Mike Rollings

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Mike Rollings
Research VP
5 years at Gartner
28 years IT industry

Mike Rollings is VP of Gartner Research within the Professional Effectiveness team. His research discusses what IT professionals need to know about transformation, innovation, human behavior, contextual strategy, collaborative organizational change, communication and influence, and cross-discipline effectiveness . His research can be read by IT professionals with access to Gartner for Technical Professionals (GTP) research. Read Full Bio

The New IT Reality Demands a Participative Workforce

by Mike Rollings  |  April 22, 2013  |  Comments Off

Last week my report “Field Research Summary: The Changing IT Career” was published on Gartner.com. This report summarizes the findings from our field research project focused on how goals, expectations and trends are affecting IT careers from the practitioner’s point of view. This field research incorporated both a Gartner Research Circle survey and in-depth interviews with Gartner clients and nonclients in 4Q12. It represents the perspective of middle management and practitioners from 29 countries.

This report sheds light on these important questions:

  • What are the new realities for IT?
  • Why is it necessary to create a participative workforce and a new form of effectiveness?
  • How should the way we manage, hire and engage staff change?

The data illustrates that the new reality for IT is a very different way in which organizations approach, discuss and cocreate business solutions where technology is just a component of the discussion about business change. IT practitioners and managers know that this requires a participative workforce, but they also know it cannot emerge without attention to nontechnical skills, new hiring and management practices, as well as renewed efforts to eliminate dysfunctional and undermining behaviors, some of which include:

  • Broken job titles, descriptions, postings and hiring
  • Ignoring the emotional connection with employees
  • Lacking collaboration and silo effectiveness
  • Talking a good game but not helping people change
  • Not freeing people from day-to-day demands so that they can change

The report highlights that many organizations are failing to adapt to the new IT realities, but it also discusses how some are making progress reshaping their IT workforces. These organizations are implementing practices for individuals and managers that engage workers in a new game. And possibly the best news of all, almost all the things organizations can do to address the new realities are zero cost — they just take the resolve to do things differently.

If you are a Gartner client, this new report is available on Gartner.com. If not, this webinar provides an overview of the findings.

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Category: Altered States Contextual Strategist Engagement Human Behavior Management Transformation Uncategorized     Tags: , , , , , ,

Bad Habits Cause IT Talent Shortage

by Mike Rollings  |  April 3, 2013  |  7 Comments

This morning I read a blog post by Nick Corcodilos “Ask The Headhunter: The Talent Shortage Myth and Why HR Should Get Out of the Hiring Business” and it seems Nick and I have come to a similar conclusion – the talent shortage is self-imposed.

My Field Research Summary “The Changing IT Career” is about to publish on Gartner.com. This document summarizes our findings from a field research project focused on how goals, expectations, and trends are affecting IT careers. This field research incorporated both a Gartner Research Circle survey and in depth interviews with Gartner clients and non-clients in Q42012. It generated a wealth of data mostly from middle management and practitioners from 29 countries. It sheds light on these important questions:

  • What are the new realities for IT?
  • Why is it necessary to create a participative workforce and a new form of effectiveness?
  • How should the way we manage, hire and engage staff change?

One of the many findings is that IT practitioners realize we must reshape the IT workforce – A participative workforce must emerge but it cannot without attention to non-technical skills, new hiring and management practices, as well as renewed efforts to eliminate dysfunctional and undermining behaviors. Part of that finding is that broken job titles, descriptions, postings and hiring perpetuate dysfunction and prevent us from getting the staff with the broader skills and competencies we need. If you read Nick’s post then this will certainly sound familiar.

