What It Means to Be a PR Pro in 2016 and Beyond


How crazy has this year been?

From a PR practitioner’s perspective, we’ve had to:

  • come up to speed with the challenges and opportunities of live video streaming (THINK: Periscope, Meerkat etc);
  • grapple with the ever-decreasing organic reach of our clients’ (agency or inhouse) Facebook Pages, while at the same time try to understand how advertising on the platform works;
  • keep abreast of all the new apps, tools and platforms that emerge with alarming regularity (one of my favourites is Meddle; I’m also a huge fan of Blab – I think it has huge potential);
  • stay ahead of the curve by learning and understanding the finer points of podcasting and audio-on-demand formats (this is a trend we’re going to see and hear a lot more of in 2016 and beyond);
  • become savvy video storytellers so as to tap into a visual medium that continues to grow like crazy;
  • continue to get our heads around the myriad platform changes occurring at LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram seemingly on a daily basis; and
  • understand the need to post content where audiences live, for example, blogging on LinkedIn’s Pulse, Medium.com and Facebook Notes.

And I haven’t even yet mentioned SEO, native advertising, online newsrooms and mobile (the latter, of course, is having a profound impact on the communications business) – these are all things PR pros need to have at least a basic understanding of.

Heck, we’re still trying to get our clients to understand the finer points of being on Twitter (be truthful, how many companies and organisations really get Twitter? Indeed, how many have truly become open and connected brands as a result of social media? How many value openness and transparency as core attributes?).

Of course, all of this is against an ever-evolving backdrop of big picture societal themes – fueled by technology but inherently driven by good old human behavior – that continue to force us to think differently (and act more nimbly) as professional communicators:

  • The democratization of information, in which everyone is now a real-time, global publisher.
  • Further to the above, a growing number of content creators are becoming bona fide influencers in their own right, which in turn means they probably should be on the radar of some in the PR industry.
  • Consumers are becoming expert ‘hunters and gatherers’ of information; we’re more than happy to get our news and information from a range of different sources, including brands – as long as we trust the source.
  • Demand for radical corporate transparency is at an all-time high (and at a time when trust in government, business and institutions remains at undesirable levels).

The good news is, the demand for savvy PR professionals is going to go through the roof as the complexity of communicating with one’s constituents continues to increase.

The challenge for communications pros is being ‘big picture’ enough to be able to join the dots strategically, but also sufficiently savvy tactically so any recommendations we make are practical and grounded in common sense, not just ‘cool things to do’.

Of course, there will also be an increased need for tactical specialists. For some of us, this might be a great way of differentiating our professional offering in the PR marketplace.

Lots of challenges ahead, but also heaps of opportunities available for those in our industry who invest the time to understand the ever-evolving new media landscape; not just how it works, but where it makes sense for us to be involved professionally. Concurrently, however, we should not forget the more traditional skills and tactics in our kitbag that when applied correctly in the right situation can still work effectively for the companies and organizations we represent.

Bring on 2016!

Does the Agency Model and Leadership Impact the Future of Creativity in Communications?


The Holmes Report recently released their fourth annual Creativity in PR Global Study and the results present a mixed bag on the status of right brain thinking in the PR profession. While there has evidently been an uptick in key areas – for instance viewing creativity as a key element in agency culture and more resources being devoted to creativity – there is still work to be done.

The study, conducted in association with H+K Strategies, provides both a snapshot and a somewhat longer view of the profession relative to its creative path.  But as with any study, the real insights are when the results of similar questions are considered together.

This year’s study included the question “Do you think the PR industry is set fair to deliver and lead creativity in the next five years, in terms of …?”. Respondents had four categories to respond to: Talent (hiring, training, diversity of workforce), Innovation, Agency Business Model, and Leadership.

Here’s how the responses netted out:

Unfortunately, this question wasn’t included in last year’s study, so there’s no way to know if there’s been a change. But there are both insights and dichotomies when the responses to this question are compared to the response to others.

Take talent for instance. Responses to a separate question about how agencies reward creativity indicated less than half (45.7%) do so as part of an annual performance review and a third don’t reward it at all. Taking that into account, how then could the industry as a whole be well positioned to hire, train and diversify for creativity into the foreseeable future? How many people – regardless of age group – will want to continue to work in an industry that says it values creativity, but your chances of being rewarded for it are less than 50 percent?

