Mastering the Art of IT/Business Alignment
"Not my job." Some CIOs have given me pretty direct feedback that people like me should get out of the way, and stop giving IT a bad rap. And that as a CIO if you need to focus on building credibility, it means you are, by definition, undeserving of credibility. The only thing that should matter is doing a good job. Good work speaks for itself.
"I need to own this." These are CIOs who believe that making personal, relevant connections to their business peers, CEO and board is one of the key factors in being successful in the first place.
As you consider your appetite for reaching out to your business counterparts here are some points to consider:
Executives with high credibility get more done. This is not a shallow, political, phenomenon, independent of delivering results. Its because people with high credibility, are more respected and trusted, which means they get more budget, more support, and waste less time on defense, endless justifications, and stupid questions. They can deliver more, because they have fewer things blocking them, and they attract the best people to work for them.
Good work doesnt stand on its own at any level, in any function. This is not just an IT issue. People who work really hard and deliver great results dont always get recognized or discovered, or protected. Its sad but true. In IT its even more perilous because no one else even understands what a doing a good job looks like! So, its up to you to find a way to share what excellence work in IT looks like, in a way that can be understood by non-IT people.
Technology doesnt help. Building good business relationships requires personal interaction, listening, having a meal or a coffee with someone. Because it is outside the realm of technology, many IT executives feel like it is low value activity, or they are just not comfortable with it. You dont need to be comfortable, you just need to do it. If its unpleasant, and unlikely to happen spontaneously, schedule it.
Business first. This is not just an IT challenge. All business functions have the responsibility to manage their function while putting the overall business first and at the center of the discussion. Any executive leader needs to be able to focus first on what the business needs and then prioritize what happens inside their function to serve the business agenda. The more you connect with your peers on a business-first basis, (where all of you are putting the business at the center vs. your own function) the more clear it will be what is important to the business, and how you should focus and communicate your IT plan in your interactions with the business.
How do we make money? One thing that really helps is if you make sure every person in your IT organization knows how the company makes money. Explain where the revenue comes from, what the fixed and variable costs are, and what the biggest levers that drive profit are. Make sure they understand how IT spending impacts the P&L, and how choices are made about general business and IT investments.
Be a translator. Every function needs to do this, but it is an even bigger necessity for IT because you use language that no one else understands. If marketing people talk about marketing programs instead of profit growth, no one cares. If sales talks about needing more sales reps, instead of proving the business case for them no one cares. And if IT talks about technology, no one understands it, and then no one cares. Here are some examples of how you can translate:
Trouble ticket = Get help with a problem.
Oracle database support = order entry is too slow at the end of the month.
SAP contractors = reduce supply chain cost in South East Asia.
Maintenance upgrade = Optimize systems for better support of mobile devices in the field.
Look at all your communications, especially your IT plans and budget, and translate all of them into business vocabulary when you communicate external to IT.
What Is Your Job?
Any business leader of any function or line of business needs to see their job like this:
1) Manage my function internally to deliver on current commitments.
2) Increase the capability and reduce the cost of my function over time - optimize, educate,
3) Keep my function centered on understanding and serving the needs of the business.
4) Demonstrate the value of my function to the business.
If you are spending all of your energy on No.1, you are not doing your job as an executive. Yes, it may be more challenging for IT, because the deck is stacked higher against you; you have a bigger gap and more to translate, but you are certainly not alone in needing to do this. Successful executives make sure to address all four to excel and keep their jobs.
Patty Azzarello became the youngest general manager ever at HP at the age of 33. She ran HP's $1B OpenView software business at the age of 35, and was the CEO of an IT software company, Euclid Software at the age of 38. She has been working with IT executives to build their careers and put their IT strategies into action for many years. Today Patty is the CEO of Azzarello Group, a unique services organization that helps companies develop and motivate their top performers, execute their strategies, and grow their business, through talent management programs, leadership workshops, online products & public speaking.