If you want to understand someone you need to do more than walk a mile in their shoes, you need to try and do what they do. The other day I had lunch with a former CIO who has recently been promoted to run a business unit in a mid-sized medical device company. The CIO is a good executive, a leader, someone who transformed the IT organization and raised its performance.
Now the former CIO and newly minted BU lead has been working to create an IT solution to an important issue that did not make the traditional business planning process. She wanted to do things the right way so rather than calling in a few favors they are working the process the same as any other business executive.
We had lunch the other day and during the course of the lunch they explained how she now know how the business can be frustrated with IT.
What follows is her story:
For the past three months I have been pursuing a project that everyone recognizes is important, addresses an immediate need, and yet never seems to move beyond the discussion stage. Without going into the details, the experience has been nothing short of frustrating for all sides. The business needs a solution, one that they can clearly articulate to IT. IT wants to provide a solution, but finds itself trapped in its own processes.
Here are some of the principles they I extracted from the conversation:
Activity is no substitute for results. IT professionals relish explaining the process they have gone through, the approach they have taken and how hard they are working and view that as a result. In this case, IT’s emphasis on the value and complexity of their work is heard by the business as being more important than their work.
Commitment creates confidence; a lack of commitment destroys importance. When IT cannot make a commitment regardless of the answer, then it negates its importance and gives the business few alternatives as they face a business challenge and only have time for those who can make a decision. When IT says it depends, or that they would change their decision if only you would increase the budget, it gives the business a sense that IT is a fair weather friend and not someone who is ‘on the sane side’ working with the business.
Risk cannot be the only reason to not to do something, because risk is easy to over estimate. When you say that something is too risky, you downplay the business’s understanding of risk or their ability to manage their operations. You are insinuating that you know better to people who earn their own salary plus yours that they do not understand their job.
IT announces a decision on their own without consulting others whom they need to be their partners. This really confused the former CIO as after several meetings and a few weeks, the IT group announced that it would do a project that they formerly said was too risky, without doing two critical things. First they did not involve their other ‘partners’ in the decision after saying that the partners could not make a decision without talking with IT. Second, when asked about how IT was going to deal with the issues they raised, the response was that they would figure it out and you should be happy because we are doing the project.
As I thought of these points, a pattern emerged. Rather than being solution focused and suggesting ways to work together to address the problem, IT had used structure and procedure as a way to make the rest of the organization safe for IT.
When IT arbitrarily agreed, that destroyed any notion of partnership, collaboration or shared responsibility. It seemed that partnering went only one way, hold the business back and let IT move forward.
A truly frustrating situation, one that I am sure looks as different from the IT perspective as it does from the business perspective.
Both sides need to look at the issue from each other’s view and both sides need to work together. Partnering should not be a form of ‘struggle’, rather it should be an exchange of ideas, an adjustment of approaches, both of which can be difficult given the predisposition of many IT planning and prioritization processes.
Something to think about for IT leaders when the business expresses their frustration and you feel you are just following the rules.
Something for business leaders to think about when they are feeling frustrated and recognize the need to call a time out and reset the relationship back to a partnership.