At your service

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In a potentially tense climate where business is taking charge of the technology budget, IT leaders can find more career success when they are consistent in behaviors and communications with business peers.

In a previous CIO blog post, I addressed how technology leaders must take on the role of IT diplomat in an increasingly business-driven world. Adopting many of the behaviors and attitudes of modern diplomacy when reaching out to business people — showing humility and a willingness to partner — will set you up for a long-term strategic role and a boost to your career.

But it’s only a first step. 

Beyond diplomat, now you can add “servant” to your job description. Not in a negative sense, but literally in the act of serving, or providing ongoing service to the business. Consider this: if you’re not serving business people, how often do they exercise the option of going around you?

According to a recent IDG survey, almost everything you decide about technology has to be within the context of business. This is not a bad thing — every connection point with the business is an opportunity to prove your value as a service.

Here are three things you can start doing today to be of service to your business peers:

Leave the Gantt charts in your office

Business leaders are overwhelmed with information, but also by the array of technology options and how they can use digital tools to increase success. When preparing for an encounter with business executives, it helps to remember this: Time is their most precious currency, and the “why” is far more important than the “what” or the “how.” This means that they won’t have the bandwidth to dedicate to absorbing minutiae. They will want to know the reasons behind a technology investment and whether it will solve their business challenges. To provide great service to your business partners, focus on goals and tangible outcomes over the technical details. Remove any granular project information like Gantt charts and tech specs in favor of clear details: Reiterate the business goals, highlight progress, address issues or setbacks in layman's terms. It’s not about the specifics of virtualization or the mysteries of cloud computing as much as it is about the solutions the tech will bring. So before you meet with a business leader, make sure what you have to say passes the “pedestrian test.” Can you explain the value of a technology investment to someone on the street, in less than a minute, without using acronyms or highly technical language?

Avoid the shiny objects

As technology evolves at an exponential rate, more point solutions are flooding the business market. There is an app or solution for almost everything. In a frenetic world of distractions, your role is to help business leaders in your organization look beyond disparate, one-off fixes. You’ll want to make clear how important it is to not rush into investing in the tech du jour unless it’s tied to a specific business outcome (productivity, security, mobility, etc.). To that end, IT leaders have the opportunity to take control by providing a better decision framework to evaluate new requests, and to help create an end-to-end view of the business that ensures shiny objects don’t overlap with or invalidate existing capabilities.

Take it outside

We tend to place emphasis on meetings, but the truth is that most of us don’t spend a lot of time meeting with any one person or group. Business colleagues likely interact the most with you through written communications like emails, which is a challenge, because according to the Radicati Group, on an average day, executives receive and send more than 110 messages. What about impromptu face-to-face encounters outside the conference room or even by the proverbial water cooler? Then there are other types of engagements — keynotes, webinars, conference calls. These connection points are opportunities to prove value. Be consistent in all communications, and practice brevity and even levity. A great example of this approach is Alaska Airlines CIO Veresh Sita’s recent keynote at Chefcon — he resisted any urge to trot out techspeak and instead spoke in a warm and amusing way about how digital investments have to meet customer expectations. You can bet that his business colleagues appreciate his attitude of service and consider him a powerful ally.

IT and business are converging quickly. Your tech projects are business projects and vice versa. More and more technology investments are becoming business decisions: According to Gartner, by 2017, 50% of total IT spending will be outside of the formal IT organization. At the end of the day, business leaders need you more than ever to ensure the organization is doing the right things to use technology as a strategic asset. By becoming more of a business partner through consistent acts of service, you’re positioning yourself as a valuable resource to the organization, and setting yourself up for future career opportunities.

As the late advertising executive Leo Burnett once said, “The sole purpose of business is service.”

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