by Matthew Moran

Expected Versus Valued: Know the Difference

Jul 08, 20147 mins
IT LeadershipIT Strategy

It is all about them!

Can we please stop talking about the “tension between IT and The business?”

It’s not that the conversation is passe. It’s that the conversation is nonsensical. It is similar to saying, “I want to find out what the number 2 smells like.”

In fact, the phrase and ensuing conversation is damaging. It hurts your IT group. It hurts the organization you serve and are part of. It destroys the ability to engender confidence that IT is, in fact, a part of the business.

Even, “aligning IT with business” is misleading. First, “business” is not some singular idea. “Business” is not a concept to understand.

It sounds like a separate but equal conversation and we all know how that turns out!

And, most importantly, IT is a part of the business…. right now…. today!

We should be striving for understanding across departments. And IT, specifically, because it works with and touches so many departments and aspects of the business, has a particularly significant burden in this area.

There is not tension between IT and the business – there are aspects of the business that IT either does not understand or fails to communicate with effectively. There are departments, users, and managers who distrust the IT department – mostly because they don’t understand them and perhaps feel IT lacks empathy and responsiveness.

But IT cannot align with the business. Instead, the IT department must understand and embrace its role IN the business in general and its role with specific departments and specific users.

I’m going to be hard on the IT executive, professional, and department here. But I protest from within. I’ve been writing code, networking computers and devices, running projects, and speaking about (and geeking about) technology since I was in high-school. I’m not some HR theorist on the outside telling you to clean house. I’ve got the ugly cable closet room to prove it!

If you would prefer that your IT group be revered rather than reviled, there are some truths you MUST understand and philosophies you MUST adopt.

This is not an exhaustive list. But it’s a good start.

Understand the Difference Between Expected and Valued

I may ruffle a few feathers here. I’m not sorry about that. And, I hope, that over time, those feathers become less ruffled and there is an understanding of the heart of what I am trying to say.

IT executives and organizations need to understand that much of what we do is NOT going to be valued by the CEO, managers, or departments. If you spend your time speaking with those groups about why those things are critical and try to get them to understand their value, you’ve already put your IT group at a disadvantage.

Things like: infrastructure, security (policy and technology implementation), your cloud initiative, your mobile or mobility strategy, system upgrades, etc. All of these are expected! None of them are valued.

I’ll discuss this in greater detail in future blog entries, but this is an important concept. The moment you begin to speak to the CEO and/or departments about your current “cloud” initiative or how the “Internet of Things” is changing everything, you’ve probably already lost.

That person wants to know how you are making them better at their job, providing them tools to increase their efficiency, or improving their workflow. IoT is an interesting (to us) conceptual idea and series of technologies and gadgets and data and stuff…. but, they work in accounts payable and still want a faster way to check vendor invoices to ensure work was performed.

We know that the “expected” is valuable but truthfully, it is only valuable insomuch as it provides the delivery mechanism for what users and departments do.

You need to couch your conversations around what is valued. Keep the cool conversations about those critical but expected items in the IT group.

The User is the Purpose, NOT the Problem

I’ve done it! I’m guilty. I’ve referred to “users” as stupid, laughed about disconnected cables or the power cord not being plugged in. I get it…. It can be both frustrating and humorous.

IT still has a HUGE perception problem inside of many organizations. We can be aloof, dismissive, and carry a huge, “you don’t understand me” chip on our shoulders.

But, in the end, IT does NOT do the business. IT supports and provides tools (hopefully) to help those who do, in fact, do the business. We are much closer to facilities in our role than we are to sales or other departments.

Users are “stupid” mostly because we are lousy at training or guiding them. In fact, this is a clue. More training = fewer support calls. Also, training is a valued service we should provide or at least have input on. (see above section on expected versus valued)

We should NOT be doing technology to them. Instead, we need to be working with them to better understand what they do and help them utilize the technology available to them.

Whether you are a network engineer, security specialist, or IT executive, it is critical that we understand the purpose of our role and existence in an organization. It is to make departments and users more capable of doing what they do. We should be providing solutions to enable them to accomplish the tasks associated with their role.

Simple Tools Beat Complex Integration

We love talking about those nightmare projects, unrealistic deadlines, data migration, system-wide upgrades, all-nighters, etc. We are badass! We pulled it off.

And in doing so, we failed to recognize that creating a shortcut for the executive administrative assistant which took him directly to that website he was using to research travel for his boss was talked about for months. It made his life so much simpler. It made him happy and productive.

This is sort of similar to expected versus valued.

If you want your IT department to shine! If you want to be a hero – and we should all want to be heroes, you’d better look for opportunities to provide simple tools that get used daily.

It is not as sexy to you, but it’s flat out HOT to the people who we are charged with making happy!

In fact, as a strategy for longer-term, high-dollar projects, you’d be wise to build-in some quick win, half-day, tools that make managers, executives, and their staff happy.

Sure…. it’s a little slight of hand, but I’ve never heard of a department talk about network, server, or software upgrades as “the greatest thing ever.”

On the other hand, a client we work with that uses some Google Sheets with users spread across 6 cities in the US to enter and track some simple data wrote a note to her boss about how much easier we made everyone’s life. What did we do? We added a desktop folder with links to the 3 sheets they use daily.

This person DOES NOT CARE ABOUT THE COMPLEX GNARLY TECHNOLOGY WE PROVIDE! But making her life easier…. that’s the bomb!

IT is Already a Part of the Business

We do not need to align with “the business.” That is too nebulous and imprecise. And the CEO does NOT need to understand the technology.

We, as purveyors of magical technology, need to understand our role in the organization and understand the needs, tasks, and goals of the departments and users we serve. We then need to create simple solutions. Solutions that make THEM better at what THEY do.