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Reskilling: Let It Begin with Me

by Barton S. Bolton

In this article, a highly respected IT executive describes how senior managers can set the example for their organizations and begin the important work of performance improvement through personal and organizational reskilling. It includes worksheets to help you begin your process of personal reskilling.

We live every day with Karen Clarkís reminder. The number of technological advances doubles every four to seven years. Advances in technology are relentless. Business organizations and political entities come and go. Learning is a lifelong process. Stop learning and weíre obsolete! Personal reskilling is a daunting challenge that we must accept to be successful and have truly fulfilling and meaningful lives.

Personal reskilling begins with learning how to learn. We must also, however, choose the subject to learn, and this choice often becomes a major challenge, because it hinges on our vision of our future.

Each of us has our own view of success. When we encounter successful people we may first see only the trappings: fame, possessions, and perhaps, wealth. But what we really need to understand is the behavior of these people and what we can learn from them. What can their behavior teach us? What are the underlying reasons for their success?

From a series of brainstorming sessions with senior systems managers, I have identified as many as 50 different behaviors shared by successful people. Successful people:

  • Work from a core set of personal values;
  • Balance the work, family, and personal aspects of their lives;
  • Have a personal vision and understand where they are going;
  • Are creative decision makers;
  • Are continually learning from a variety of sources;
  • Are self-confident;
  • Have a passion for what they do; and
  • Take risks and get results.

How do your behaviors measure up? How can you reach your full potential? Remember, only the mediocre are always at their very best!

Successful reskilling programs always begin at the top--with you. You set the example for others to follow.

Reskilling begins with accepting responsibility for your continuing professional development and demonstrating this commitment every day.

Hereís an exercise to help you. First, you create your personal Coat of Arms and identify the core values or Personal Principles by which you live. Then explain the significance of your Coat of Arms and Personal Principles to a trusted friend. The result is an in-depth understanding of who you are, where you come from, and the Personal Principles that really matter to you.

Divide a large piece of paper into four quadrants. Then, fill in each quadrant with one of the four questions below. You may answer each within the quadrant using words and pictures.

1. Heritage: This quadrant represents the forces that shaped your life: your birthplace, family background, childhood years, adolescence, college, etc. Go ahead: describe your heritage.

2. Who You Are: This quadrant represents who you are or how you want to be known right now. This description may or may not have anything to do with your present job. It is how you would want to be introduced to a nonbusiness group of people. Go ahead: introduce yourself.

3. Hobbies and Interests: Identify hobbies and interests in which you are involved. These may describe you in greater detail than the descriptions in the previous quadrant. Go ahead: what nonwork related activities do you care about?

4. Defining Moment: Now, please describe the most defining moment in your life, including its source, consequences, and what you learned from it. Go ahead: but dig down into the details.

Now you need to do a very important self-assessment. Here you drill down to understand more deeply what is important to you. Your goal is to identify your top ten Core Values or Personal Principles by which you live. The following questions will help you identify them:

  1. What is really important to you?
  2. In what do you really believe?
  3. What are the personal standards by which you try to live?
  4. What are your personal priorities?
  5. What values will you not compromise?

Examples of Personal Principles might include:

  • Operate with personal integrity.
  • Put my family first.
  • Be personally accountable.
  • Treat others fairly and with respect.
  • Continue to learn from all sources.
  • Maintain balance in my life.
  • Leave the world a better place than I found it.

Now, go back and prioritize your top ten Personal Principles into your top five. Once you have done this, find a trusted friend and share your Coat of Arms and Personal Principles with this person. Discuss them. Explain them. Verbalizing them will help you solidify their true importance.

Learning and personal growth will be inherent in most of the Personal Principles you identify. They become the foundation on which you will build your personal lifetime learning program.

This quote comes from the book, The Path of the Everyday Hero, which has many exercises to help you develop your personal current state. One of the first exercises provides personal insight terms of five life challenges:

  1. Your purpose.
  2. Loving relationships.
  3. Time and stress.
  4. Personal and professional balance.
  5. Prosperity.

The authors identify four tools to help you deal more effectively with these five challenges:

  1. Have faith in your creativity.
  2. Suspend negative judgment.
  3. Practice precise observation.
  4. Ask penetrating questions.

As you apply the tools to the five life challenges, you begin to develop even greater insight into yourself and your personal style. These new insights constitute the raw material for your personal reskilling process.

