Links for April 25 2010

Technical Excellence isn’t enough

Technical Excellence is not enoughTechnical Excellence is something we all strive for in areas that we care about. We all want to be really good at something don’t we?

It takes a long time to be excellent at something.    You’ve heard of the 10,000 hour rule right?  You’ve got to practice for 10,000 hours to be ‘the best’ at something.

But…is technical excellence really going to make you the best?

You might be able to shoot the perfect three-pointer or setup a database so that its optimized perfectly. But can you do these things in such a way as to make a real difference for your organization and/or yourself?

Can you shoot that perfect three-pointer when it matters in the big game?  Will your database configuration and optimization knowledge help restore the network & databases when the entire network crashes?

While there’s nothing wrong with striving for technical excellence, you should probably stop and ask yourself the following question:

Is Technical Excellence enough to make a difference?

Technical excellence is worth striving for but sometimes it’s only the beginning.

Technical Excellence gets you to “Point Zero”

My good friend Roger Morgan is the Lead Photographer for the Boy Scouts of America.  Roger has decades of experience as a photographer and got his education from the prestigious Brooks Institute.

Needless to say, Roger is a great photographer.  He’s told me a few times that all the years of study at the Brooks Institute gave him the technical knowledge he needed to take a good photograph.  But…all that knowledge only got him to Point Zero.

In other words, the technical expertise Roger obtained allowed him to be able to take a good photograph but it was Roger’s skill, creativity and eye that has allowed him to get past Point Zero.

Roger’s technical excellence served him well and allowed him to get started but it’s his experience and natural abilities that have allowed him to be successful.

Moving past Point Zero

Think about Michael Jordan. The man is one of the greatest basketball players to have ever played the game.  He lived and breathed basketball and definitely practiced the 10,000 hour rule.

All that practice allowed Jordan to become technically excellent as a basketball player.  He could shoot. He could move.  He could really play the game.

But…that technical excellence wasn’t the only thing that made Jordan successful.  He was successful because he was passionate about the game.  He was successful because he allowed himself to fail. He never gave up…he let his passion drive him.

Jordan’s technical excellence got him to Point Zero. It was his skill, passion and drive that moved him past it.

Point Zero in the IT world

In the IT world, we have a lot of people who are really smart and really good.  There are people that are called ‘gurus’ because they are so technically capable at managing databases or managing projects.

But have these gurus moved past Point Zero?  Are they able to utilize all their abilities and skills to build upon their technical expertise and create something of value.

As the CIO or Senior IT leader, have you moved yourself and your team past Point Zero? Anyone can build a server farm to serve the needs of the organization & be disaster proof, but very few have taken an innovative approach to turn those server farms into revenue for the organization (think Amazon or Google).

How will you move yourself, your team and your organization past Point Zero?

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The Dangers of Hidden Talent – New CIO Series

TalentThe New CIO is a weekly article about the challenges facing today’s CIO as well as what can be done to prepare for future challenges.

Do you know the full capabilities of your team?

Sure…you know what their resume’s said.  You think you know their backgrounds and their experience…but do you really know your team?

Do you have a developer who, in their free time, is extremely active in the blogosphere and the social media world?  Do you have a project manager who really wants to make a lateral move into service management?

Do you really know your team?  If you don’t, you may be leaving a lot of talent, skills and passion on the table.

Dangers of Hidden Talent

Leaving talent untapped is unforgivable to me and should be unacceptable to you. We live in a world where we’re expected to do more with less and rely more heavily on people’s knowledge & skills to make our businesses work.

Knowing this is the case, why do we hire a person, train them (do you train your people?) and then forget about them?  Why do we ignore the idea of talent management and human capital? Read more of my thoughts on those topics here and here and if you’re looking for a great book on Talent & Competitive Advantage, check out Talent : Making People Your Competitive Advantage (amazon affiliate link) and/or Talent on Demand: Managing Talent in an Age of Uncertainty (amazon affiliate link).  Both of those books are excellent.

Do you have regular meetings with your team?  Do you talk about their careers?  Do you know that your star programmer is a widely read blogger?  Can you use the talent and passion of that programmer to more than just develop the next application?

Hidden talent doesn’t just sit within your front-line teams.  Did you know that your Director of Technical Support is working on her Masters of Fine Art in Creative Writing?  Are there things she can do to provide more value to the organization than just leading the service desk?

