The Right Way to Say "No" in Business: Reader Q&A

Q: Saying no is a way of letting people who don’t understand IT’s capabilities know what is possible and what isn’t, and what is a good use of money and what isn’t. Whenever the sales VP asks me for something, it’s his way of testing the importance of his idea. He knows I will work with him if it’s a good idea. But not everything is a good idea or is a better idea than what we’re already working on.

A: It sounds like you have a great relationship with your sales executive—congratulations! Without strong relationships, the word "no" causes people to dig in on their positions. That’s a difficult reaction to overcome if you hope to get to a solution that works for both parties. People react to (and learn from) questions better than statements. The goal of IT-business alignment is to set up mechanisms so that business executives are able to evaluate the merits and implications of their IT-enabled ideas without IT having to play the heavy.

Q: If business-IT alignment has improved over the past five years, as you say, why were there so many sob stories at the breakfast you attended? Alignment is one of those problems that never goes away, unlike technical issues. Alignment can never be "fixed." It requires continual work and communication on the part of IT executives and every member of the IT department.

A: Alignment has improved, but you are right that it requires continual work and communication. The CIOs in that breakfast meeting weren’t lamenting this state of affairs; they were discussing alignment with the goal of learning from each other and developing a sense of how to reach the alignment grail.

Q: In addition to the six points you’re writing about, I’d like to see you address the executive committee—a.k.a. the IT management committee, IT-business oversight committee or what have you. What are the best ways to set up this kind of group, who has to be on it (the must-attends versus the nice-to-haves) and what does it need to accomplish?

A: Management committees are essential to effective governance. Real-world strategy requires that an effective senior-level IT council exist.

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