Understanding your current state is only half of what you need. The other half is what could be, or your future state. Peter Senge describes personal growth as Personal Mastery. You start with your personal vision (not to be confused with goals and objectives). Your personal vision is a verbal picture of what your future looks like; it also includes your purpose. You need to pursue what is important to you.

Take time now and describe your vision of your future state, or what could be.

The second part of Personal Mastery is seeing current reality more clearly. You must understand who you are, what you are good at, and how you behave. The gap between your what could be and your current state causes creative tension. You resolve this tension by continuously striving to reach your vision, not compromising, and staying in todayís reality. This approach leads you to take responsibility for your personal development and to change yourself--a lifelong reskilling challenge--in order to achieve your personal vision.

Take time now and describe your current state.

Now, review your current state and your what could be. Where are the gaps? What reskilling challenges suggest themselves if you are going to close the gaps? What are you going to need to do and to learn? What changes are you going to need to make? Draft your ideas.

One of the new insights that Information Systems (IS) managers have gained in recent years is that merely learning new technical skills is not enough to ensure success. Technical skills are temporary given the rapid rate of technological change. In fact, technical skills are probably the most susceptible to obsolescence.

Business executives and IS managers in highachieving organizations see the role of IS changing dramatically. In research recently conducted for the Giga Information Group, I found that organizations operating at extraordinary performance levels view IS as a true strategic partner with the business units. Executive search firms identifying Chief Information Officers (CIO) candidates are looking for leadership qualities, business acumen, and technology knowledge, in that order.

When high-performing IS organizations recruit, they look for a new set of competencies. These are built on the principles and values discussed. Professional development programs are built around these new competencies; they become the foundation for employees to cope with constant change.

Every enterprise has a culture that reflects its core values. Cultures differentiate organizations and embody competencies. While competency mixes do vary across different types of organizations, my research indicates considerable overlap. Here are three sets of examples from three very different companies from my Giga research:

1. A Large Utility

  • Strategic leadership
  • Business partner knowledge
  • Partnership and team work
  • People development
  • Technology
  • Business acumen
  • Work/project management
  • Communication
  • Analysis and problem solving
  • Technology Application

2. A Mid-Size Manufacturing Company

  • Flexibility
  • Concern for excellence
  • Collaboration
  • Commitment to the company
  • Customer service orientation
  • Learning orientation
  • Self-confidence

3. A Large Retailer

  • Change leadership
  • Customer service orientation
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Two-way communications
  • Developing employees
  • Problem solving
  • Integrity/moral courage
  • Empowerment
  • Team Skills
  • Valuing diversity
  • Business literacy
  • Initiative/sense of urgency

Notice how few technical skills make the lists. There is a definite emphasis on what is good for the business, including customer orientation and knowledge of the business and its industry. The major emphasis, however, is on inter- and intrapersonal skills including teamwork, human communication, leadership, flexibility, empowerment, influencing, etc. These are the competencies that enable employees to not only cope with change but also to lead it, to work effectively with all kinds of people inside and outside the organization, and to have the self-confidence and integrity to be successful. For long-term effectiveness, personal reskilling programs need to emphasize these competencies.

Reskilling is an intensely personal process. It begins with understanding the forces that have shaped us and our personal core values and principles, through to the present time in our lives.

The real test of our principles is to subject them to ongoing self-examination under all kinds of situations. Bill Glavin, former Vice Chairman of Xerox Corporation and former President of Babson College, suggests a way to do this. Bill has his own set of personal principles, including Have fun ... ask a lot of questions ... (and) admit when you donít know (but offer to find out). Billís final principle, however, is the one most people remember first, "Once a month, stop and watch yourself go by."

What a wonderful way to do a personal integrity self-examination! Do you like what you see? Are you practicing the values and principles you espouse? Do your actions square with your words--or are you saying one thing but practicing another? "Watch yourself go by" each month; itís an effective way of making sure youíre living according to your core values, vision, and personal principles. Itís also the cornerstone for continuous lifelong learning and reskilling.

As we close, take a moment and "step back and watch yourself go by." As you watch, think about what youíre seeing. Based upon everything weíve discussed above, jot down your thoughts about what you see that you like, what you see that you donít like, and what you see that youíre committed to change. One month from now as you step back, what do you hope to see go by?

About the Author
Bart Bolton, with over 35 years experience as a senior information systems executive, is a thought leader at The Advisory Council, a technology advisory services firm. The Advisory Council can be reached at

© Copyright 2007 Auerbach Publications