On a mission

Technology leaders and employees are being pressured to demonstrate the value of technology to the business. In order to be successful, they must advocate for IT through a strong mission statement that clearly communicates the department’s goals and the company’s future.

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In my previous blog posts, I outlined why it's important for IT leaders to venture out of their comfort zones and assume the roles of “IT diplomat” and “servant” when thinking about how to best work with business peers.

But even though you’ve learned the language of business and positioned yourself as a service provider, it’s still not enough. The challenge is that your biz colleagues don’t always understand the true value you provide, particularly in a corporate climate where IT budgets continue to climb — annual IT spending in some industries is as much as 10 percent of total operating costs, according to Steve Carter, principal analyst in KPMG’s CIO advisory team. That has to be accounted for.

In a recent survey by the Service Desk Institute, only 27 percent of CIOs said senior executives view IT as contributing to strategic business goals, while a whopping 43 percent view IT only as a means to increase efficiency. Not a high level of confidence in IT’s value there — you’ve got some work to do.

It’s time to take on a third role, that of the “advocate.”

An advocate for any cause — whether it be civic or commercial — understands that consistently communicating a clear mission is key. The IT advocate should be no different, and a mission statement is where your cause begins, and will serve as the foundation for all future communications.

Here are three things you can do to create a strong mission statement that aligns your team around a core value prop, and positions IT as a strategic partner to the business.

Write your mission — and own it

A mission statement is a written declaration of a company’s or department’s internal values and strategy. Think of it as a framework for informing employees of how they can work to achieve the business’s aspirations.

According to management expert Peter Drucker, a good statement should fit on a T-shirt, but should not be a slogan. Instead, it should be in clear, concise language, with no lingo. It should be to the point and extremely focused. It should be broad enough as to not stipulate process, but it should provide direction for best practices.

HR.com offers this example from the IT department of the City of Westminster, Colo.:

"We will evaluate, integrate and support innovative technologies to help internal and external customers achieve their goals, while effectively maximizing return on resources and providing cost-effective methods for citizens, businesses, vendors and others to easily access information and conduct business with the city."

It’s clear and concise, and it's something team members can march to.

Aligning your technology mission with where the company is heading is a critical part of building the IT brand. In doing so, you start to develop a clear picture of the unique value IT brings to the company as a whole.

But you can’t go it alone. For your business peers to recognize IT’s worth — especially within the larger context — your team must buy into it first.

Get everyone on the same page, literally

The mission statement begins in the mind of an IT leader, but it ends on a piece of paper or a whiteboard with team consensus. Don’t dismiss this as some bohemian plot to get employees to hold hands around fluffy marketing speak. There’s a real advantage in aligning them to a big-picture message: Beyond the exercise helping to identify departmental gaps or overlaps, it results in team-building and consistent communication. 

After drafting the mission, present it to your management team (along with the company vision) and open the floor for discussion. Be honest about your long- and short-term goals for technology, and encourage candid feedback about whether everyone can fully support it. Elevating the mission statement from a theoretical concept to a practicable one is a group undertaking — and one that requires concerted effort from everybody, regardless of role.

In my experience, I’ve found that identifying this as a working session (or a series of them) with your team, and allowing for several hours of discussion and iteration is the best way to land a strong message. Be persistent in telling your team that, at the core, mission statements are about framing departmental goals within the larger context of the company vision, and that it’s a great way to broadcast the strategic role of IT.

Spread the word

According to the Wall Street Journal contributor Peter High: “The more [the mission statement] is made available to colleagues across the company, the more they will realize what IT ‘stands for.’”

So once you’ve reached consensus with your department, it’s time to get out there as an advocate and share your shiny new mission with other leaders. Why? Because as the pace of business continues to accelerate, it’s easy for the various departments to develop tunnel vision, build ivory towers and lose sight of how to work across them. For the IT advocate, this is a great opportunity to tout the department as a partner whose goals correspond with those of all business groups.

To be clear, this isn’t a callback to the importance of servicing the business — we’ve already covered that. This is a call to action. By communicating your mission with other leaders, you’re asking for a two-way support system. You’re acknowledging that every department has its own set of objectives, but in the end, you’re all working toward the shared goal of helping the business succeed — with technology and your department’s talents as the connective tissue.

It's time to rebrand IT as not just a department that serves, but a department that leads. And advocates can’t exist without a mission to work toward.

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