Want to Fill Business Systems Positions? Hire for Learning Ability Over Skillset

Today more than 40 percent of the world’s population is online and the promise of digital transformation in our professional and personal lives has been a reality for at least a decade. It’s been a technological seachange that harkens back to the industrial revolution.

A 2017 report compiled by McKinsey predicts that as many as 800 million jobs could be lost worldwide to automation by 2030. Another report from the World Economic Forum counters that while 75 million jobs may disappear in the next five years thanks to technology changes, another 130 million will be created over the same duration as a result.   

And like all great seismic technology shifts in history, there’s an impact in not only how and where people get their jobs done, but also in the kinds of jobs that are now necessary. Entirely new industries have emerged in recent years, creating or altering jobs that barely existed ten years ago.

It used to be that IT was almost entirely responsible for the applications a company uses. But with the rise of SaaS apps more and more lines-of-business began procuring their own apps. Companies needed a way to make sure the two departments were working in lockstep. Hence the importance and rise of the business systems professional, which falls in the overlapping venn diagram between an IT professional and lines-of-business.

According to LinkedIn there are now more than 7,000 business systems job openings in North America alone. That means not only are business systems professionals in high-demand, but that organizations are competing for talent in similar pools. It’s never been more important for business systems leaders to have a clear idea of what skills to prioritize when hiring and building their teams.  

Skill-Based Versus Learning-Based

“The talent war is a challenge,” says Sridevi Pasumarthi, senior director of enterprise applications at Arlo Technologies. “There are fringe benefits at every company and they are all offering the same stuff. Challenging [new hires] and letting them grow is almost all you can offer them tangibly.”

Ten years ago, it was a skills-based hiring economy, says Pasumarthi, but now — at least in the world of Silicon Valley technology companies — it’s transformed into a learning-based hiring economy.

“It’s hard to find talent that already knows one or two systems,” she says. “So, instead, you invest in people who are willing to learn; people who know how to get things done, and know how to ask for help when they require it. You mostly hire for that mindset, rather than a specific skill or contained skills.”  

The hard skills of knowing the ins-and-outs of a specific application system like  Workday, Salesforce, or NetSuite, still matters. But, it’s easier than ever to replace those systems when it makes business sense. That’s why business system leaders all agree soft skills now matter more when hiring and building teams. The long term success of a business systems team might hinge on hiring candidates who demonstrate curiosity and a learning mindset. Those are essential soft skills, they say.  

“I definitely want somebody that can bring humility to the table and is okay listening to anybody from top to bottom,” said Bobby Matthews, a business systems team lead at Square. Matthews leads a growing team of five business systems professionals responsible for enterprise people tools, including Square’s CRM and finance systems.

Matthews team has grown to include three full-time direct reports and two overseas contractors that help support Square’s approximately 3,500 employees. He views and coaches his team as if they were internal consultants, meaning solid communication skills are also a must.

“A senior resource on my team should be able to consult, convince, and manage not only our partner teams but, anybody that approaches us with a problem,” he explains. “The hardest part of the problems we get approached with is employees come to you with a solution. What I want my team to do is really dig into what a team is trying to accomplish and not just execute on a specific request.”

Listening, problem solving, curiosity, creativity, and communication are all traits that makes a good business systems professional. But hiring good candidates can be a challenge.

Business Systems Hiring Challenges

There are of course inefficiencies in the HR hiring process — everything from writing a proper job description, recruiting qualified candidates, sifting through resumes, to identifying those game-changing soft skills during onsite interviews.

Even a small change to the hiring process can help identify the right candidate. At ITHAKA, the creator of the most transformative and widely used services in higher education (JSTOR, Portico, and Ithaka S+R) based in New York City, Marlon Palha, director of software engineering and business systems, says he has grown his team from just himself to 20 people in the last five years.

Though the hiring process to find the right person requires some effort, they have continuously tweaked the business systems hiring process every time they have an open requisition with learnings from past hires. And something as simple as crowd-sourcing resume reviews have surfaced higher-quality candidates from unexpected backgrounds.

By posting potential resumes for new hires in a dedicated Slack channel, Pahla has allowed other members of his team to help find the next hire.

He recounts: “There was one resume I recall that didn’t stand out to me, but somebody else on my team saw that resume posted in the Slack channel and saw something that was worth taking a gamble on. The candidate didn’t have much recent experience in the areas we needed, but their background was interesting and related to music — composition, sound engineering, music websites, et cetera.”    

“There’s a relationship between music and general reasoning skills which is great for software and other engineering roles,” he continues. “They had potential to take on some of the work that we had going on based on their music experience from many years back. We ended up bringing that person in and it was a unanimous vote that we wanted to bring this person on. If it was just me as the hiring manager doing the regular old interview process that person could have fallen through the cracks. We could have lost a good one there.”

All agree, though, that because the business systems field and profession is still developing as a result of technological and business changes — how work is now getting done compared to a decade ago — business systems talent can come from almost anywhere — even if a candidate’s career path or hard skills aren’t immediately obvious.

“It’s not very straight-forward these days,” says Matthews. “I don’t care if you have a computer science major. A lot of these skills I can teach you. So, finding somebody that you can mold who isn’t just a Workday person or an integration person is paramount. I’m looking for somebody that can basically go out and grow to become my all-around rockstar.”

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