IT executives are becoming increasingly aware that their workers need to have more than technical expertise for IT to be successful. But where can they find such versatile workers?

Try looking around your company, advised Ethan Moe, a technician with InStock, Inc., a Tempe, AZ-based hardware provider.

“It’s the kid on the phones that just sent a four-page memo to the director, listing what he thinks needs to be changed in the department and how he thinks he can contribute,” Moe said. “It’s the young kid that everyone on the floor goes to about computer problems before they call IT. They did it because he fixes the problem fast and doesn’t make you feel like an idiot. He also knows when to call IT.”

It seems obvious to look within the company for talent. But it’s an approach that many IT executives neglect, according to several TechRepublic members who responded to a recent column, “Discussion: Are Renaissance workers key to future success in e-business?

In the column, Linda Pittenger, CEO of people3, a Gartner company and a human resources consultancy, contended that companies must find ways to recruit and develop workers who “demonstrate a blend of technical and business skills.” She called these diverse, multitalented employees “Renaissance workers.”

We asked TechRepublic readers how companies can find Renaissance workers. Their recommendations:

  • Search within your current staff.
  • Hire potential, not technical skills.
  • Hire IT veterans.
  • Build teams, not stars.

The answer lies within
You probably have Renaissance workers already working within the company, several TechRepublic members said.

“Many of your Renaissance people are already on payroll,” said nosuger. “Take a walk; ask an opinion. You would be surprised at the responses.”

The challenge is to find these employees. Moe suggests you start by looking for the intelligent and dedicated, but underutilized, employees within your organizational chart.

For example, the IT guru who knows technology but also has a philosophical bent is a Renaissance worker, Moe suggested.

“It’s time to get a flashlight and see what your corporate structure has hidden from your sight all these years,” he advised.

You can also cross-train existing staff, recommended Pak Chan, a senior consultant with the UK-based Encompass IT. For instance, if you need technical expertise, then train the technical experts about business. Or train your business staff about technology.

“Whether you choose to train your technical or your business staff will depend on the mix of technical and business skills you’re looking for and also on how difficult the ‘other’ domain is,” Chan said.

Hire potential
One approach that has worked for Chan is to hire potential, even if the candidate lacks experience. Recent college graduates are a good example of this type of employee, he said. He recommended that companies try this option.

“It has always worked for me,” Chan said. “The downside is that it will take awhile for them to get up to speed, and [they] will probably not be able to usefully contribute for the first few months.”

But how can you identify who has the potential and who doesn’t? Chan suggested having candidates separately screened by the technical and business staffs.


Hire tech veterans
While potential is important, you shouldn’t assume that IT veterans are not Renaissance workers.

“The older, the better,” said Jeffry Smith, a senior systems analyst with Caterpillar Inc. “My observations over 22 years in IT show that long-time IT workers have both technical and business savvy. They’ll cost more, but they’ll have what you want.”

Still, he said employers should give more weight to those with business skills. While technical training can be acquired, business skills are developed through experience.

Build teams, not stars
Not everyone agreed that Renaissance workers are the key to success.

“Perhaps instead of trying to find or develop that precious hybrid—a ‘Renaissance’ person combining all the needed skills—managers should face the realities…the demand for Renaissance workers will always exceed their supply,” said Pete Rodger, director of E-Innovation Ltd, a New Zealand company. “In the new millennium, do we have to rediscover that top teams will usually beat a bunch of people with one or two star players?”

Instead of seeking these superstars, businesses should take skilled individuals and teach them to work together as a multiskilled team.

“It will usually be easier to train [and] develop a skilled worker to be a team player than to make them multiskilled, if all skills have to be at the highest level,” he said.

As businesses mature, it makes more sense to rely less on stars who can do everything and rely more on multidisciplinary teams, said Paul Tiffany, CEO of HelpTeam. Workers should also be able to focus on what they do best.

“Renaissance workers are useful to some extent in a start-up, entrepreneurial environment, where limited human resources requires that people wear different hats,” Tiffany said. “However, as any business matures, the organization tends to require more specialization of function.”
Can you turn an employee into a Renaissance worker? We’d like to hear what you do to help your IT workers develop skills beyond technology. Send us an e-mail or start a discussion.