Business, HR leaders blame technologists’ poor soft skills for project delays, quality hits

But they’re hiring cybersecurity, technology specialists without evaluating soft skills – and with no plan to developing technologists for leadership roles

Companies understand the value of technologists with business skills but most are failing to develop those skills in the IT specialists they hire, according to a new study of HR and IT attitudes that suggests business people still see technology teams as a drag on productivity and effectiveness.

Fully 53 percent of the respondents polled by West Monroe Partners – whose Closing the Technology Leadership Gap research included over 600 HR/recruiting professionals and 650 business employees – said they had been working more with technology staff over the last 3 years.

This hadn’t always been a good thing, however: fully 71 percent said that issues in the IT-business collaboration had delayed or prolonged projects, while 43 percent said the quality of work had decreased and 33 percent said projects had missed deadlines as a result.

The firm’s analysis suggested that verbal miscommunication (cited by 66 percent of respondents), poor teamwork (52 percent), and written miscommunication (43 percent) were the biggest causes of collaboration issues – but reports from HR staff suggested that few companies were evaluating these skills in the technologists they were hiring.

Businesses “should actively look for technologists with the interpersonal, writing, and teamwork abilities to thrive in an integrated business setting and develop into leaders,” West Monroe Partners senior director Greg Layok wrote, noting that projects – and blame for failures – can no longer be classified as a business or an IT issue.

The problem is exacerbated given findings that 40 percent of employers don’t provide training in these skills – meaning that if technologists don’t have them when hired, they are unlikely to develop them on the job.

This can marginalise technologists, who are not being hired based on leadership potential – and end up being marginalised by their peers as a result. Fully 4 out of 10 HR leaders in the study said leadership was the least important soft skill when choosing technology candidates – and leadership was most often cited as the weakest soft skill among technology professionals.

“Soft skills factor into a technology employee’s career advancement,” the report notes, “yet businesses don’t provide the necessary training to further develop their IT professionals’ soft skills.”

This reality should motivate businesses to “actively look for technologists with the interpersonal, writing, and teamwork abilities to thrive in an integrated business setting and develop into leaders,” Layok wrote. “The challenge is formalising a process that most effectively evaluates prospects for needed soft skills and leadership potential.”

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Organisations will need to get more aggressive about finding and engaging the right staff in 2018, recruitment specialist Hays IT warned in its prediction of the top recruitment trends this year. This “game-changing transformation for employers” would replace the conventional ‘advertise & apply’ model, the firm noted, drawing on data analytics to actively prepare shortlists of suitable candidates.

Rampant demand for technology skills presents its own issues, however, since 61 percent of the HR leaders in West Monroe Partners’ study said technology roles are harder to fill than business roles. This may make businesses less picky about whom they employ – setting themselves up for collaboration problems down the track.

The best technologists may also be proving harder to source because they are actively looking for jobs that offer roles with upskilling and development, Hays IT noted. Those opportunities might come in the form of extra responsibilities, working on projects outside their original scope, mentoring, or being given time to attend conferences or webinars.

With a skills market transformation underway and the ongoing skills crisis as background noise, companies pursuing digital-transformation initiatives need to make sure they address these shortcomings head on, warns Y Soft Australia managing director Adam O’Neill – particularly in high-demand, critical areas such as cybersecurity, AI and Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities.

“Without effective planning for the resources needed to achieve the digital transformation,” he said in a statement, “organisations can find themselves with a skills gap that delays or undermines the transformation’s objectives.”

“It’s important for decision-makers to evaluate the organisation’s current skillset against those required by the digital initiative. This will reveal key gaps that need to be filled, at which point the company can decide whether current employees are capable of learning new skills – or if new talent needs to be sourced.”

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