As you probably know already if you read my previous blog in this series, IT's core mission is to keep technology flowing smoothly and securely so the business can focus on its key operations and strategic goals. According to this report from Accenture, “most big companies—about 7 in 10—now run multiple cloud environments in addition to their on-premise data centers. And in 40 percent of those cases, there’s low interoperability across those cloud environments. Application and infrastructure problems are hard to find in such complex, distributed, and typically disconnected environments, and failures due to this complexity result in significant, but avoidable, costs.” In addition to those complex conditions, IT's day-to-day activities also involve quite a few responsibilities – here are a few off the top of my head:

  • Troubleshoot application or infrastructure issues
  • Monitor and maintain systems and infrastructure
  • Coordinate the needs of in-house IT experts and remote employees, vendors, and contractors
  • Protect company data through encryption and access control
  • Install new hardware and software
  • Assist with additional IT operations tasks as needed
  • Collaborate across multiple departments to manage technology requirements, such as HR, payroll, finance, operations, marketing, and others

AI is digitally transforming businesses and set to take on a larger role within the next few years. After decades of maturing, businesses have a better understanding of how to strategically use AI in their systems and applications. The incorporation of AI will enable teams to add an empathetic touch to the relationships they build with others. This begs the question - how is AI reshaping the IT professional? We'll take a look at this evolution specifically in terms of emotional intelligence and then give a quick example of how IT can accelerate the growth of these skills through interaction with other departments like HR.

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For IT, AI is an opportunity to shift focus

I met up with an old friend of mine for coffee a few months ago. He’s been in the IT field for 15 years, so he's been through a lot of technology innovation and disruption firsthand. We talked shop for a little bit and then the conversation shifted towards automation and AI (we had both started retrofitting our homes with smart home devices). I asked if he was worried about AI taking his job. He surprisingly said, “Not at all.” He explained that it wasn’t because he was overconfident, it was because he understood there was more to the IT role than just computers.

While AI was starting to take over more of the routine responsibilities, he realized that he was connecting more with people rather than just fixing their issues. And because of that connection, those people were starting to request his input into overall business strategy.

Understanding your own and other’s emotions to guide thinking and behavior in the way my friend described is key to developing emotional intelligence. With AI taking some of the administrative load off of IT, there's now time to focus more on building relationships with other departments, becoming more strategic, and driving the business forward. So how do you do that?

Make the most of IT's new position within the business

The deployment of much more sophisticated technologies like AI into the business ecosystem obviously brings more reliance on IT. IT departments are shifting away from being seen as a cost center and toward becoming a business partner in a very similar way to how HR departments have evolved in recent years. Becoming a business partner is a huge shift requires higher emotional intelligence to better understand other teams' needs. IT professionals have deep technical and analytical skills, which are still highly relevant, but they only represent half the formula to a successful career nowadays. Here are five areas that will help IT professionals boost emotional intelligence to maximize their department's new position:

  1. Self-awareness is critical to building emotional intelligence. Without understanding yourself, you won't be able to understand others. It's important to recognize how you react to situations and the impact of that reaction on others around you. Pick up on others' emotions and body language as you interact with them and use that information to enhance your communication skills.
  2. Motivation makes a big difference – you've got to have the drive to always want to do better. This is something IT is typically strong at since the department often sees weak points in systems and how they can be improved. The trick is presenting that knowledge in ways that cause your motivation to rub off and encourage others too. Keeping a positive attitude as you discuss strategic improvements and inspiring others with your vision for the future helps keep motivation up across departments.
  3. Empathy is a trait that shows emotional strength, not weakness. Emotionally intelligent people understand that empathy helps them relate to other people on a basic human level. It encourages and develops mutual respect and understanding between you and others. This connection will help when you run into people with differing opinions and will let you get past that and focus on where you can come together to accomplish goals instead.
  4. Socialization and people skills in general help you connect with others more deeply. In IT's new role, you're no longer tied to just hardware and software. Now, you're expected to interact with a wider array of people on a deeper level and communicate your knowledge. This one may sound like the most fluffy of the skills on a surface level, but just talking to people and understanding their needs is more important than ever in the modern workplace.
  5. Active listening also goes a long way and is another place IT already has strength. You already listen to your users when they have issues. This just takes that listening up a level to really analyze and try to understand the meaning beneath what people are saying. It's not just what they're saying, but how they're saying it, including tone and body language.

Where to go to learn fast

As I mentioned back at the beginning, there's another group going through a similar transformation to IT right now thanks to technologies like AI – HR. HR teams are being tapped more and more as strategic business partners, and there are opportunities for IT and HR to learn from each other. Think about it – HR has to practice emotional intelligence skills every day, and IT professionals can pick up a lot from watching those interactions firsthand and seeing how those skills get applied. On the flip side, HR can learn a lot about efficiently addressing issues, how technology can embed into business processes, and the opportunities AI brings to the table from their colleagues in IT. It's a win-win from a collaboration perspective.

IT and HR are already the two departments where employees bring issues or concerns first, and both departments need to find ways to ease those issues or concerns. By joining forces, IT and HR become stronger and more strategic. To drive this home, let's take a look at the key skill areas we just walked through and ask some questions an HR professional might ask themselves to focus on those areas during a conversation:

  • What is the person I'm talking to saying?
  • What does the person's body language say?
  • How can I help put that person at ease?
  • How can I show empathy for that person? How can I relate my personal experience to their experience without sounding like I'm dismissing what they're going through?

Conclusion: The time is now to build emotional intelligence

Starting with the key areas I laid out in this article will help your IT career take off in the new age of AI. Artificial intelligence is giving IT professionals the space in their schedules needed to develop deeper emotional intelligence, and these skills will only become more in-demand as technology continues evolving. There’s no better time to start upskilling with these five areas than today.

If you want to see an example of what AI can do for modern businesses, take a minute to get to know AIMEE, Kronos' Artificial Intelligence for Managers and Employees. You'll see how the practical application of these technologies can reduce your administrative workload and empower the kinds of strategic collaborations we've been talking about.

Meet AIMEE

Published: Tuesday, March 10, 2020