This post is the companion to others that describe what ‘Thinking small’ about IT means. This post concentrates on a different way of thinking about how IT builds relationships within the enterprise, customers, suppliers etc. It describes how leaders are evolving the ideas behind building relationships from ones based on specialist skills or restrictive processes to a series of interactions akin to dating.
Big IT builds relationships based on specialist separation
Big IT, the kind we had at the start of the information revolution, was lousy at building relationships. Technologies were viewed as a unique skill in the organization with special titles; pay grades, organizational structure etc. Big IT builds relationships based on caste and the criticality of their unique skills, as they ‘understood technology.’
Unique particularly compared to the generic ‘clerical or staff’’ functions tight dominated organizational design from the 1970’s through the 1990’s. That all changes in the 90’s with the adoption of ideas like core competencies, business process orientation and the idea that everyone was a knowledge worker. When everyone became special, then IT was no longer as special.
Medium IT builds relationships based on protective processes
Medium IT, the kind of IT we have now, seeks to deliver everything big IT but under a mantra of ‘more for less.’ The transition from big to medium IT started in the late 1990’s with the introduction of sourcing and has continued through to the present day. Where Big IT ran on the unique skills of people, CIOs run medium IT on the basis of protective processes. “Making the enterprise safe for IT,” is the mantra of man of these processes, which seek to restrict demand for IT services, control, prioritize, prescribe and otherwise separate IT from the business.
Larger, high risk, high-tension technology releases is one of the outcomes of medium IT’s preference for restrictive processes. Medium IT bundles things into larger and less frequent releases to save money, to connect with business criticality, to respond in the only way they know via big thinking.
IT’s process separation has amounted to the organizational secession of IT from the rest of the enterprise. IT services companies, shared services, comprehensive outsourcing all entail IT picking up its toys and leaving the organizational structure.
We now have a low-grade civil war between the business and IT where neither side understands the other and both sides seek to solve a relationship problem with process. Medium IT’s process protection obsession is reaching new heights in the face of tighter budgets, increasing legacy overhang, and threats from consumer based substitutes. The response is more processes for governance, enterprise architecture, portfolio management, ITIL, etc.
More process is just a prelude for divorce.
That is leading a set of new leaders to think differently about IT and how it builds relationships on interaction rather than specialized skills or specific processes.
Thinking small about IT uses interaction to build relationships
Leaders who ‘think small’ ask, what is the basis for a relationship? The simple answer is interaction. These leaders go back to their own human experience in building relationships and noticed that relationship build over time, based on shared experience and working together. They seek to ‘date’ the business.
Remember dating? Building a relationship takes time, frequent interaction and communication that build a shared understanding and mutual appreciation of each other’s strengths and challenges. Think about a significant relationship you have with someone and you will recognize the myriad of individual interactions that have culminated in the relationship you have.
Thinking small about relationships recognizes that relationship build from individual interactions that lead to future interest and interaction and eventually a deeper relationship’s
Leaders with strong relationships in the organization recognize that they need to build those interactions by dating the rest of the organization.
How do you know?
Listen to the way they talk about their work and interactions. Leaders who think small about their relationships across the business talk not about the big crisis moments but about interactions that happened the other day, or a funny story from the past, or mentioning something for the next time they meet.
Leaders who are thinking small about IT, view relationships as small increments and encourage their teams to work in different ways:
- Smaller more frequent releases that each release represents an opportunity to build a relationship and create value. Large releases only raise the stakes, tension, and risk and are too infrequent to be the basis of a relationship. Large releases are like one night stands.
- Interactive style that engages the business by being genuine interested in them rather than interrogating them to complete requirements and fill out forms
- Openness to new ideas, requirements and interests of everyone in finding a solution. Being open creates the space for expression and innovation rather than closing down conversations about what technology can and cannot do. When you segment the conversation, you segregate the organization creating division not relationships.
- Truthfulness and transparency are used as the currency of trust rather than the terms of engagement that are the basis for service level agreements.
Now if all of that sounds like IT losing control, or losing its standing, influence or position, then you are not ready to build a relationship. You are not ready to ask someone out on a date.
IT currently follows an opposite approach seeking either technology innovation driven ‘love at first sight’ or a mechanistic process based approach to ‘finding each other compatible’. How are those approaches working for you?
Relationships are the sum of the interactions, both good and bad and how those interactions make us feel about others and ourselves.
They are part of an experience (more on that later) that starts with thinking small.