Let’s move to innovation. The greatest percentage of respondents to this question believes that the industry is poised to lead in this area. That’s all good, but when compared to the 50% of respondents who rated the current quality of creativity as ordinary in a separate question, there’s clearly a lot of work that needs to be done to get the industry to a leadership position in innovation over the next five years.

The Agency Model received the lowest percentage of yes votes relative to the long-term view and the highest number of no’s. Should we be surprised? The model has been in question for some time now, yet no one seems to know what to do about it. Unfortunately, when these numbers are combined with the fact that Leadership got the second lowest number of yes votes and the second highest number of no’s to this same question, it’s not difficult to see that the industry may be stymied in its efforts to be more creative.

Clients and agency personnel alike are providing some possible solutions. When asked if they could only do three things to improve their own or their company’s creative capabilities here are the top five responses:

      Improve use of insight

      Ability to take more risks

      Educate clients

      More budget

      Clearer client briefs

Three of the above require more direct money and two require more time, which equates to more money. With money involved, change in the agency model and leadership mindset will be necessary to address all or most of these.

In other parts of the report, client input suggests they’re willing to spend the money on innovative ideas, but not if there’s no data to back up the approach. Advertising agencies have never had a problem with this. They create ideas, test them, iterate on the results then present concepts based on data. Brainstorming might have gotten them to the initial idea, but the results of the brainstorm typically don’t go immediately to the client without some kind of data to back it up. That’s a model that PR firms aren’t used to operating within but may need to get comfortable with.

It’s encouraging to see that the industry as a whole is continuing to move toward a greater focus on being more creative. This has been a conundrum that has affected PR for decades. But verbalizing what you want to be and proving it are two different things. Rather than pointing to ad agencies and wondering why they get to wear the creative mantle, PR needs to take a clue from them and mimic what’s allowed them to do so. It’s going to have to start with agency and in-house leadership – their future and the industry’s may depend on it.

Why Flexibility is Key to Retaining PR Talent


One of the great things about working in PR is the variety. No two days are the same and if you’re working with the media, let’s face it, anything can happen. It’s also a competitive industry. There seems to be no shortage of PR graduates looking for jobs and the numbers of journalists wanting to move across to PR is increasing.

The problem the PR industry has, is retaining that talent. When I started my career in 1998, PR, at least in agency land, was very much about ‘climbing the ladder’ – from account executive, to senior account executive and so on. It was about money and status.

Today and in the future, talent retention has got to be about flexibility. In your early 20s, you don’t mind so much putting in the 12 hour days, heading into the office five days a week. Your work life and social life blur together. Once you get into your 30s, the novelty starts to wear off.

Forget the ‘duvet days’

Agency HR teams can come up with as many duvet days, cakes on your birthdays, or free massages as they like. Having worked in a number of agencies both in the U.K. and Australia, what many are failing to provide is true flexibility and accountability.

Yes, the media cycle today is 24/7. Yes, editorial teams are shrinking and journalists have to write increasing numbers of stories every day. If your job involves working with the media, social or otherwise, you need to be putting in those hours, chained to the desk. Right? Wrong.

Focus on outcomes

The problem, as a female dominated industry, is even more acute after women have had children. There is a reason why there are so few people in PR agency land after the age of 35. They’ve either burnt out, gone freelance looking for flexibility or in-house, choosing to work for companies that offer more than a few weeks paid paternity leave.

As an industry, we have to get better at making flexible work, work. The focus should always be on the deliverables, rather than the hours spent in the office. In PR agency land, you’ve no doubt seen the following: PR goes on paternity leave to come back ‘three days a week’, which as we all know, is four or five, just squashed into three days, to find she (let’s face it, it’s usually a she) is not ‘allowed’ to do client or media facing work. ‘What if the client calls her on her day off?’ So she’s left to write case studies and media releases. She gets bored. She leaves. She goes freelance or finds herself a job in-house.