Hidden talent is hidden profit, hidden revenue and hidden advantage.  Hidden talent can also be the death of your team if it isn’t uncovered.

Uncovering Hidden Talent

Do you know what drives each of your team members? What really gets them excited in the morning?  I’d bet there are a few people on your team that aren’t that happy in their current role and who are looking for something else to do.  Rather than lose them to another company, why not help them find something more interesting within your team and/or organization?

What can you do to help them become happier and more engaged? Could you get your programmer / blogger to work on more projects where he can use his writing skills?  What could your Tech Support Director provide to the organization now that you know she’s extremely interested in creative writing?

Of course you can’t make everyone 100% happy all the time.  People still have jobs to do…but if you take some time to talk with your team about the career ambitions and do what you can to help them reach their goals, you’ll be amazed at the response you’ll receive from them.

What can you do to uncover hidden talent?  Simple…talk to your team.  I mean really talk.  Try to understand their aspirations and what drives them.  Look for their hidden passions & skills.  Work with your team to uncover the hidden talents and you’ll see new vigor from your team.

Finding the Talent – A New CIO skill

So…time to add one more skillset to The New CIO’s job requirements…that of Talent Miner.  Of course, this role can be fulfilled by any member of the IT staff (and anyone else in the organization), but as the top dog in IT you’ve got to lead people in this area.

The New CIO needs to get things done with the resources given to them…but those resources might be able to provide  more value than originally thought…if you look for the hidden talent. “Doing more with less” is the mantra these days…find those folks on your team who are passionate about something and find ways to let them bring that passion to their job.

Uncover the hidden talent within your team/organization and watch the growth that occurs.  Fail to uncover that talent and you’ll fail to reach the potential of your people and your team.

Join me next week for another article in The New CIO series.

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Do you have a ‘go to’ person on your team?

Every team/group has a ‘go to’ person. You know…that person that you (and others) know you can count on to ‘get stuff done’.

You find yourself always relying on the one or two people on your team that can move a mountain but have you ever thought about what affect you might be having on that person (or people)?

Perhaps your ‘go to’ person loves playing the role but after a while they can get burnt out by carrying the load of the team.

Perhaps your ‘go to’ person is starting to wonder why the other team members aren’t asked to carry a similar workload.

Perhaps you should rethink how you use your ‘go to’ person to ensure that you still have a ‘go to’ person in the future.

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When half an hour is greater than 14.5 hours

Heard a wonderful story last week from a developer friend of mine and thought I’d share (with commentary of course!).

He had taken a full-time job at an organization as a Senior .NET developer and was working an average of 55 hours a week for them. He liked the work he was doing but wasn’t too keen on the ‘punch-in/punch-out’ timeclock that they used to track all employees. Nonetheless, he was happy…it was interesting work and good pay.

At the end of his third week there, he decided to head out early one Friday afternoon and get an early start on the weekend. He ‘clocked out’ 1/2 hour early and enjoyed his weekend.

Monday morning comes along and what does he find in his email? A message from his boss stating that he would need to stay an extra 1/2 hour to make up for the previous week. He went to see his boss figuring it might be an automated message from HR but was told that he was expected to work a minimum eight hour day and would need to make up the time.

His response to his boss? A respectful question about the additional 14.5 hours he had worked the previous week and why those hours didn’t make up for early departure the previous week. ‘

The response from his boss is classic ignorance: “we pay you for 8 hours a day…we expect a full 8 hour day from you“. It also shows his ignorance in math…..since when did 0.5 become greater than 14.5 (the number of hours he worked in addition to the 40 hours)?

Needless to say, my friend resigned and is now working as a contractor being paid hourly for the work that he does.

His boss, and the company that he had worked for, were a classic example of the ‘old school’ business management mindset: You must be in your chair for 8 hours a day to do your job. This is so wrong…especially with the research studies that are coming out left and right (see this post and this one).

Competitive Advantage and the Resource Based View of the Firm

Managing Knowledge for Sustained Competitive Advantage: Designing Strategies for Effective Human Resource Management

As a follow up to my previous post titled Competitive Advantage – The Human Capital Approach, I wanted to take a second to talk a little bit about the Resource Based View of the firm that I mentioned in the previous post.  Before I continue, if you are interested in this topic, definitely take a look at the book titled Managing Knowledge for Sustained Competitive Advantage: Designing Strategies for Effective Human Resource Management (affiliate link).