Titles and job descriptions have real problems and it is detrimental to reshaping the IT workforce. Jobs are narrowly defined with a focus on technical skills and they seem to get more narrow instead of capturing the broader skills required for today’s IT practitioner. As a result, our bad habits perpetuate dysfunction. This dysfunctional cycle is illustrated below:


Is there a real shortage of talent, or are we looking for, asking for and developing the wrong things? It appears we brought on the shortage ourselves. If we valued competencies over skills (for example, understanding application development not just how to code in a particular language), valued non-technical skills over technical skills, and valued developing people over just finding a resource, then we would find a much larger pool of candidates for any job opening.

Want to cure your talent shortage? Cure the dysfunction.


We will be discussing findings like these at our Catalyst Conference (July 29 – August 1, 2013). Jack Santos, Jamie Popkin and I have several sessions about improving professional effectiveness including our workshop “Gearheads Guide to Your Future IT Career”.


Category: Engagement Human Behavior Management Uncategorized     Tags: , , ,

Why projects fail? Hint – It’s not technical skills.

by Mike Rollings  |  March 28, 2013  |  Comments Off

A large area of concern for many Gartner clients is “How do I get a large organization to do new things, to collaborate effectively, and to improve overall delivery effectiveness?” This area is a huge focus for our Professional Effectiveness research – it not only applies to architects, but also to our entire constituency of IT professionals. They all have challenges with the human-side of project success. I have had many discussions with clients relating to “How do I deal with humans?” piece – it is a different type of conversation, not so much about the technology as it is about how do you get buy-in, influence stakeholders and achieve lasting behavior change.

Our recent Gartner Research Circle survey asked clients about project failures. No respondent chose “technical skills” as the cause of IT project failure. What this illustrates is that IT practitioners know that non-technical skills are always a factor in project success. Yet many organizations ignore the development of non-technical skills.


Gartner’s Professional Effectiveness (PE) coverage provides detailed advice about developing non-technical skills – “how to manage, interact and work with people”. We focus on how an individual should develop themselves – how IT’s organizational and individual mindsets, beliefs, and actions impact what they do. It helps IT practitioners learn influence, collaboration, and communication skills that are traditionally weak and more centered on ‘telling and control’ than ‘engagement and influence’. PE research helps the IT practitioner learn proven ways to communicate, influence and think through behavior changes.

Here are two examples of recent client conversations:

  1. I spoke with a client who was given responsibility for an application portfolio rationalization project. Their organization tried to do this for the last several years with no success. The main failure we identified was a lack of developing stakeholder support. We discussed the approach described in the document “Developing Buy-in For Change” (client access only) and how to develop the necessary business stewardship.
  2. Another client was newly responsible for business relationship management function in IT. Most business relationship managers (BRM) had failed to change their role from “IT problem go-to person” to being engaged in business planning discussions and planning IT service delivery activities. We discussed the impact that businesspeople’s perceptions were having on these failures and discovered that the original implementation years ago failed at setting business expectations for the role. We discussed how to reset perceptions and expectations, how to illustrate the problem “Why do we even need BRMs?”, and also how to engage differently with business areas (discussed in “Redefining Marketing IT from “Telling” to Engagement”).

At our Catalyst Conference (July 29 – August 1, 2013) Jack Santos, Jamie Popkin and I will have several sessions about improving professional effectiveness. One such session is our workshop “Gearheads Guide to Your Future IT Career” based on our findings in our field research project “The Changing IT Career”. The workshop will cover:

  • What are the new realities for IT?
  • Why is it necessary to create a participative workforce and a new form of effectiveness?
  • How can I improve my engagement and my ability to engage others?

I hope to see you at Catalyst. It would be great to help you and your organization have more successful projects.

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Category: Applications Contextual Strategist Engagement Human Behavior Management Uncategorized     Tags: , , , , ,

Work from home and making adult choices

by Mike Rollings  |  March 20, 2013  |  1 Comment

My friend and colleague Jack Santos sent me a link to the NYTimes story “Looking for a lesson in Google’s Perks” by James B. Stewart. Jack knows I am interested in work from home and anything else for that matter related to employee engagement. The article states that “Google doesn’t require employees to work from the office” but most people actually do work together in the office. Google, it seems, creates a place where people want to work and then expects their employees to make adult choices. Who knew that good parenting advice applied to managing people (please note the sarcastic tone).

