Soft sell

Over the last two years a young woman who calls herself Pink managed to become a reasonably successful pop singer with a hit called “”Get This Party Started.”” Her party had just begun, however, when her management wanted to tone down her act.

In a recent radio interview, Pink said she was

incensed when she was made to enroll in etiquette lessons, presumably so that she would know which fork to use during important meetings with record executives and the media. She refused. “”That’s an insult to me, and it’s an insult to my mother,”” she said. “”It’s like saying my mother didn’t raise me properly.”” I sometimes wonder if IT managers forced to upgrade their soft skills feel the same way.

A lot of people emphasize the importance of soft skills, but I doubt many of them would actually enjoy the team-building exercises that supposedly develop them. At a managers’ retreat some time ago, my colleagues and I were led to a large, grassy field. We were divided into two teams, each of whom were given a long rope. We were then blindfolded (save one member from each team) and the goal of the game was to see which team could use the rope to form a perfect square with the help of the team members without blindfolds. It wasn’t as ridiculous as it sounds. It was worse.

Today, ITBusiness.ca begins a three-part series by Neil Sutton that explores soft skills in more detail than we’ve ever done before. We’ll be talking to the analysts and consultants to specialize in the study of these techniques, of course, but we’ll also be providing you with comments from front-line managers and users who are dealing with these issues today.

We launched this series because the trend towards soft skills development seems inevitable. As the sophistication of technology evolves, the support needs of enterprise users in different departments become more complex. At the same time, IT departments are often working with diminished resources, creating time management challenges. As IT becomes a more critical part of delivering on business strategy, CIOs are being asked to take a role of “”ambassador”” to other parts of the business, particularly finance and operations. Managing these relationships require more patience, diplomacy and persuasion than ever before. While the move to self-service applications between business and employer may reduce some interaction between, say, human resources and individuals, it will not necessarily reduce the reliance of these individuals upon their IT department.

The range of stakeholders within any given enterprise to which an IT professional is responsible is at least as vast as a typical customer relationship management project. I would not be surprised if someone is creating tools as we speak to further automate help desks and build in functionality that will be called “”IT relationship management”” (ITRM), or something similar.

This series will not give readers a precise formula to ensure successful relationships with users, but it will give you a sense of what’s out there now, and what will be coming. And make no mistake about it, it is coming. There is nothing gentle about the push towards soft skills.

sschick@itbusiness.ca

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