We hear a lot about how IT managers are supposed to be making a transition from “keeping the trains running” to being “more strategic,” but is this what your organization really wants? I’m not convinced.
In my consulting, for example, I’ve found that the same executives who want a more strategic IT director do not necessarily want that person to sit on the organization’s main decision-making committee. They are sometimes also not willing to appoint a standing IT committee to figure out IT strategy and how it could help the organization.
So what do these organizations want? One thing they do not want is to be blindsided by technology. By the time issues get to presidents’ desks, they want to already have advice on what to do, or, at the very least, they don’t want to look uninformed. In the last few years, two technologies have hit a lot of organizations from behind: social media and smart mobile devices. It’s embarrassing to have Ms. Big on the board ask why the organization isn’t on Facebook and why the President doesn’t have an iPad like hers.
So how does an IT director avoid being accused of failing to keep the boss informed? What not to do is to dutifully do your reading and send the occasional memo up the ladder recommending a pilot program. The problem is that if you’re really telling them about something new, they probably won’t understand the memo, and they’ll shelve it.
Think Like a Service Provider
What you have to be is a “trusted advisor,” and when somebody like me, a vendor, hears that I think “good salesperson.” A good salesperson has earned the trust of a client and gives advice based not only on making sales but on furthering the relationship. As ITIL, among others, has pointed out, IT departments always have competition, particularly, I might add, in these days of outsourcing and the cloud. IT departments who think of themselves as service providers, with a special relationship but with competition, benefit by thinking in terms of sales.
A good salesperson knows that the way you communicate with a client is to find out what they want, in as much detail as possible. It’s about them, not you. And you reach out to them. You don’t wait for them to call in with orders.
IT managers need to do the same. You have to develop those relationships in which you are a trusted advisor. This means lots of one-on-one conversations with executives to find out what matters to them. Once you have an agenda, you can float possibilities past them, educating them along the way. It also means doing market research, which means regularly surveying end user satisfaction and needs.
So, in the end, being strategic is a lot about service. It starts with your relationships with your executives and users. Then it’s about combining a deep knowledge about what they want with the technologies in the marketplace. And it’s also managing their acceptance of your ideas, not just sending a memo, or, worse, waiting to be asked. You could call that managing upward, you could call it selling, or you could call it service.