I agree with Professor Amabile quoted in the article, the biggest mistake Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer made was taking a hard line on work from home. Our recent field research about “The Changing IT Career” showed that the top two emotional considerations leading to people’s career satisfaction (and dissatisfaction) are:

  • It fulfills my personal passion, satisfaction, and development
  • I want to make a difference

Given these drivers of emotional satisfaction, it seems simple that employees would make the choice to work less from home if they understood that collaboration was essential, that the organization was going to do everything it could to allow people to make a difference, and that it required working in-person more frequently to spark ideas. Add to that the pull associated with having a great workplace and it would be doubtful that someone would think “Let’s see… I like the people I work with, the workplace provides all kinds of things personally and professionally to succeed, and we really need to create some killer ideas to survive… nope, not going to go work with my peers.” Heck, if Jack and I lived in the same city we would definitely choose to work face-to-face several times a week.

There is much talk about work from home, but I don’t think this is a work from home issue at all. If employers are sincere about wanting to encourage collaboration and creativity, then show your sincerity by providing new choices, not eliminating them. Explain why new choices are necessary, make the preferred alternative attractive and ask people to make adult choices together. Work should be fun not a police-state, and the more you think that you can mandate creativity and engagement, think again. Instead, create the space where it can happen.

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Category: Engagement Human Behavior Management Uncategorized     Tags: , , , ,

Lessons from Lance – the future and Digital Doping

by Mike Rollings  |  February 20, 2013  |  1 Comment

Recently several of us Gartner analysts were discussing the future of digitally enhanced humans. This covers a wide range from drugs that enhance cognition to prosthetics that enhance our physicality. With Lance Armstrong’s public fall from grace it is easy to see how artificial enhancement has infiltrated and tarnished professional sports. But I’m wondering about how devices make us appear more knowledgeable and how they may misrepresent our true capabilities. Is society okay with that? Is there a different standard?

Think of it, it exists today in Words-With-Friends where the app suggests that a better word is possible than the one you just spelled. But it is also sci-fi like where someone may have access to insights via digital prosthetics that make your work appear better than someone else. You diagnosed a problem simply because you accessed data via Siri or some other service.

It opens an interesting can of worms and begs the question “If doping is wrong for cyclists to enhance their performance, is digital doping wrong?” You can hear many of the same arguments tossed out for digital doping:

  • Everybody is doing it
  • All of the top performers do it, so it is a level playing field, right?
  • I only did it once, but didn’t like it
  • They didn’t tell me I couldn’t use performance enhancing products

I’m curious, where do you stand on this idea? Do you think that digital doping is okay?

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Category: Human Behavior Uncategorized     Tags: , ,

Goodbye Baked Ham

by Mike Rollings  |  November 28, 2012  |  Comments Off

Zig Ziglar died today.

The title may make instant sense to his followers or to those of you that have heard me tell his story about baked ham. It’s about his wife sawing the end off of a roast before baking because she thinks it creates a better roast. But when they call the originator of the ritual, her grandmother, she says that she did it because her roaster was too small.

It is a story about doing the same thing you always have done even if you don’t know why you do it anymore. As a dedication to Zig Ziglar we should all pause and think about the rituals we perform unwittingly and ask ourselves “Why did I start doing that in the first place?” and “Have the conditions changed under which that made sense to do?”

Thanks for the memorable stories Zig!


Also see Seth Godin’s blog

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Category: Altered States Contextual Strategist Human Behavior Management Transformation     Tags: , , ,

“Making Pianos” or “Being an Artist”

by Mike Rollings  |  November 26, 2012  |  1 Comment

I saw a story on CBS about Wally Boot who has worked at the Steinway factory for 50 years. He was born on Steinway Street and has learned how to make every part in a Steinway, but what he makes is so much more.

