I logged into my personal email account and found one of those infomercial announcements. You know the ones with the pity title that is just begging to be clicked. Well this one was entitled “Five Best Careers For Introverts” and it’s an advertisement for Phoenix University. Here is the list in rank order:
- Computer Systems Analyst
- Medical Records and Health Information Technician
- Graphics Designer
- Computer Programmer
Great two of the top five jobs for introverts are located in IT. The roles are described in terms like “While it’s true that you may have to check in with management from time to time, the daily grind involves a lot of alone time, including “sitting at a computer and crunching numbers,” or “As a computer programmer, you might be “sitting all day at a computer writing programs that require technical skills.”
I want my accountant to concentrate on my business and financial information, the same with medical records. The accuracy and integrity of that information is important. So too the accuracy and integrity of business information delivered by IT, but there is so much more to technology than information.
While these job descriptions are accurate they are also indicative of one of the fundamental challenges in IT – business engagement. How can you engage the business when the essential value proposition is ‘a lot of alone time.’ I understand, as an introvert at heart, value the time to concentrate and focus on solving problems. It’s not that alone time or being an introvert is bad, it’s just less valuable to IT now than at any other time in its history.
You see the new set of technologies that we are working with are inherently externally or extrovert technologies. Mobile, Social, Cloud, Big Data, etc. all involve engaging people; they are all significantly more personal than their predecessors. These are parts of our lives in the way that an Accounts Receivable aging report form an ERP never could be.
So rather than celebrating the introvertness of IT, rather than saying that it is a place for you to go and “sit all day at a computer,” we have to make IT more active, engaged and engaging. Avoid wrapping up the introvert in a blanket called ‘relationship management.’ Such moves re-enforce the idea that the introvert is just an input into the process, someone without a name or a face, just a ‘project resource.’
Recognize the entire team on a successful project in ways that they want to be recognized, not the way you would like to be rewarded. For some that is the lime light, for others it’s getting the opportunity to work on cool new project, take a class or take some time off. Ask people how they want to be recognized before you give the recognition.
Trying to change people’s nature is a tall order and the subject of many romantic comedies. Rather than changing who people are, why not create situations that draw those strengths out, celebrates them and provides an opportunity to have everyone see the value, creativity and innovation of people’s work. Just because you are an introvert, it does not mean that you do not want recognition for your work, that the opinion of others is not valued, that you are disconnected from society.
Rather you connect in a different way, and in ways that are often exactly what IT needs to show more of. Results matter to you, you want what you do recognized, valued and rewarded rather than focusing on you personally. You get upset when people do not see your work, your results, and your achievements. Especially when others who can ‘market’ or ‘play politics’ better than you get more recognition, more discussion and more attention.
You know that results matter that consistent excellence is what moves an organization forward, and that smoke and mirrors only work for so long.
It is time for CIOs and business executives to create the opportunities for real world results to get recognized. Holding technology days that allow people to demonstrate their work, asking project teams to create short video’s of their project, what it hopes to accomplish and how its innovative, holding contests to address persistent challenges or problems are all ideas to engage the entire IT organization.
It is also time for introverts to express themselves in ways in which they feel comfortable. For example using social media to raise and discuss issues regarding IT is a good way to express opinions, ideas and innovations without getting out in front of people.
The nature of IT work is detailed, focused, technical and engaging. I have had people who like to work with ‘things’ more than work with ‘people.’ But that does not mean that they have to be introverted, its just that you as a leader need to find a way to recognize their work, relate it to the whole and engage them and everyone in the challenges and successes of working with technology.
Technology is bigger than IT, it is more personal, pervasive, complex and innovative than every before. That requires changing the way we work and what we work on. We will need to focus, attention and insight of everyone, including those who tend to be more introverted than others. They cannot leave themselves in the past, nor be relegated to the past, as that is a loss for everyone.