“In most organisations, IT is a necessary evil,” says Rob Livingstone, founder and principal of a firm that provides mentorship programs specifically tailored to address the challenges faced by IT professionals. Mentorship programs at Rob Livingstone Advisory aim to bridge the gap between the IT department and other aspects of a business.
Livingstone says in many cases, while many organisations wouldn’t be able to survive without IT, “they don’t understand the technology and they don’t understand the people”, while on the other side, “you have some extremely intelligent, capable career professionals that do a very good job but don’t have the engagement skills necessarily to deal with people who, for example, run on short fuses or don’t care about the technology.”
Formerly the CIO of Ricoh, and with a substantial project management background, Livingstone created the program after observing some of the shortcomings in IT executive development. “IT departments nowadays are being broken open and are expected to face more and more people within the business and even with customers,” he explains. “They were traditionally inward looking within their own divisions and are now expected to sit in and contribute to stakeholder meetings where people don’t understand the complexities. There are a lot of bridges to build in that area.”
As a relatively new industry, IT falls into a gap when it comes to existing mentorship programs. Livingstone believes IT requires a more specialist approach. “The ‘traditional’ mentoring programs are delivered by people who are more generalist by nature, they don’t necessarily have the deep industry and professional experience within a particular industry sector,” he says.
Bringing IT, management, and mentoring and coaching experience together, Livingstone services a wide demographic, from mentees just starting out in their career through to CIOs. In addition to understanding the unique challenges faced by IT professionals, he also tailors the program to suit the environment the mentee will be working in: “Is it that this person is not up to the task, is there change underway, or a change in management process that will change the way of doing things?”
Having established the organisational context, Livingstone conducts a baseline assessment, which he then uses to measure the mentee’s progress in the program. The interaction between mentor and mentee is kept confidential with all the exit material given to the candidate to share as they please with the executive sponsor.
Key to the mentorship is assisting candidates with stakeholder management and communication, he says. “My aim is to give participants more confidence and capability in a number of key skills including working with non-IT stakeholders and communicating in plain English.” This, he hopes, will allow IT professionals to explain technical complexity and bridge the gap between IT specialists and others in an organisation.
IT project managers have a lot to gain from this approach as soft skills and change management become as important as technical expertise. “While many career IT professionals have deep skills in their chosen areas of expertise, some of them are lacking a clear understanding and appreciation of environmental changes, and how to go about getting on top of these changes,” Livingstone says.
“Anything in the program is very closely aligned to projects because you’re talking about changing things, implementing new things or doing things differently and everything in IT is essentially variable. All IT is project management.”
Livingstone currently operates as the sole mentor to his clients, and looks to expand the capability of the practice through his alliance with a small number of trusted, experienced partners.
For more information on Livingstone’s mentorship program, visit Rob Livingstone Advisory (www.rob-livingstone.com).