Contributed by Cameron Gilbert, Gartner for Midsize Enterprises
Business acumen is the awareness of the broader internal and external business context. Employees with high levels of business acumen are up to 21% more likely to deliver value from digital initiatives compared to those with low levels. (Gartner 2018 Digital Dexterity Survey).
Unfortunately, only 18% of staff in IT have this skill. This should come as no surprise to midsize enterprise IT leaders. Often constrained by time and budget available for training and development opportunities, IT teams at smaller organizations struggle to develop business acumen to support and enable business partners. According to one CIO at a midsize manufacturing company, “My people are already overloaded with more than they can handle. I can either train them on technical skills they use today, or on business knowledge they may or may not use tomorrow.”
So how can midsize enterprises take action? CIOs should build business acumen in their IT staff by continuously developing basic skills that teams can apply to ongoing projects. Rather than focusing business training on abstract business concepts like finance, marketing, or the corporate strategy, IT leaders should prioritize practical training on how to be a better business partner.
Business engagement training for IT staff that uses relevant examples and exercises can add value to projects in real time. Specifically, MSE CIOs can show staff tangible ways to do their job better and improve business outcomes with three simple recommendations.
- Tailor Your Engagement Style — Increase the soft skills critical for IT to work with the business. Structure training to build understanding in IT employees around how to tailor their engagement style to suit the needs of business partners.
- Become the Trusted Advisor — Demonstrate how IT employees can improve their effectiveness when engaging business partners. This focuses training on knowing the right skills for meetings and ways to show those skills during interactions.
- Improve the Project Sponsor’s Experience — Optimize engagements between IT staff and the project sponsors to improve success. Highlight where and how IT staff can provide support to project sponsors to make them more effective in their role.
Better business acumen improves collaboration and delivers better digital outcomes. By paying attention to engagement style, trust and the sponsor experience, CIOs can balance a lack of time with an immediate need to build business acumen. Doing so will enable employees to reinvent their role to support the future of the digital organization.