Scrap the hierarchy

As if coming back to the PR industry isn’t hard enough. Already a tough job, being away from the industry for even six months, journalists have moved on, publications have folded, new ones started, clients have come and gone, existing ones have changed their focus – it’s so incredibly hard to get back into. You can’t just rock up and start rolling out the lesson plan you delivered last year.

One of the reasons I left my agency job in Australia was because I couldn’t work one day every couple of weeks at home. ‘You have a team to manage’ my boss would say. And there I think lies the problem. Not only do we have to embrace flexibility in our industry and give people the tools they need to work from anywhere they choose, but we need to scrap the hierarchy.

Trust is key

We have to get away from the ‘what you can’t see you can’t manage’ mindset. If we had more trust in the PR industry, between ‘employer and employee’, we wouldn’t need ‘managers’. We don’t have them at BENCH. We didn’t have them at an agency I worked for in the U.K. We had a flat structure. And it worked. It does work, extremely well.

Companies in the U.S. such as Zappos have scrapped their managers. Australian companies such as Atlassian and Canva are following suit. It’s a bold move for PR agencies which have structured themselves this way for decades, but it just doesn’t work. Staff churn remains too high and the client suffers. They have a new ‘account manager’ to bring up to speed every three months. And pity the journalist who has to try to remember the PR’s name.

Finding good PR talent is always going to be a challenge and that won’t change in the future. What we need to stop is the ‘burnout’ and offer flexible roles (and decent paternity leave) to enable both men and women to continue working in the PR industry or be able to come back. We have to trust that the people we work with, will do their jobs to the best of their ability and it’s up to us, as employers, to provide them with the flexibility and tools they need, to do just that.

The Rise of the PR Freelancer – From Temporary Stop-gap to Long-term Solution


When PR agencies engage freelancers, it’s often to help with one-off projects or fill in while someone’s on leave. Freelancers become a quasi-team member for a limited period of time, then when they’re no longer needed they’re off to the next job. Like a Mary Poppins of the PR world.

But the number of freelancers is on the rise – in the U.S. it’s expected that half the workforce will be made up of freelancers by 2020. As more employees leave full time work in favor of flexible working arrangements, there will be as many independent workers as there are salaried staff.

So what does this mean for PR?

In order to move with the times and continue to attract the right consultants, PR agencies will need to shift their thinking about the way they utilize freelancers; not just hiring them as a stop-gap solution, but looking to employ them longer term, working as an integrated part of the team.

A new structure

The PR agency of the future will need to restructure the business to allow for multiple employment options, tailored to individual staff needs. Moving beyond the rigid constraints of full time office-based staff, PR agencies will need to expand the way they work by welcoming independent workers as part of the team; not just as an extra set of hands to pick up the slack, but leading accounts, managing clients, and mentoring staff.

By creating a flexible, independent team of consultants who are able to work in the way they’re most productive – which doesn’t always include a traditional workday – this will mean a more efficient workforce delivering maximum results. As long as PR agencies implement the right procedures and invest in technologies which allow for staff collaboration, freelancers can become as much a part of the team as full time staff.

It’s easier than you think

While some PR agencies are already working with freelancers on a long-term basis, others have reservations about bringing freelancers – especially remote workers – onto the team.

  • Continuity: Understandably, agencies don’t want client accounts to be disrupted with a high turnover of freelancers. But this can easily be avoided by being clear about expectations upfront and making sure the freelancer is in it for the long haul
  • Intellectual property (IP): Freelancers can often work for multiple agencies at once, so it’s reasonable to be concerned about your agency’s IP. But it’s important to remember a freelancer’s reputation is their lifeline, so they’re unlikely to break confidences and risk getting a bad rap
  • Visibility: Some employers simply don’t feel comfortable with people working off-site, but as the trend towards remote working becomes the norm, this isn’t something that can be easily avoided. As long as KPIs are met and work is delivered on time, where the work is done shouldn’t matter
  • Culture: A strong agency culture is the backbone of PR so it’s a valid concern that independent workers won’t feel part of the team. While it’s true that freelancers miss much of the daily banter, there are still plenty of ways to ensure they become part of the team, whether that’s set days in the office, face to face WIP meetings or attending social events

The happily independent workforce

There are many advantages for PR agencies to shift towards a more flexible, freelance workforce. It’s cost effective, it can help reduce over-servicing, and having access to a pool of specialized freelancers means more opportunities for growth.

