrath, strategy enablement executive, Red Man Technologies

If the skills shortage is your basis of thinking, you are in trouble. It stampedes you into thinking that your recruitment should be based on getting skills, any skills. And then you bring personalities into your organisation that are disruptive or simply do not fit with the organisational brand you are trying to build.
Remember the good old days of IBM as Big Blue, when all IBM employees seemed to have been cookie cut from a single template? Even down to the blue suit. You could single an IBM employee out of any crowd.
OK, so the IBM example was a tad extreme, but the principle is sound. Whatever the IT products or services you are taking to market, you have to have a brand. Some ethos or image that differentiates you from competitors and makes customers want to work with you. And your people are part your brand, if not the whole of your brand.
Which makes recruiting talent as much a brand building exercise as it is the acquisition of essential skills. In other words, you have to recruit talent that fits into your corporate culture and will therefore represent your brand accurately.
And, no, you cannot employ the skills and hope to turn the person who owns them into someone who fits your corporate culture if they do not already inherently share your corporate values. For one thing, people with the right sort of IT skills are all too aware that they can pick and choose amongst jobs and if they feel uncomfortable having to swallow your corporate line, they will simply move on.
By the same token, all of us have a need to live and work among like-minded people. So, the kinds of IT people who want to be maverick geniuses working on contract on specialist projects will seek the kinds of companies that want their type of person. People who want to work as part of implementation teams on ERP systems will seek those kinds of employers.
So personality and culture fit is more important for both employer and employee than technical skill. For the most part, anyway, skills can be taught. If there is a basic aptitude and a flair for maths and science, most people can learn what they need to know in IT.
But, when it does come down to training a new recruit, particularly one fresh from school or a technikon or university, do not make the mistake again of focusing primarily on technical skill.
Yes, of course you have to ensure that they understand your products and services in depth and can deliver them superbly on the company's behalf. But there is more to delivery than knowing which byte goes where. The soft skills, such as meeting management, negotiation, presentation of proposals, even something as apparently simple as answering the telephone, are absolutely vital to getting work into and out of the organisation.
Equally vital is business acumen. There is not a lot of point to having someone with superb technical skills if he or she cannot apply them to the business benefit of the customer.
So, once you have recruited the personality, you have to train for multidimensional skills that ensure that your products and services are delivered to your customers in ways that best represent your brand.
In the process, you will be building fully rounded talent that, even when they leave you (because they will eventually), will serve the best interests of the industry. Effectively, you will be seeding the industry with people who think the way you do and will, therefore, open progressively more doors for your products and services. In other words, there is no downside to thinking people before skill.


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