- Published: Thursday, February 20, 2020 13:05
By David Philippou
Years ago I was at a company leadership development day. When we got to the touchy-feely part at the end where everyone is asked to thank someone else in the room, I did so and then…nothing. While everyone else got thanked for the smallest of things, I sat there thinking, “Hey! What about me? My team and I have worked tirelessly to ensure the IT systems work, day in and day out, and tickets no longer disappear into a black hole. Don’t I deserve some thanks, too?”
Most of the background work IT does gets taken for granted
I got to thinking. What was really going on here? I spoke with my mentors and they gave me the cold, hard truth: Most people take all of those background things that IT does for granted. As long as you’re doing a great job, they’re not even consciously aware of it. Nobody notices the security breaches and outages that did not take place because you prevented them from happening.
What does make IT get noticed?
Of course, if things go wrong everyone takes notice. But other than that, what gets noticed is when you improve things. When you add functionality to existing applications or introduce technologies that help others in their line of business, they notice.
A good analogy here is that of an iceberg. As an IT leader you’re looking after the entire iceberg. But all anyone ever sees is the part that’s “above the water.” These are the things they notice, the things they care about most. How well you do on the “above the water” items will usually dictate how others determine the value of IT. All of the “keeping the lights on” things you do won’t count.
When I realized this, I realized that if you want IT to be seen as an invaluable part of the organization, a group that brings true value to the company, you need to move IT closer to the business. Over the years I have found that there are a number of things you need to do to make this happen. In this article I will focus on three that have to do with the IT leader’s relationships with the rest of the company. In my next article I’ll share five suggestions related to how you run your IT organization.
Here’s what I recommend:
Build relationships with other executives in the company
As the IT leader you need to build business and personal relationships with the leaders of each functional area within your firm. Try to establish regular monthly meetings, and then ensure that each meeting is about them and their business—not about technology (at least not initially).
To that end, here’s an important point. When you’re talking to a fellow executive and they’re describing the problems they’re facing, chances are a lot of ideas and solutions will immediately come to your mind. You’ll be tempted to bombard them with all of the ways you can make their lives easier. Don’t give in to that temptation! The time will come to do so, maybe three meetings in, after you fully understand what’s going on behind each of those problems. Wait, because once they know that you’ve really listened and you really care, they’ll be far more receptive to your ideas. Even if things go wrong, they’ll be more forgiving, because they’ll know you care.
Take advantage of your unique position in the company
IT is generally the only part of the organization that sees how information flows everywhere. As the touchpoint for everyone and everything, you have a unique perspective that enables you to see insights that others cannot.
As the head of technology it’s on you to take advantage of this vantage point. You should be spending time reading about emerging technologies, looking at what industry competitors are doing and really searching for opportunities to use IT to help move your business forward.
When you have ideas for improvement, the relationships that you’ve established will make your peers more receptive to hearing them—provided you present these ideas properly. To get buy-in you must speak to your fellow executives in business language. If you start “talking tech” they’ll switch off. As Jeff Richards explains in his article on “The Language Secrets of Successful CIOs,” you need to stop talking about response times, availability and other IT-centric issues, and start speaking in terms of bottom-line business results.
Sit in on business meetings
Ideally you and your team will collaborate with other parts of the organization. A great way to make this happen is to look for opportunities for IT to sit in on business meetings to which you would not usually be invited. Even if you are not able to contribute, these meetings can be invaluable learning opportunities. But every now and then you’ll hear something where IT can add a lot of value.
What I’ve seen is that oftentimes end users will put up with all kinds of problems because they don’t think they can be fixed, or they don’t want to approach IT and add to IT’s workload. If you hear things like that while you’re sitting in a meeting, you may be able to offer a solution right there on the spot.
Building external relationships (i.e. external to your IT organization) will help move IT closer to the business. It will raise IT’s visibility and increase your opportunities to do those “top of the iceberg” things that the rest of the company cares so much about. Stay tuned for my next article, when I’ll talk about things you can do within your IT organization to move IT even closer to the business.
About David Philippou
David is an influential and transformative global CIO with 20+ years in IT who he generates business value through strategy, innovation and execution. David’s deep multi-level expertise across the IT spectrum encompasses applications, development, infrastructure, service desk, analytics, cybersecurity and governance. His ability to balance technical, business and communication skills helps position IT as a true business partner.
About CIO Professional Services
Based in the San Francisco Bay area, CIO Professional Services LLC is a top-rated Information Technology (IT) consulting firm focused on integrating Business and Information Technology. Our consultants are all hands-on executives who are veteran CIOs and Partners of Big 4 consulting firms. Companies come to us seeking assistance with their information technology strategy as well as for interim or fractional CIO / CTOs, and negotiation and program management/project rescue assistance.