For any new technology initiative to be successful, IT needs to speak the same language as the business. Organizations that struggle to bridge the gap between business and IT are faced with failed projects, lack of measurable ROI and technology investments that go to waste.
While the need to bridge the gap between business and IT is obvious, bringing these two points of view together is easier said than done, especially as the pace of technological change continues to accelerate and grow in complexity. Here are 5 tips to keep in mind for successful IT and business alignment:
1. Be an active listener
At times, IT people may listen passively and tend to filter takeaways from a conversation with business leaders through their own lens. For example, someone who manages a Service Desk team might tune out the underlying business need and focus on what they hear about the user experience, and how their team needs to support it technically. Though, if there’s not a clear understanding on why the users are experiencing the application in the first place, the service desk manager won’t have the whole picture on what will make this initiative successful in the long term. Usually that means redirecting the conversation between business and IT by asking a few questions, like “why are we doing this?” or “what happens if we aren’t able to do this?” or “how does this fit into the day to day for these users?” to help align IT with the rest of the business.
2. Have empathy
What may seem like a low priority to one person could be the most critically important thing to someone else within the business. You need to put yourself in the other person’s shoes to understand how to support them and ensure the success of the initiative. As a result, they are more apt to see your point of view and take it into consideration. Mutual empathy is a key building block of trust.
3. Strive towards mutual goals
Once IT and business leaders start working together to understand the reasoning behind any initiative, they’ll naturally have some personal investment towards the same goal. And then the business side will begin to realize how IT fits into its success. Although our individual actions are geared towards our role and strengths on the team, these actions support the same end goal. If IT and the rest of the business start drifting apart, or if the goal has changed without notifying IT, there needs to be a reset with business leaders to realign everyone.
4. Speak up when there are risks
Part of gaining trust is to speak up when you see a risk of obtaining the goal. There are always going to be issues that arise with any initiative. However, when that happens, not much is worse than hearing someone say, “I knew this would happen,” and wondering why they didn’t warn you before it happened! Of course, you still need to be empathetic and highlight that everyone is working towards the same shared goals. The messaging of the issue we raise is just as important as having raised it.
5. Be generous with praise and stingy with blame
Trust isn’t gained in an instant and must be continually reinforced. When we’re successful, we should reward the behavior that got us there. If everyone were rowing the proverbial boat in the same direction the whole way, be sure to thank them all in a meaningful way for their part in making the initiative a success. If anyone individually went above and beyond, call it out and show your appreciation by sharing it with the larger group. If there were bumps along the way or you were ultimately not successful in achieving the goal, rather than point a finger at anyone, you need to take the time for self-reflection and be forthright with how to improve for this future.
I like to refer to this as the “bank of goodwill.” Just like my bank account, I always want to be making more deposits than withdrawals, but I recognize there will be withdrawals sometimes. If I maintain a comfortably positive balance, things are probably going to keep moving in the right direction.
Get to the root of the problem and keep communication open
Part of the reason I gravitated towards a career in IT is that I love to solve problems. As a Service Delivery Lead at BDO Digital, often I’ll be presented with a nice, big, juicy technical problem by a client that I feel I might be uniquely qualified to help them solve based on my past experiences. Immediately I want to dig in and fix it with them and the subject matter experts on my team. I start to imagine all the pieces falling into place until we’re all celebrating our huge success as “We are the Champions” plays in the background and confetti falls on us.
However, I quickly snap out of this pipe dream and realize that, before we start down any path to fixing the problem, I have to calm down and ask my client several non-technical questions to have a deeper understanding of exactly why it’s a problem and why it needs to be solved.
- What is the business goal we achieve by fixing the problem?
- What happens if we don’t solve it?
- What if solving it poses new risks or requires more effort than the business realizes?
- Is there an ongoing business impact and can this be quantified in hours of lost productivity and/or lost revenue?
- Are there internal politics to consider?
Often during this discussion, we realize that there’s a better path to solve the problem than the one initially presented, or in some cases, it’s simply not worth solving at all. Communicating these findings back to the business through the lens of supporting the same shared goals only serves to strengthen our partnership with them. However, even if this discussion just reinforces those initial views on the scope of our problem and how critical it is to fix it, I can at least use this information and relay it to whoever on my team is going to help us solve the problem. This way we’re all partnered for success, even if nobody has any confetti to throw at us when we get there.
A Managed Services partnership can bridge the gap
The responsibility to maintain a continuous alignment between the business and IT has become a full-time job. Therefore, many businesses are turning to IT consultants with managed services offerings. One of the most valuable assets of a managed services partnership is having someone who can bridge the gap between business and IT and provide strategic alignment for achieving better business outcomes.