September 21 marks National IT Professionals Day in 2021, and it’s a great opportunity to celebrate and learn from the experts who keep our technical operations and processes—and therefore our businesses—running smoothly and successfully. These individuals might not have been considered front-line workers during the pandemic, but they still deserve our heartfelt thanks. Across industries, IT professionals worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure businesses remained open during lockdowns and the ensuing switch to remote work, allowing their organizations to deliver vital products and services to customers around the world.

By all accounts, it was a seismic shift. According to research from McKinsey, the pandemic accelerated the digitization of internal company operations and customer interactions by three to four years—a lifetime in a business world that already operates at breakneck speed. The effects of that shift are still being felt, and the reality is that IT is under more pressure than ever. Despite the fact that only 37% of IT departments were able to meet all of their business commitments in 2020, data from MuleSoft’s 2021 Connectivity Benchmark Report illustrates that IT is being asked to complete 30% more projects this year with just a 6% increase in budget.

As we continue to encourage digital transformation and add to the myriad demands already placed on IT, I connected with tech business leaders and entrepreneurs to understand how they are turning their focus to self-improvement in an effort to stay ahead of the curve and deliver results for their companies:

1. Gather knowledge from multiple sources: Vince Dawkins, president and CEO of Enertia Software

Enertia Software president and CEO Vince Dawkins acknowledges that the constant evolution of technology has made the development of new skills important. He views automation as a tipping point: “In today’s environment—with so much contingent on automation—it’s imperative to remain informed and engaged with the latest trends so we understand how they’ll affect our business and our customers.” Automation’s power to deliver speed and scale can transform industries overnight, so it’s vital to anticipate where the next advancements will arise.

In his own life, Dawkins takes a holistic approach to self-improvement that accounts for professional development, mental well-being, and physical health. Professionally, he encourages entrepreneurs to expand their knowledge. “Look outside of your market, industry, or niche. See what others are doing, how they incorporate new tech into their space, and how to apply it to your space,” he says. “You can expand into those networks and resources, and don’t forget to look within your own organization for development ideas and suggestions.” Because his industry (upstream oil and gas) is so focused on the bottom line, Dawkins knows firsthand how important it is to view improvement and development as an investment: “Innovation can be costly, but it usually makes things far more efficient, feasible, and accurate in the long run.”

As the co-founder and co-CTO of a mobile-first microlearning solution, it’s no surprise that Tobias Balling always strives to learn. To him, the foundation for improvement is taking stock of where you’re currently at: “Solving problems at scale requires an ongoing observation of what’s happening so that you can challenge how things work.” This observation applies not only to work, but also to your personal life. What behaviors are moving you forward or setting you back at work? What habits are either contributing to or detracting from your physical and mental health?

Once you’ve taken stock of the present situation, it’s time to step into action. Balling looks to his own technical experience to identify a process for iterative improvement. “When you build an app as a software engineer, you usually follow a build-measure-learn cycle. It’s all about doing something, observing, reflecting, and then improving the product,” he says. “Take Edgar Dale’s Cone of Learning, for example. It describes how people retain and internalize knowledge through ‘doing the real thing.’” Of course, you can’t expect to master something the first time you attempt it, which is why Balling combines this approach with a growth mindset—the belief that hard work can produce profound improvements in your abilities.

3. Don’t be afraid to fail: Lauren Covell, vice president of finance at Occupier

To Lauren Covell, vice president of finance at commercial real estate proptech company Occupier, the role of the tech CFO is all about learning and growth. “With their growing job responsibilities, CFOs must continue to develop their skills now more than ever. The same skills that got them to the CFO seat are not the same skills solidifying their future success in the role. Today, the best CFOs recognize and harness the power of technology to gain insights, boost productivity, and spot financial trends,” she says. “The duality of finance and technology is poised to create a synergetic methodology for financial leaders. Reskilling will be essential for finance leaders to prepare themselves for that new methodology and increased strategic scope of working in a digital landscape.”

Covell takes two key steps to ensure she and her organization are consistently learning and growing. The first is enabling communication across departments. When the lines of communication are open, she believes that leaders can better understand each department’s role and performance metrics and evaluate their needs and challenges. The other, perhaps more difficult task is to make room for failure: “The executive team should be patient and offer the organization the flexibility to fail. Even if you take a step in the wrong direction, it is valuable as long as the organization learned something from it.” Being OK with failure doesn’t come naturally to many leaders, but it’s an important step toward making key improvements in both your personal and professional life.

Continuous improvement has long been a hallmark of the tech industry. However, though we’re all eager to procure the latest devices and technologies, many of us have a tendency to neglect our own (and far more valuable) personal and professional development. Particularly amid the stress and shifting sands of a global pandemic, tech business leaders and entrepreneurs should take time to reflect on areas of self-improvement and organizational innovation. There’s no single right way to get started on this journey, but leaders in any industry can learn from the examples offered by the innovators above.



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