At the end of the story, Charlie Rose says “there is a word for people like him – artists…” and the other host innocently says “born on Steinway Street and 50 years later making pianos”. It illustrates an important distinction for your work. Are you an artist or just a worker? It also begs the question — Do you see art in the work of others?

You can always get something cheaper, but can you get something that embodies the passion of the people who create it? Do you value the passion within you that makes what you do in life special, and do you strive to develop it?

I frequently see examples of both perspectives, people who believe that value is solely monetary, and others who increasingly care more about the experience – what goes into it and where they get it. But as work increasingly becomes cerebral, social, and creative the latter perspective is one we must embrace. We must value the artist, especially in ourselves.

Watch the video and think about the attention given to the felt hammers.

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Category: Human Behavior Management Uncategorized     Tags: , , ,

The Nexus and IT Jobs – It’s Hip to be Square

by Mike Rollings  |  November 5, 2012  |  Comments Off

Last week our “2013 Professional Effectiveness Planning Guide: Coming to Terms With the Nexus of Forces” was published on Gartner.com. It discusses the Nexus of Forces — social, mobile, cloud and information — and the profound implications for IT.

The nexus forces combine to provide a platform and impetus for innovation, but many organizations are ill-prepared to fully take advantage of this human-machine ecosystem. Organizations are impeded by older architectures and, more importantly, by out of date thinking and practices that inhibit full realization of nexus scenarios. The primacy of human-centered practices and engagement is clear. IT professionals must correct non-technical skill deficits and reshape work practices to improve consideration, participation, cocreation and innovation. They also must respond to societal changes imposed by the nexus while changing legacy architectures, mind-sets, habits and skills designed for an increasingly obsolescent way of working.

So what’s IT jobs got to do with it? We are still hiring for our past!

In April 2012, my Gartner for Technical Professionals (GTP) report “Job Postings – Hiring for IT’s Past” was meant as a wake-up call for IT organizations. It shows that most IT organizations are hiring for the wrong requirements – 95% of job postings sampled in this Gartner study pay little attention to social and other nontechnical skills. Six major job markets were part of the study and the results all point to a lack of interest in social skills and other essential non-technical skills. Although the postings ask for the latest technical skills, human engagement requirements were conspicuously missing.

This lack of human engagement elements in job postings is a problem that needs to be addressed. If you want to entice engaged contributors into your workforce then current recruitment approaches need to be overhauled. To underscore this point, contrast your organization’s job postings with those of Square. This post is not an endorsement of Square or its products, but it is an endorsement of the way they present themselves to prospective employees.

Listen to the video on their posting page, and if you are really energetic view the videos on the related posting pages. These videos don’t focus on the technical skills they need, they focus on the emotional skills they need.

These are just some of the things I gleaned from the videos:

  • Learn, grow, be challenged
  • Help change an industry
  • Encourage people to be engaged
  • Have a material impact on the company
  • Take risks
  • Ideas come from all parts of the company
  • Co-creative process
  • Fun, passionate, with a shared sense of urgency
  • We are all entrepreneurs and we are empowering entrepreneurs
  • At this company, everyone is making an impact
  • Engineering—not top down

Two of my favorite quotes are “We build beautiful experiences so they stand the test of time” and “I don’t think anyone wants to toil in obscurity.” Wouldn’t you want to work in this type of environment? What type of people do you think they will attract? I think they will have no problem attracting people with the technical skills they want, but more importantly they will attract people with the behaviors and passion that they want.

I’ve been paying attention to how organizations are changing their hiring practices. I’m sure the large search engines still churn through zillions of resumes looking for search terms that employers hope will result in a great applicant. But to me, it is a fall start. If you focus on technical skills in your postings, then filter resumes based mostly on technical terms, isn’t it likely that you are filtering out all of the people you really want to apply?

