Most companies seem more than willing to invest in their Information Technology (IT) function. And well they should. IT has repeatedly demonstrated that it can have a wondrous effect on a company’s productivity, ability to serve customers, and cost-effectiveness. A successful IT organization can deliver significant competitive advantage. Still, many IT departments have an Achilles Heel. And it’s not technological. It’s personal. Or, more accurately, interpersonal. IT professionals frequently struggle to interact effectively with line managers and others who use their services. The result? Businesses realize far less value than they should from their IT investments.
Increasingly, IT professionals are expected to function as “business partners” who work with line managers and users to cost effectively solve mission-critical business problems. Yet, those who lead IT often hear complaints about the inability of IT pros to effectively engage their colleagues. Negative perceptions of IT that persist in many companies include: “They live in their own world.” “They don’t understand what we really need.” “They make it harder than it has to be.” “They take too long to deliver.”
IT pros have frustrations of their own. Line managers and users rarely grasp just how much goes into devising, delivering, or customizing IT solutions. Further, IT works in an arena that tends to trumpet breakthroughs well ahead of their arrival, fostering premature expectations among user groups. Without question, many business people are less patient with IT than they might be if they were better informed.
Our point is simply this: Even as Information Technology transforms how we do business today, the IT department, in many cases, remains an “odd duck” – a function that seemingly cannot or will not channel its genius into the business mainstream. While line managers tend to respect IT’s expertise, they often question IT’s ability to empathize with their situation, to adhere to business norms, and to make technology solutions easily accessible and applicable.
This interpersonal disconnect between IT and the rest of the company is troublesome. And not just for IT. When your IT pros struggle to interact with the rest of the business, your company experiences misunderstandings, errors, rework, and delays. IT projects get bogged down by non-technological issues. And your company receives far less value from IT, far less quickly, than it would were IT better integrated on the interpersonal level.
Unfortunately, few business people are actively aware of the tradeoffs they make each day. Many salespeople, for example, habitually forego account profitability to maintain valued customer relationships. Similarly, some IT professionals pursue their project objectives (e.g., convert the company’s local area network to a new operating system by such and such a date) with little thought to building or maintaining their working relationships, which are key to the proper assessment and, ultimately, resolution of IT issues.
To achieve a balance that will help them interact more effectively with the rest of the company, your IT pros must learn to more consistently make positive use of personal power and influence.