Although most people don't want to admit it, there's a pyrrhic war going on between what masquerades as strategy and what hides behind the banner of execution at many businesses. Nowhere is this more rampant than in the information technology department.
The good news is that the IT team has tackled the low-hanging fruit. We can reliably print, surf the Web, run desktop applications and send outrageous Web findings to our friends without crashing our computers—whether in the office or on the road. In some organizations, IT is doing much more to buttress operations and support sales, and in others, it's not. When the connection isn't being made between your business strategy and IT operations, the lack of workable strategy or the lack of execution is usually at fault.
Conduct a process audit. Understand how the marriage between your business strategy and IT implementation is going. IT doesn't exist for its own sake: It's there to serve the needs of business. High-priced consultants aren't needed, but taking a realistic look at how your margin business gets done, where your company provides differentiated value to your clients and whether IT plays an integral role is critical. If you can't see clear lines of connection between your business strategy and where you spend your IT dollars, there's most likely significant room for improvement.
Understand what's on the technology landscape. In "10 To Watch", we highlight technologies that could help your business grow. And in "Hiring Trends Report", we cover some of the tech skills that your business may need onboard in the coming year. Working knowledge of Microsoft SQL and Windows NT and XP make the list, as well as database management and app development skills. But strong project management acumen is one of the most underrated—yet important—skills an IT manager can possess.
Project management encompasses many things—most of which intersect with the fine art of execution. Experts disagree on whether strong project managers actually need specific technology skills, but no one contests the importance of follow-through, setting priorities and soliciting consensus when it comes to managing technology projects.
Add "the ability to execute" to your skills checklist. If you're planning to add to your management team, invest time in scoping out the technology skills needed based on existing and upcoming platform needs but don't ignore the execution skills. The ability to execute often makes the difference between programs that meet their intended strategic goals and those that fall short.
The next time you plan to add to your staff, do yourself a favor and read Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan make the case for examining the executable steps behind a business strategy and outline several key considerations for interviewing job candidates. One of their suggestions is to delve into the details of how a candidate gets things done and if they get excited about doing things, as opposed to just talking strategy alone. Another is to ask candidates to explain their methods for enlisting assistance and understanding the roles that other team members play.
If you're hiring, things must be going well. Congratulations!