Most importantly, studies show that freelance workers are not only more productive, but they’re happier than full time employees. Given public relations is continuously ranked as amongst the most stressful professions, it’s time to take a serious look at how PR agencies can change the way they operate by employing independent workers to help create a more sustainable, more enjoyable work environment.

Adding New Skills and Capabilities to Create Collaborative Magic


Think back to your very first PR job, to the PR briefs you dissected and the deliverables required as you planned the scope of work or delivered the implementation. Now bring your mind back to today and your current tasks at hand. Take a look at the expected outcomes you’re tackling for the work you’re delivering.

The demands of PR briefs today require a much broader spectrum of skills. Let’s start with the services that remain a constant offering at the core of our profession:

  • Media relations
  • Stakeholder relations
  • Publicity
  • Reputation Management
  • Issues and Crisis Management
  • Media training

Now look at the the other bits of magic you’re creating in your work today. In no particular order and by no means definitive, consider which of the below capabilities you now have in place, or need to acquire, to service the full scope of work demanded from PR agencies today:

  • Digital
  • Social Media
  • Content
  • Community
  • Influencer Engagement
  • Experiential
  • Talent Management
  • Partnerships
  • Sponsorships
  • Data and analytics
  • Design
  • Photography
  • Video production

And what about some individual talents that could come in handy for the content piece you’re no doubt delivering:

  • Set design
  • Lighting
  • Sound and music production
  • Fashion styling
  • Food styling
  • Illustration (or someone who can paint really cool handwriting font for quotes to share on Instagram)
  • Professional talent (hand model, legs or hot dogs model, hair-over-my-face-in-the-sun-beachlyf model… the list goes on)
  • Cat video production
  • Extreme sports stunt person
  • Director of #yolo moments

With so many new capabilities and skill sets required to deliver on expectations of the PR brief today, it’s more important than ever to know what your strengths are and where you need to collaborate. Read more

Seven Capabilities for the PR Agency of the (Near) Future


Back in the day, PR agencies only needed two things to succeed – be a better than average writer and have a rolodex (aka database) of media contacts. (A bottle of scotch in the top desk drawer was optional.) While both of those are still important today, the complexity that’s been created with the popularity of social media and an unquenchable desire for visual content has added multiple new demands on the PR agency of today that will be in play well into the foreseeable future.

Given these trends, here are seven capabilities (including a variation of the two already mentioned) for the PR agency of the near future:

  1. Data capture and analytics – In the past, the only data you had to be able to analyze was the number of hits. Today, with so much data available on campaigns, trends and audience behavior, there’s really no excuse for a PR agency to say they can’t measure ROI. Notice the point here is that it’s data analytics not just data collection. All of that data only becomes actionable once it’s analyzed and that means having someone available who’s skilled at doing so. That means not only having data analysts on board, but making sure they’re trained in PR and having established processes in place.
  2. Social media measurement – Unfortunately, many PR firms and practitioners have resorted to simplifying this the same way two or three generations before them did with counting placements as the sum total of how to measure results. Today, there’s a mistaken comfort level in counting likes and follows (quantity) over engagement and referrals (quality). Since the popularity of social media channels is rapidly shifting with generations, measurement will continue to be difficult. But if agencies don’t get in the habit of doing this now, other entities will be doing it for them – and owning it as a result. Facebook, Twitter and Google offer a variety of free analytical tools to give you at least enough data to understand basic levels of reach and performance.
  3. Community engagement – Reams of paper and terabytes of text have been created about the importance of this. PR agencies have actually gotten quite good at it, but it’s quickly becoming commoditized. It doesn’t have to if you’re truly engaged with online communities. Take this example related to Kellogg’s the cereal company known for Corn Flakes and Froot Loops. After Tim Burgess lead singer for the Charlatans tweeted how the phrase “Totes Amazeballs” sounded like a type of cereal, Kellogg’s created a limited edition Totes Amazeballs cereal and released it via social media. That’s called true engagement and all it took was paying attention.
  4. Crisis communication in the 24/7 age – PR and crisis management have gone together like butter on toast. What has changed is the 24/7 news cycle and the ability of trolls to turn what may seem like a small complaint into a near life-threatening situation. The solution is to be hyper-vigilant about how any element of a campaign could be misconstrued, and by being hyper-responsive when things go south. Gone are the days when there was time to consider a response. While a crisis plan has always been a necessity (though often ignored until a crisis presented itself), it’s even more important today. And every possible contingency and response needs to be included.
  5. SEO and SEM – While most PR agencies are at least familiar with SEO, agencies that specialize in SEO are probably more aware of PR. They see the benefit of securing coverage with a link and are probably more in tune with how to make the most of it. PR agencies must become more adept and aware of how SEO works, but also look at how SEM complements it. Just because there’s marketing in the term, doesn’t mean PR should walk away and leave it to other types of agencies to understand and adopt it.
  6. Writing Varied Content for Different Media – Because content has become so vital and yet there’s so much of it, the need for good content that stands out from the rest is even more important. What’s changed is that PR agencies must learn to write well, write visually, and write about a lot of different topics. That means knowing how to use video and pictures to tell the story in ways that the written word alone cannot. This flies in the face of how PR has been taught and practiced with a reliance on the written word that is almost sacrosanct. But considering the prevalence and desire for more and more video content, that dependence on the written word alone will have to be broken.
  7. Influencer Relations – Having access to key media and influencers is still important to PR. No other element within the entire marketing umbrella can lay claim to this or should. Until every consumer who wants to can influence a reporter, publisher, blogger or editor, PR will still be the primary conduit for conveying information to the media. The conundrum today is the continually blurring line between the media and influencers who require a similar level of attention and relationship building. That line is apt to become even further out-of-focus as reporters are forced to both publish and promote their work and media outlets hire social media icons to create content.

In a couple of years, this list could look different, but any PR agency that embraces these seven capabilities now will be well-positioned for what the near-term future may hold.

Trend of Top Journalists Moving into PR Can Enhance Integrity and Transparency


By the time recipients of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize were announced in April, two of its winning journalists had already switched professions to public relations. The news dismayed many media people as it served as a reminder of the dwindling newspaper business, and particularly the downfall of small-town news and its public service stories.
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The newspaper reporters, Rob Kuznia of The Daily Breeze in Torrance, California, and Natalia Caula Hauff of The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina, left their jobs for different reasons.

Kuznia, who won a local reporting Pulitzer for a series of stories on corruption in a local school district, was struggling to pay rent, living paycheck-to-paycheck on his former wage. Hauff, who won the public service award for a seven-part series on domestic violence in the state, wanted to start a family and needed a reprieve from her demanding work environment.

Their moves into public relations don’t seem as shocking as perhaps they do timely. Newspaper reporter regularly ranks as one of the worst careers due to its low pay and high stress situations. Paired with the decline of print journalism and subsequent job cuts, the choice to change professions is often made for journalists.

Yet the loss of journalism’s top reporters is primed to become PR’s gain. Similarities between the professions, such as great storytelling, the ability to work under tight deadlines, and the need for a wealth of good contacts, make journalists appealing additions to the industry. The shift may also shape the attitude of the future of PR, and offers the potential for more transparency and integrity in the industry.


In our current digital age, keeping news and facts hidden from the public is increasingly difficult. It’s also potentially risky for client reputation if data is leaked from an outside source without context, and may give the impression that a company is concealing important information.

More than ever, we are living in a time of instant global sharing, with the looming prospect that one can’t hide, so why try? Emails can be forwarded in seconds and social media posts may go viral and show up in search engine results before involved parties have a chance to shape the course of dialogue. It’s a time of co-creation between brands and the public, and being prepared by being open can put a company ahead of the game.

Since journalists have been trained to uncover the truth and share the facts with accuracy, this mindset in public relations can help brands control the message and better serve their customers by welcoming conversation and honesty.


With transparency comes integrity. Of course, public relations has its own code of ethics, and top professionals in the field already operate with a keen sense of moral principles.