Most organizations don’t place a high enough focus on human capital management as a component of competitive advantage. In order for an organization to be successful in any market, they must create value for their clients. This value can be created using a new strategy, new technology or some other ‘gimmick’ but in order to sustain this value (and the competitive advantage it brings), organizations must develop and maintain an engaged, knowledgeable and creative workforce (Afiouni, 2007).

To create a workforce that provides sustainable competitive advantage and value creation, an organization must create an environment that allows their human capital to grow, much like money sitting in an interest bearing account does. This growth, expressed within people as increased knowledge, increased motivation, increased engagement, etc can be used to create competitive advantage that would be very difficult for competitors to imitate (Afiouni, 2007; Agarwal & Ferratt, 2001; Luftman & Kempaiah, 2007).

Out of the many theories of organizational behavior, one aligns itself well with the human capital view of people within an organization. This theory, called the Resource Based View (RBV), suggests that the method in which resources are applied within a firm can create a competitive advantage (Barney, 1991; Mata, Fuerst, & Barney, 1995; Peteraf, 1993; Wernerfert, 1984). The resource based view of firms is based on two main assumptions: resource diversity and resource immobility (Barney, 1991; Mata et al., 1995). According to Mata et al. (1995), these assumptions are defined as:

  • Resource diversity (also called resource heterogeneity) pertains to whether a firm owns a resource or capability that is also owned by numerous other competing firms, then that resource cannot provide a competitive advantage.
    • As an example of resource diversity, consider the following: a firm is trying to decide whether to implement a new IT product. This new product might provide a competitive advantage to the firm if no other competitors have the same functionality. If competing firms have similar functionality, then this new IT product doesn’t pass the ‘resource diversity’ test and therefore doesn’t provide a competitive advantage.
  • Resource immobility refers to a resource that is difficult to obtain by competitors because the cost of developing, acquiring or using that resource is too high.
    • As an example of resource immobility, consider the following: a firm is trying to decide whether they should buy an ‘off-the-shelf’ inventory control system or have one built specifically for their needs. If they buy an off-the-shelf system, they will have no competitive advantage over others in the market because their competition can implement the same system. If they pay for a customized solution that provides specific functionality that only they implement, then they will have a competitive advantage, assuming the same functionality isn’t available in other products.

These two assumptions can be used to determine whether an organization is able to create a sustainable competitive advantage by providing a framework for determining whether a process or technology provides a real advantage over the marketplace.

The resource based view of the firm suggests that an organization’s human capital management practices can contribute significantly to sustaining competitive advantage by creating specific knowledge, skills and culture within the firm that are difficult to imitate (Afiouni, 2007; Mata et al., 1995). In other words, by creating resource diversity (increasing knowledge and skills) and/or resource immobility (a culture that people want to work in), sustainable competitive advantage can be created and maintained.

In order to create human capital resource diversity and immobility, an organization must have adequate human capital management practices, organizational processes, knowledge management practices and systems, educational opportunity (both formal and informal) and social interaction (i.e., community building) practices in place (Afiouni, 2007; Barney, 1991; Mata et al., 1995; Schafer, 2004).

NOTE: I am finishing up a White paper on the topic of Competitive Advantage & Human Capital and hope to have it available within the next week or so…check back soon.


  • Afiouni, F. (2007). Human Resource Management and Knowledge Management: A Road Map Toward Improving Organizational Performance. Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge, 11(2), 124.
  • Agarwal, R., & Ferratt, T. W. (2001). Crafting an HR strategy to meet the need for IT workers. Association for Computing Machinery. Communications of the ACM, 44(7), 58.
  • Barney, J. B. (1991). Firm resources and sustained competitive advantage. Journal of Management, 17(1), 99-120.
  • Luftman, J., & Kempaiah, R. M. (2007). The IS Organization of the Future: The IT Talent Challenge. Information Systems Management, 24(2), 129.
  • Mata, F. J., Fuerst, W. L., & Barney, J. B. (1995). Information technology and sustained competitive advantage: A resource-based analysis. MIS Quarterly, 19(4), 487.
  • Peteraf, M. (1993). The cornerstones of competitive advantage: A resource-based view. Strategic Management Journal, 14, 179-191.
  • Schafer, M. (2004). Why Workforce Management Is Back In Style. Optimize, 67.
  • Wernerfert, B. (1984). A resource based view of the firm. Strategic Management Journal, 5, 171-180.

[tags] competitive advantage, technology, resource based view of the firm, human capital, organization [/tags]

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