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Guest Column: Why Technical Specialists Have A Tough Time Moving to Higher Value Work

Guest Column: Why Technical Specialists Have A Tough Time Moving to Higher Value Work

Why Technical specialists have difficult times moving to work of higher value

By Wayne McKinnon


Wayne is a Master Mentor and member of the Million Dollar Consulting® Mentor Hall of Fame

  1. In school, technical specialists are taught that there is one best answer, not degrees of better. Buyers like options, and technical people are often too focused on the theoretical “right way” versus achieving objectives to varying degrees.
  2. One-upmanship is part of the culture. As a result, business meetings often turn into demonstrations of superior knowledge rather than determining the buyer’s needs. Unless this is corrected early, many buyers will simply stop taking calls.
  3. The technical worker learns the importance of task rather than outcomes. Unlike their business counterparts, who have an opportunity to see how outcomes provide value to the business and its customers, the technical specialist is shielded from that view and often has no idea what the business units do or what their world looks like unless they explore the world outside.
  4. There is little opportunity or reason to learn basic business skills. When moving up the value chain, the technical specialist not only has to learn how to converse in business terms, but also must gain an education in the tools of the business trade. The technical consultant faces double the challenge compared to that of the business consultant.
  5. While attempting to make the transition, the technical specialist can easily feel stuck between the old world that they left, and the new world that they have net yet fully entered. Fear can cause retreat back to their technical comfort zone.

So what is the technical consultant to do in order to make a successful transition away from the labor-intensive project work with the ongoing requirement to learn new technologies?

  1. Carve some time out of your schedule to focus exclusively on activities necessary to make the transition. Make this part of your weekly routine.
  2. When outside of the technical arena, DO NOT under any circumstances allow yourself to engage in conversations about technology.  These new conversations are your opportunity to learn how to converse like the rest of the world.
  3. Learn to ask questions that will help you learn about the business world in a different way than you see it now. Take a genuine interest in anyone who can share his or her business experience with you. This can be casually in networking or social situations, as well as in formal mentoring relationships.
  4. Realize that as much as you think you might know about the businesses that you have helped, if that help was in a technical role, you actually may know very little. In future assignments, make a conscious effort to seek out the business units that benefit from your technical work, and using intelligent questions, steer conversations towards the work that they do so that you can learn more.
  5. If you are moving into the role of consultant, or moving your business away from technological work, recognize that you have a steep hill to climb in that you have to both learn how to run your business differently in terms of selling your value instead of your skills, and secondly you have to learn what that value actually is, while shifting the way that you have traditionally thought about things.

Without help it is very easy to get stuck between the past that you left and the future that you have not yet created. Believe me I know. I’ve successfully made the transition many years ago, and it is not as easy as it may seem. Then again I may just be a slow learner…

Written by

Alan Weiss is a consultant, speaker, and author of over 60 books. His consulting firm, Summit Consulting Group, Inc., has attracted clients from over 500 leading organizations around the world.

Comments: 4

  • Brannon Poe

    June 6, 2012

    I work with accountants and these obstacles are very accurately described in the article….great suggestions for making the leap.

  • Sachin Ganpat

    June 8, 2012

    As I read this, I could swear that you’re talking about me. I’m still learning how to make the transition and you are right about falling back into old habits.

    Great article.

  • Steve Williams

    June 11, 2012

    Your advice might be good for people who want to move away from the tech world. But how about those who still have the passion about what they do (technical work) ? Are you suggesting they abandon this towards a business practice?

    • Alan Weiss

      June 11, 2012

      I’m suggesting that if you solely want to deliver you can indulge your passion, but you’ll never make a lot of money doing merely that. That’s your choice.

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