According to the Public Relations Society of America, upholding integrity and public trust are essential to maintaining the profession’s role and reputation.This is done in part by allowing the free flow of truthful and accurate information, as well as open communication to promote informed decision making.

Welcoming award-winning former journalists into the industry can further strengthen and protect high ethical standards with their dedication to sharing the facts in an unadulterated manner. This focus on embracing openness and actively disclosing company data can bring further confidence to the field, as well as from clients and potential clients. It may not only bolster client reputation, but also make the company at large more appealing to do business with.

In the future, public relations will remain in strong demand, especially as new technologies create different channels of communication and environments that foster the rapid exchange of information.

Perhaps not every journalist is suited for the field; however, exceptional reporters with shrinking news outlets available to them are finding public relations an attractive alternative for sharing their talents. Their commitment to imparting honest information in fast-paced and fast-thinking situations may also make them an asset to public relations in our hyperconnected era of digital communication.

Passion is the New Engagement


Five tips for unleashing the focus, curiosity, and trust of your team

In September 2013 Deloitte University Press published Unlocking the passion of the Explorer. The article is a remarkable and well-researched perspective on building and supporting team members so they can deliver sustained performance. Key to this is the concept of the “Explorer”, and the “Passion of the Explorer”, which they define here:

“We must figure out how to thrive—and not simply survive—in this new uncertainty, and we believe that individuals with worker passion will be the key. Three attributes characterize worker passion: Commitment to Domain, Questing, and Connecting dispositions. Commitment to Domain can be understood as a desire to have a lasting and increasing impact on a particular industry or function. Workers with the Questing disposition actively seek out challenges to rapidly improve their performance. Workers with the Connecting disposition seek deep interactions with others and build strong, trust-based relationships to gain new insight. Together these attributes define the ‘Passion of the Explorer’—the worker passion that leads to extreme sustained performance improvement.”

Previously at CIO of the Future we have highlighted the creative strengths of your IT team and explored the powerful alliance that you can form with your executive peers. Influencing business-owned IT outcomes and the risks of IT being by-passed due to perceived constraints have also been closely followed topics. What is clear is that the CIO faces a significant shift in both the structure and the essential behavioral attributes of the team they lead.

As a CIO of the Future you need to create an environment in which employees embody passion, beyond simple engagement. Understanding and sharing the concepts in this article is a catalyst to achieving this.

Here are some conversation starters, based on the article, for you and your leadership team.

1. Understand the difference between passion and engagement

Building and measuring your IT team’s engagement is different to gauging their passion. You will need to hire people with the right combination of dispositions – Explorers – then place them in a nurturing environment that will allow them to flourish. Employee engagement does not imply satisfaction or happiness; it means employees have an emotional commitment to the organization and its goals. Passion means they demonstrate deeply engrained interest, long-term commitment, and sustained achievement. As the article shows, organizations where team members embody passion demonstrate prolonged and improved performance.

2. Build your future organization

Hire by looking at candidates’ future potential (such as learning capacity, and their ability to use the tools and resources around them in a novel manner), not just their historic achievement (qualifications, past projects) . You want your team to have the ability to deliver break-through improvements in business performance, not just the ability to do the same things faster. Establish an apprentice-like program where you bring raw talent into your group and partner them with team members who can guide their discovery journey, rather than direct their working style.

3. Feed them chaos

Clarity of roles, rigid silos, and predictable work patterns form barriers that block and dishearten Explorers. Consider how you could form a flexible IT organization that blurs traditional structures while providing ongoing, reliable services to your company. Mobilize your Explorers where they will thrive and have the most impact. Find the unstructured, unstable and untested forefront of your business. Allow them the space to experiment, ideate, and prototype. This is their oxygen.

4. Be active in removing barriers

As a leader you will need to trust your team and balance this with coaching in discretion and responsibility. IT Explorers need “open source” that goes beyond code libraries; it extends to a wider community of like-minded individuals. This is not for peer networking, and may not even involve other IT professionals. Rather, the IT Explorer has the hunger to learn and the impetus to adapt their methods based on what they encounter.

