How can we get our IT teams to be viewed as more consultative partners to the business? It\u2019s one of the big questions I continue to hear from CIOs. While technology has changed dramatically over the past decade and become increasingly intertwined with the business\u2019s success, many IT teams remain in order-taking mode, responding to requests and then scrambling to address the issues that arise after the fact.\n\nWith its end-to-end view of the organization, no function is better positioned than IT to collaborate with the business and take on the role of problem-solving partner. As James Johnson, CIO of James Hardie Industries, notes, \u201cVery often, the IT function is the most knowledgeable function in a company in terms of its broad purview and understanding of both business process and of the technology that runs that process. It\u2019s almost like a secret superpower that even within the IT function we don\u2019t always recognize.\u201d\n\nFlexing this superpower \u2014 and being credible in the role \u2014 requires a shift in mindset and approach as well as new skills.\n\nWe can learn a lot from the CIOs who have been successful in creating consultative IT cultures and workforces. In a recent virtual roundtable discussion, I posed the question to a group of CIOs from diverse industries, including James Hardie\u2019s Johnson; Shanna Cotti-Osmanski, CIO of ConMed; Kristie Grinnell, CIO of DXC Technology; Vicki Hildebrand, CIO of BCBSMA; Sue Kozik, CIO of BCBSLA; Kelly Lyman, CIO of PECO; and Sanjay Shringarpure, CIO of Republic National Distributing. They shared valuable perspective and advice on how to move IT organizations up the Maturity Curve to become more strategic, consultative partners and a driving force in the business.\n\nShifting to a business-first mindset\n\nIn many ways, technology leaders and their teams are going through a transformation that\u2019s requiring them to redefine their purpose and the lens through which they view their role. As Hildebrand notes, we\u2019ve developed a language over time that separates technology from the business, and that paradigm has to shift, starting with leadership.\n\n\u201cIt\u2019s understanding that the function of IT is really to be the business partner first \u2014 to bring value to the company,\u201d Johnson says. \u201cSo I lead with that mindset. I want to understand what the business problems are, and how we can help solve for them.\u201d\n\nAt Republic National Distributing, Shringarpure takes this business-first concept a step further, describing IT\u2019s relationship with the business in terms of two people or teams having joint ownership for driving a business case scenario.\n\n\u201cWe call that \u2018two in a box,\u2019\u201d Hildebrand adds.\n\nAnd here is where PECO\u2019s Lyman says a consultative leadership style is vital: \u201cThat\u2019s what helps employees feel like they\u2019re part of the solution. This is not senior leadership coming in and forcing me to go do something. I\u2019m part of the collective decisions on how we\u2019re helping the business in a way that has real, valuable outcomes. We\u2019re adding value not only in what we\u2019re delivering and the way that we\u2019re delivering it, but at the end of the day, we\u2019ve optimized these processes to be the most efficient that we can be.\u201d\n\nThis mindset about IT\u2019s role has to be developed and sometimes redefined throughout the organization, not just within the technology organization. Working for James Hardie, a well-established cement manufacturer with a still-growing IT team, Johnson has experienced firsthand the importance of emphasizing to everyone \u2014 including business partners \u2014 that IT\u2019s job is one of value-enabling, not order-taking.\n\nThat\u2019s not always easy, especially when there\u2019s a firmly engrained perception that IT is there strictly to contribute technical capabilities. Even at an insurance organization like BCBSLA, where Kozik says the business relies on her IT team \u201cto help knit things together, since we see how the information flows in an enterprise view that many of our business colleagues don\u2019t,\u201d there are still very few projects where IT is the business owner. Instead, IT is mostly viewed as a technical owner.\n\nIt\u2019s a challenge of perception even at the CIO level, Kozik adds. \u201cHistorically, we weren\u2019t really thought of as businesspeople. We were technologists. And I\u2019d say, \u2018Do you think the CFO is just a finance person? Aren\u2019t they a businessperson first? Why is IT different?\u2019\u201d\n\nShowing up differently\n\nIn many cases, those perceptions are rooted in the reality of how IT has shown up in the past. Most IT organizations still aren\u2019t leveraging their unique view of the enterprise, particularly when it comes to how their teams engage with business partners and their ability to anticipate and deliver game-changing value. This not only prevents many in IT from getting that proverbial seat at the table; it can also obscure some of the creative, innovative work IT is doing \u2014\u00a0and what that contributes to the business.