We are now seeing a real renaissance in the ITSM industry. The days of the single approach to service and project management, based purely on ITIL or Prince2 as the only tools and models to use, are numbered. There is a clear and tangible move to use a broader portfolio of methods and approaches, including CoBIT, DevOps, BRM, Lean, Cynefin, IT4IT, SIAM and other ideas, as well as ITIL of course. This development is healthy and underlines the need to use a variety of techniques in order to be flexible.
'People skills' appreciation is on the rise
But as with every renaissance, we now need to find the renaissance men and women with the diverse skillset and knowledge to support our Brave New World, people who understand people. Indeed, the other big development in the last couple of years (and on-going) is the growing appreciation of ‘people skills’. We’re all familiar with the long-trumpeted ‘people, process, technology’ mantra which is used in our industry. However the focus has too often been on process and technology, at the expense of the people part.
"We now need to find the renaissance men and women with the diverse skillset and knowledge to support our Brave New World, people who understand people."
It’s long been known and understood by many people across the industry that ‘soft skills’ are the real differentiators, the skills and attributes that lead to success.
If you simply compare two practitioners with the same levels of qualifications - technical and process - the one with the good people skills is more likely to succeed, to be the one that you would hire and want to work with. Similarly, you might prefer someone with fewer technical skills and qualifications to work on a project if they have the ‘soft skills’ needed - good personal communications, diplomacy, organisational change experience, negotiation, management, commercial skills etc.
Thankfully we are now calling this out and there is a real demand for knowledge, guidance and expertise in this area. The ITIL Practitioner included a number of these elements, our own (ITSMF UK) PSMF is based around these ideas, and many of the plethora of new models include or are focussed on people and cultural elements, such as DevOps, BRM, and Cynefin.
So why has this been such an issue? Why have so many projects missed the point about people and human interaction skills? Why have we not taken this seriously at the industry level so that it’s clear to all involved that process and technology are not enough?
One simple answer might be that it has often been beyond the capability and experience of those tasked with delivering these projects, and whose management assume that by sending them on a few training courses, they will then be able to transform the whole organisation. Given that the industry hasn’t really pushed the value of people enough, this is perhaps understandable.
A wider interpretation of the problem could also be that soft skills are actually the hard part.
The demands of changing culture, and particularly standing up to long established dynasties and embedded ways of working, is often just too much of a challenge, particularly if you don’t have the necessary soft and hard skills. To be honest, it’s a real misnomer to call these skills ‘soft’ which implies easy, fluffy and lightweight. In actual fact these skills require mental toughness, initiative, bravery and confidence and are anything but ‘soft’.
"To be honest, it’s a real misnomer to call these skills ‘soft’ which implies easy, fluffy and lightweight."
What we need to do as part of the reinvention and renaissance of people at the centre of ITSM is to clarify that their people skills are not just essential but that, whilst they may not be IT/technical skills, they are very much in demand as part of what IT does and the value it delivers.
So, what do practitioners need to do to develop these ‘soft hard’ skills?
- As mentioned above there is a growing set of standards, methods and models available, many of which embrace these competence areas explicitly. It’s a good idea to be aware of these and to explore them, and to use relevant parts for your organisation.
- Using experience gained in other areas is also useful, and should be called out and referenced as widely as possible.
- Recruitment specialists should reference the key skills and attributes required - not just certificates but also real-life experience and evidence of competence in areas beyond technology.
- Our management of people should reflect the wider set of skills needed - so job descriptions, appraisals, reviews and rewards schemes should all include the ‘soft hard’ skills as key elements.
- Self-awareness is important: we should all be clear of our areas of strength and weakness, in order to improve. It is true that not everyone is a great communicator or leader - however being clear of where you can add value and where you need to improve your skills is an essential starting point.
So whilst we can build awareness of the types of skills needed, and we can’t all be exceptional at ‘soft hard’ skills, it’s useful for the organisation to set out the importance of these skills and how they complement the more traditional technical and process oriented capabilities. Recognition and awareness are the first steps: we can improve our organisation’s performance and perception by emphasising the value of the tough side of work - soft skills!