The IT leader’s guide to empowering business teams

To create a ‘future-ready’ workforce, encourage everyone to build technical solutions

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The traditional role of the IT department has been as a technology gatekeeper – installing equipment, rolling out technical initiatives, and trying to stop people from being irresponsible with the company’s data. But as the workforce and workplace have evolved, both before and because of the global pandemic, IT has an opportunity to embrace a new role: Empowering the workforce to innovate and collaborate to improve productivity and help the business grow.

“More and more, the keys to scale and innovation are no longer in the hands of the technical few,” Mark Mader, Smartsheet CEO, writes in a blog post. “They’re available to those who are motivated to make change, who want to push the world forward.”

But how do you pivot from handing out technical solutions to encouraging teams to build their own?

You have to lead them to it.

Focus on customer service

One trick is to think of the IT team as a customer service arm, tasked with supporting employees as they move the company forward using technology.

 “IT touches every part of the business,” David Tutwiler, IT director for South Western Communications, explains in a case study. “While customer service is critical to the success of South Western Communications, it’s also critical to how I run the IT department.”

About 60% of the company works in the field installing and maintaining systems. Tutwiler sees it as his role to make their job easier. He adopted Smartsheet to build workflows so technicians could submit forms and upload images using a mobile app instead of the cumbersome and time-consuming paper and email systems they were using. Rather than create and deploy the solution himself, though, he tasked an internal group with building it and teaching the technicians to use it so everyone would feel empowered to innovate within the new system.

“Those technicians told us they're more efficient and feel empowered to suggest changes to improve the form intake process we set up in Smartsheet,” he says. “It’s satisfying that the technicians are making our process better, whether that’s suggesting new fields or a checkbox to let us know if a job will require a return visit. Ever since we gave them the power to contribute to the process, we’re seeing spikes in innovation.”

Build a community

Another reason Tutwiler’s technician-empowerment plan worked, though, might be because he created a community to build, teach, and troubleshoot the solution. It turns out that this is a clever and effective way to lead people to innovate with technology. Once you have made the tools available and unlocked access to features, it’s important to resist the urge to be the person people turn to for technical help. Put your effort instead into building a community of users that can turn to each other for help. 

“Communities are a compelling way to drive consistent execution,” Pablo Junco, CTO at Microsoft, said in blog post. “A community connects people to identify common challenges, share best practices and lessons learned, discuss new trends, learn from peers, and enhance skills by tapping into collective knowledge.”

It might not be as easy for IT teams to step away from the technology and invite those less skilled to help. But that effort will likely be worth it in the long run.

“In my experience,” says Junco, “high performers get the recognition they deserve from their peers, and the people not doing that well get inspired and motivated by knowing the way to success.”

Encouraging the entire workforce to do what once might have been thought of as an “IT job” might feel like a threat to some IT pros, but, it is the key to creating a “future-ready” workforce, according to a research briefing from the MIT Center for Information Systems Research. “Transforming a workforce into one that is future ready,” the report’s authors write, “requires that leaders coordinate efforts to equip people with the technologies they need and give them the accountability and capabilities to fully exploit those tools.”

And IT teams will play a critical role in that transformation.

Learn more about Smartsheet, the enterprise-grade work management platform that aligns global teams, empowers users to build and scale business-driven solutions, and enables IT to manage risk and maintain compliance.

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Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.