Break down the barriers that are limiting the flow of knowledge and information in and out of your company. This may require adjustments to your existing security and intellectual property protection policies, as they were most likely written without thought of the value that these knowledge flows can bring to your organization.

5. Apply intrinsic motivation

Retain and motivate your IT Explorers with intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards. Explorers are not motivated by what they are paid, the foosball table in the lunchroom, or the fridge full of sodas. They are looking for an environment in which they feel fulfilled, creative, and supported. If you create this environment then they will stay with you and achieve great outcomes.

Take the time to read the article in full. Share it with your managers. Then ask yourself – if you had a team of Explorers, what could you discover?

Are there Explorers in your team? What do you see as the biggest challenges in unleashing your Explorers ? And how might you overcome these challenges?


Creative, Intelligent, Funny, Passionate – Could This Be Your IT Team?


Your IT group has some surprising traits, and it’s not what you (or many others) expect

Blessed are the geeks, for they shall inherit the earth. In August 2013 Inferno, a U.K.-based advertising agency, released the results of a survey which suggest that twice as many people associate the word “geek” with being “cool and chic” rather than “boring and unattractive”. This finding is important as it affects how you lead your team.

Behind the stereotype of the nerdy, bookish engineer are often individuals with the ability to engage and influence people across the organization. Your role is to nurture the potential of your team, supporting, protecting and promoting what they can do.

Issuing creative license

Creativity. Is this something that comes to mind when you think of your IT team?

Consider what they can achieve. Engineers are designers and crafters. Watch them at work as they turn a (frequently vague) set of requirements into a functional, enduring and often-beautiful solution. Furthermore, during the process they will have refined and tuned the resultant product.

Nurture creativity by laying down appropriate boundaries when setting goals. Explain to your team the “what” (the objective) and the “why” (the strategic goal or operational imperative) while leaving the “how” (the method of achievement) up to them. Respect them for the creativity and talent they bring, not just their output.

The solution will be superior and the team will feel valued for what they produce.

Applying brain power

Intelligence. It may be taken for granted that the members of your IT team are smart. However, their collective brain power may be assumed to be good only for tasks such as churning out working code or load-balancing web servers.

Challenge this assumption with a simple exercise. Take members of your team to a problem solving session being run by another department. Ask them to come up with their own way of addressing the problem.

You’ll find that they adapt quickly as they are used to being challenged with matters outside of their functional domain. An IT professional will look for patterns and cause-and-effect. They will break a problem down to its component parts. They will experiment, ideate and collaborate with others in the organization.

It is not just what they can do, it is the different angle they take which makes them effective.

Comic relief

Humor. How funny is your IT team?

Watch a few episodes of The Big Bang theory and you’ll get the drift. Humor is endearing; it makes your team more approachable. As Jacquelyn Smith noted in her March 2013 article in Forbes, a good sense of humor promotes teamwork, reduces stress, increases productivity and boosts morale.

As their leader you will need to maintain an environment that balances their humor with the quiet, focused solitude that they need to work their craft.

Feeling the zeal

Passion. Few kids grow up wanting to be an accountant, compliance auditor or project manager. Technology is another story. Initiatives such as Robogals and Code.org are a response to the fascination that technology holds for many people from an early age.

Your team can be evangelists for positive, break-through change in your organization. Encourage this by coaching them on how to inspire and communicate with their peers in plain language. Show them how to focus their energy outwards to their professional community, and watch as it becomes infectious.

If you love them, set them free

As your team continues to mature and interest in their achievements grows, keep in mind three things:

  1. Other department leaders will see what your team can do and will coax individuals to leave your team and join them. Don’t stand in their way. It is their career, not yours. Welcome the fresh insight and energy that new team members will bring.
  2. You still have services and solutions to deliver. Set clear goals for scheduled work while carving out time for your team to generate ideas and experiment.
  3. Promote what your team is able to do. Find ways to showcase the tangible outcomes of the work, linking this to the behaviors and capabilities of team members.

As the credibility of your team and their ways of working grows, so does your own reputation. It is a significant stage on the journey of the future CIO – growing as leader of a clever and humanistic team that your company recognizes as vital to its success.

What are some of the behaviors that your team shows that could really make a difference in your company?