\n\n\u201cMaybe it\u2019s not the big shiny new thing, but a smaller process change or streamlining through automation \u2014 these are adding value,\u201d Lyman says.\n\nShringarpure adds that IT professionals don\u2019t have to take on a massive game-changing initiative to start building credibility with their business partners. In fact, starting smaller can often be more effective. By racking up incremental wins over time, they\u2019ll demonstrate their value and earn the right and the experience to tackle the bigger projects going forward.\n\nThe problem is, sometimes the IT team itself doesn\u2019t recognize the full business impact of what they\u2019re creating. They need to understand the broader goals of the business, how they fit in to these, and how they contribute value to the business. Along with that, leaders need to give people the opportunity to build business acumen across various areas of the organization so they can understand how the business functions. And, Lyman emphasizes, you have to invest in talent and develop your people so that they have the capability to have business-focused conversations.\n\nLeveling up the IT organization pays off in terms of credibility, trust, and stronger relationships with business partners. That\u2019s critical for balancing the needs of all stakeholders in a way that everyone can feel comfortable with. ConMed\u2019s Cotti-Osmanski finds that getting everyone clear on the goals also makes it easier to unite around a solution.\n\n\u201cIf my security team had it their way, everyone would be working in a cement bunker with a pencil and paper that we burned at the end of every day,\u201d she says. \u201cThere has to be a balance, and oftentimes when I see conflict, it\u2019s because we haven\u2019t aligned on or clearly defined our goals. We might both agree that there is a problem, but we don\u2019t agree on what the problem is and how to solve it. The people who are the most successful are able to back the conversation up, listen and ask questions.\u201d\n\nThis takes communication skills as well as consultative skills, two of those so-called soft skills that are now core to success in IT. According to Cotti-Osmanski, who started her career in consulting, \u201cThe more technology professionals and leaders get comfortable with these kinds of conversations, the more confidence they\u2019ll have in their viewpoints and the more respect they\u2019ll be given for them. They\u2019ll also be more effective at understanding business context and articulating value, which is especially useful when it comes to difficult decisions.\u201d\n\nBCBSLA\u2019s Kozik adds, \u201cSometimes you have to be that leader that says we\u2019re not ready to tackle X. It\u2019s having the courage and belief to say no, but for the right reason. It\u2019s \u2018no\u2019 so that we can accomplish something else of value. But we need to equip our people to confidently have these different conversations.\u201d\n\nBuilding culture, increasing value\n\nAs more companies reorganize their technology organizations around the mega processes or value streams of the business, many CIOs see it as an opportunity to align and amplify IT\u2019s role working hand-in-glove with the business. That means IT teams need the consultative mindset and skillset to hold up their end of the bargain.\n\nAs DXC\u2019s Grinnell says, the point is to help the company make not just better decisions about what and how to deploy technology, but better-informed business decisions that will drive tangible outcomes.\n\n\u201cWe make decisions around data, process, and systems, in that order. And we do it purposely,\u201d she says. \u201cWhat data do we need in order to make a good business decision to drive good business insights so we can innovate and get ahead of the curve? We have KPIs that are looking at, what are the business outcomes we\u2019re trying to achieve? Everything has to be looked at from that lens.\u201d\n\nKozik, who has a track record of building a consultative culture across multiple companies and industries, has seen the results.\n\n\u201cI know how this movie ends. As my folks start to show up and engage differently, we start to drive more value. These successes change the narrative with our business colleagues, and we get invited to the first meeting where we can have the greatest impact. Meanwhile, morale improves across my department. This is why I\u2019ve been so intentional about investing in the development of consulting and marketing skills,\u201d she says. \n\nThere has never been a better time to be in the IT profession, and those who apply these new skills while leveraging IT\u2019s unique end-to-end view of the enterprise are going to continue to thrive.\n\nDan Roberts will be leading a pre-conference workshop, \u201cPersuasive Communication,\u201d for CIO\u2019s FutureIT event March 29 in Dallas. The interactive session, led in conjunction with Larry Bonfante, will focus on negotiation, diplomacy, trust-building, and more. Register here.