No IT Guts, No Business Glory: Empowering Technologists to Be Agents of Transformation

What are the greatest risks facing organizations currently? Would you be surprised to know that four of the top five risks are technology-related? And no, we’re not talking about machines and AI replacing human beings and taking over the world. The fear of that happening, however, is perpetuated by the REAL problem: Gartner’s 4Q18 Top 10 Emerging Risks report lists talent shortage as the number-one risk.

What does that mean? “Organizations are unable to find the talent they need to achieve their strategic objectives.” It’s no coincidence that pace of change, lagging digitization and digitization misconception fall just behind talent shortage at spots three, four and five of emerging risks. Doesn’t it seem strange that these issues prevail in a world where technology is ubiquitous, and everything about IT exists to support business outcomes?

Digital transformation has become the MO of market disruption. Organizations are being challenged to embrace technology and innovation more aggressively than ever. Yet those who know how to navigate digital transformation and the tight-knit relationship between technology and business outcomes are in high demand but short supply. How can that be?

Risk or Familiarity: What Do You Prefer?

For just a moment, let’s go back to this age-old fear that artificial intelligence will make the human race obsolete. Technology is so woven into the fabric of our lives that you would think businesses inherently embrace technology adoption and innovation. But even Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have supported the idea that technological advancements could pose a real threat to us in the future. Steve Jobs never bought it, maintaining that technology would always be an extension of us—tools to enhance our lives and our work, to be of help and make things easier for us. Yet even as advanced technologies are integrated into society, a culture of intimidation persists. 71 percent of IT directors and managers recognize the urgency to embrace a culture of innovation, yet most feel thwarted within their organizations.

People fear what they don’t understand. They fear uncertainty. They fear risk and failure. And yet we know the greatest minds throughout history, from Leonardo da Vinci to Elon Musk, have thought of failure as integral to progress and innovation. It takes bravery to embrace change or to push forward despite not knowing exactly what’s ahead. A level of caution and consistency is necessary unless it reaches the point where it begets complacency and stagnation.

As creatures of habit, people are comfortable with the familiar. The familiar is well-understood, proven and trustworthy. Why change what works, right?

Complacency allows people to disengage from actively looking for better ways to do things. Many organizations with rigid business practices are slow to implement change unless they’re forced to. But the most successful organizations are the early adopters—the ones that proactively enable constant innovation, that recruit the brightest minds and out-of-the-box thinkers, and that don’t settle for the status quo.

In other words, the ones that aren’t afraid to try something, fail, and then try something else.

Five Types of Technologists

A recent study by AppDynamics identifies five types of technologists in today’s digital business landscape:

  1. Agents of Transformation
  2. Digital Pioneers
  3. Untapped Heroes
  4. Frustrated Innovators
  5. Disillusioned Dreamers

Cut Complacency, Fuel Innovation

Agents of Transformation are the innovators—those who possess all the right competencies and tools, and the confidence to make game-changing leaps toward market disruption. They are the early adopters, the influencers, the risk takers. They invent solutions to problems or new ways of doing things that would have never occurred to anyone else.

The AppDynamics report explains that these individuals tend to work in forward-thinking organizations. Recognizable traits of Agents of Transformation include being both technically and creatively minded—relentlessly learning, researching, experimenting and staying in front of what’s new.

The other technologist typologies listed in the report exhibit varying degrees of these traits. Digital Pioneers are only as good as their organizations equip them to be. Untapped Heroes are only as heroic as organizations and leadership embolden them to be. Frustrated Innovators can only be less frustrated and more productive if they are operating in an environment of encouragement and enablement.

Agents of Change can only exist within organizations that can meet the above standards. By fostering an environment that will attract and keep these technologist typologies, organizations can tackle the talent shortage—and other key risks on Gartner’s list.

Cultivating the Right Stuff

It is the Agents of Transformation who can alleviate fears and misunderstandings around technology and keep organizations from falling behind the curve due to a rapidly evolving business and technology landscape.

Gartner’s research indicates that companies “need to shift from external hiring strategies towards training their current workforces and applying risk mitigation strategies for critical talent shortages.” Organizations must adopt and foster a culture of innovation to keep employees engaged and their business evolving.

Complacency and demotivation are a dangerous product of a culture that is averse to change. If the right skills, tools, leadership support and reward are not established, progress and innovation stagnate. And complacency is a slow but certain death for a business. 

It’s true that rolling out and embracing change continuously adds new layers of complexity to operations. But cultivating the right talent, tools and cultural mindset can overcome fear and enable business transformation.

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