Information Technology has long been seen as a back office function with geeky, people-skills-light staff who are good at what they do but tough to interact with. Today that perception has changed, as research suggests the CIO has become the 2nd most important C-level role in many organizations.
IT is far more than a cost center. New digital business models are leveraging technology to great advantage. Too often, however, organizations miss an opportunity to better leverage IT due to lack of alignment. Take these 6 actions to ensure your IT organization is aligned with your business strategy.
Assess your Business Maturity
Aligning IT starts with knowing how mature your business itself is. There are a variety of tools available for doing this and it’s important because IT should very closely follow your business maturity. If your organization is relatively immature with little formal process and informal decision making then you don’t want your IT to have heavy governance and rigorous processes. On the other hand if you’re in a very mature organization, process and governance will be expected. So, take a good hard look at the maturity of your business.
Assess your IT Maturity
Once you know your organizations’ maturity, you should assess IT maturity. Again you want to be closely aligned with your business’ maturity so the same rules as above apply. Do you have a team of generalists doing a little bit of everything or a focused group of specialists? Have you adopted standards like ITIL, Agile, etc yet? When assessing think about competencies as a starting point and work from there.
Tune in to Business Goals
It’s never too early to understand what your organization is trying to accomplish. If you’re not already part of the strategy planning process (as you should be) get a copy of the strategic plan. Analyze it and understand what’s important to your organization. Talk to those who created the goals and get additional information and/or clarification on them. You’ll find by changing the conversation to the business goals that your leaders will value you even more.
Assess IT’s Goals
Assuming you have IT goals (it may surprise you how many organizations don’t), assess how supportive they are of the business goals. What you’re searching for here is enablement. Do the goals of IT enable the goals of the business. IT goals should be very focused on 1 of 3 things – 1. reducing costs 2. reducing risks 3. increasing profit. When goal setting becomes confusing and you’re wading into the deep waters of “what do we do” come back to these 3 key objectives and you can’t go wrong.
Ask a Lot of Questions
Honestly you can’t ask too many questions. Talk with your executives and find out what’s happening in your industry, where he sees the business in 3 years and especially, what you can do to help. Be very open to candidate feedback. Ask your department VPs how IT is doing in relation to departmental goals. This may very well open up additional dialgue and the key is taking feedback and doing something actionable with it. In one organization I was in I’d ask the department heads for a grade of IT similar to what you receive in school (“A”, “B-“, etc.). I did this quarterly and it became a simple way to get feedback I could act on (“So you gave us a B- this quarter. Fair enough. What are 3 things I can do to improve that to an “A” next quarter?).
Lead your Staff
This seems obvious but in my experience it’s an area that’s too often neglected. Your staff will ultimately get you aligned with your business but you have to ask, “Do I have the right talent and skills” to achieve alignment? It’s very important you ask in that order because talent cannot be taught but skills can. This is another area that is easy to overlook. If you don’t have talented staff you’re in a very difficult situation. You may be able to re-orient them through skills but you may also have to upgrade your talent. This doesn’t mean simply letting go of honest people but rather use Jim Collins notion of right people on the bus. If they are the right people, then work with other leaders in your organization to find a proper seat for them. If they are not the right people on the bus, it may indeed be time for the difficult task of upgrading.
I’ve found an effective way to accomplish leading staff is to 1. create and articulate a compelling vision 2. Tell the staff that this is the vision you’re going to achieve and that’s non-negotiable. 3. Share with the staff you really want them to be a part of this vision but if they aren’t interested they should let you know. 4. Invest in those who have talent and want to help you achieve the vision and help the ones who do not find their own passion. My experience has been people will respect you for doing this and those who don’t agree with your vision will move on. Great leaders make very difficult decisions and you need to be a great leader here. So if you have staff who don’t agree with your vision and don’t work on finding their own passion then you need to manage them out.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Once you have your goals and strategy aligned with the business you can’t over communicate your successes. I’m not a person who likes to toot my own horn but I’ve found you simply MUST share with everyone your progress along with next actions to keep moving forward. Accomplishments that are minor and simple to you may seem important to your executives and most importantly it keeps the lines of communication open.
Aligning IT with your organizations’ goals has never been more important. Follow these steps and you’ll be on the path to better outcomes for both IT and your organization.