Skills from different experiences – Well rounded is King

I currently sit in Microsoft IT and get to share experiences and learn with some of the most interesting folks in the world. My role encourages me to generate good ideas for the company and work with others through natural alignment to build great products for Microsoft. This is good fun.

I’m recently noticing more and more that the soft skills that I’ve picked up during my career are invaluable to be successful. And for this reason, I’ve personally begun a journey to strengthen my leadership abilities. One method I use is to look introspectively at myself to discover strenghts to leverage and weaknesses to manage. As a byproduct, I also do a bit of analysis of others around me to find their strengths to leverage and weaknesses to manage. This is what has brought me to this blog entry on the need for well-rounded skills.

My consulting experience: When I was an IT consultant playing roles such as Sollution Architect, Devleopment Lead and Program Lead I was measured on delivering IT solutions to customers that were of highly successful (ie on-time, on-budget, meeting customers satisfaction and of high system quality). In that environment, I learned that it was essential to pick up skills to survive because I was surrounded with folk that had brilliant customer-facing, fast-learning, quality-focused, and most of all strong professionalism skills. You had to have these skills to be successful.

My sales experience: When I was seconded to a sales team for a while as a Enterprise Solution Architect playing roles such as pre-sales technical architect, pre-sales strategist and partner strategy consultant I was measured on driving programs which lead to increased revenue and partner satisfaction. In that environment, I was surrounded with fast-talkers, extremely confident and capable sales resources – I’m not talking the sort that do more adminstrative sales but those few, rare breeds that have mastered the art of executive sales for large enterprise customers.

My IT experience: Over my cumulative IT experience, I have played roles such as Developer, Developer Lead, Test Lead, Program Manager, Solution Architect and Enterprise Architect. All of these roles generally are about delivering solutions to the business. I’ve been surrounded with individuals who have extensive engineering knowledge and great solution delivery skills. These are essential to be successful delivering IT solutions to the business.

Ok, now the interesting part of this blog. Having a varied background in roles ranging from sales to consulting to IT have really helped me make greater impact. Skills that were a prerequisite for success in one environment are a bonus in another. For example, in IT, skills that I developed while in sales roles that helped me build trust with partners becomes a bonus for learning how to build trust with like-minded groups in IT. And as a result, together we achieve greater impact that is relatively unusual. We acheive a sort of 1+1=3 situation. This is not all that common in IT shops but is normal in sales and consulting.

Let me dive a bit deeper to explain. The stereotypical sales role will require to peice together bits and bobs of products a and b, then peice together a partnership with hardwar vendor x, software vendor y and delivery partner z all within a matter of days. The skills necessary to do this are either there are aren’t and if they aren’t, you are not as successful a salesperson or presales consultant as one could.

The stereotypical IT roles will require to think long and hard about a software system and then snap to a relatively well-defined team model in a well-defined process model as part of a software development lifecycle for example.

Therefore, one might argue that there are skills developed in a sales environment that could prove useful to other environments such as IT. As products of our environment, we naturally develop the survival skills our environment requires. If we have a relatively well-rounded experience, we have relatively more skills to bring to the table that will allow us to make bigger impact.

Perhaps, if we made deliberate movements to be in positions of different environments and while there carefully nurtured and honed to excellence the necessary skills to survive in those environments we would be all that more effective. I think that this is an interesting opportunity for all of us.