Think about it… then do something about it!

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Category: Altered States Contextual Strategist Human Behavior Management Transformation Uncategorized     Tags: , , , , ,

Career Survival Skills for Gearheads

by Mike Rollings  |  July 19, 2012  |  1 Comment

The Gartner for Technical Professionals (GTP) research team is fond of gearheads. You know, the technical professionals who get things done within organizations, the ones who find the answers.

For the past 5 years the Professional Effectiveness team has been doing gearheads workshops at our Catalyst conference to help technical professionals in different aspects of their career. Our goal is to enhance this premier technical event by helping technical professionals navigate their career, enrich their non-technical skills, and improve their business relevance.

The original gearheads workshop was “The Gearhead’s Guide to the Corner Office”. This workshop helped technical professionals gain insight to the mind of the executive, how to avoid technology rat-holes in executive communication, and how to identify and discuss business drivers. Other Professional Effectiveness workshops have discussed a variety of career and self-development issues, including the following two examples:

  • The Gearhead’s Intervention Program – Discussed the changing business and IT environment, barriers to communication between IT executives and IT practitioners, challenged perceptions and stereotypes, and identified behaviors and tools that result in better outcomes.
  • A Gearhead’s Guide to Influence, Persuasion and Presentations – Discussed various aspects of human and organizational behavior that impact your ability to get things done (e.g. culture, organizational inertia, perception) as well as how to overcome them. It included our influence and communication methodology, and how-to advice to improve presentation and persuasion skills.

This year is no different. At Catalyst 2012 Jack Santos, Elden Nelson and I are presenting “Career Survival Skills for Gearheads”. This workshop discusses how the IT profession is changing and how all IT professionals must respond to the Nexus of forces that is reshaping how organizations think about technology, who does it and how it gets done. We will discuss critical survival skills like:

  • How do you engage yourself and others?
  • What is in store for the role of IT, your role, and what is critical to your career?
  • Paying attention to human dynamics, and creating a participative work environment.
  • Becoming a master of influence and communication, storytelling, and conveying a message.

Why not come out to Catalyst for a massive helping of technical knowledge and learn ways to improve your career? Sounds like a win-win for both your technical and non-technical side.

From one gearhead to another, I look forward to seeing you at Catalyst and meeting you in our gearheads workshop.

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Category: Contextual Strategist Human Behavior Management Uncategorized     Tags: , , , , , ,

IT Jobs – Misplaced Value?

by Mike Rollings  |  July 16, 2012  |  1 Comment

This morning I was discussing an article from CIO.com by Patrick Thibodeau with my colleague Jack Santos. The article “IT Job Seekers Face Hot Yet Terrible Market” discusses how the IT job market is both hot and not, mentions effects from expectation inflation, and that it depends on location, location, location. The article sites a few examples that got me thinking, “Do employers create their own dilemmas through misplaced value?

I’ve discussed job descriptions and job postings before and how it appears that we are asking for the wrong things. In fact, asking for the wrong things may create false scarcity. For instance, the article mentions Python experience moving from a “nice to have” to “must have”. Do employers compete for scarce resources because they set their sites on technical competencies over the skills that yield technical competency?

When I was in college, I studied different languages as part of my computer science degree. Learning another language was no big deal. Yes, there were different programming paradigms, but learning recursion in assembly language permitted me to know recursion in any language. Technology skills may be important, but understanding language concepts and the ability to learn was massively more important than knowing a particular language. (This is also why our Catalyst 2012 workshop “Career Survival Skills for Gearheads” focuses on the non-technical skills IT professionals need for survival).

I do understand that if given a choice, an employer would like someone with a particular skill over someone that had the ability to learn that skill. However, as we add more and more skills to the “must have” list, the odds decrease that you will find what you seek – the pool of people with all the “must haves” is smaller and smaller.

Are employers raising the bar artificially high?

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Category: Management Uncategorized     Tags: , , ,