Insights Blog

When IT Means Business

by David Spiwack

IT executives today find themselves faced with an unreasonable, logic-defying challenge: satisfy ever-escalating, complex demands for technology improvements and solutions … and oh yeah, get it done fast … and do it without the people and budget you really need to get the job done right.

If this sounds a bit like a no-win proposition – an IT version of “Groundhog Day” – that’s often just the way it feels to many of the talented IT leaders who must contend with it all as a fact of everyday work.  Yet for those who succeed, we’ve observed that it doesn’t seem to stop them.  It spurs them on.

Fortunately, for them the bad news is not the whole story, but rather the ticket in.  They have learned to begin with an unvarnished, clear-eyed view of the mission – with all its warts, pitfalls and predictable crises.  The entire minefield is taken as a “given.”  From that perspective they’re actually able see beyond the limitations towards a more compelling, productive future for themselves and the businesses they serve.

To realize the promise of that future however, they’ve also discovered they need to exhibit new strengths to empower themselves and mobilize their people at every level. Technological knowledge and expertise are necessary but insufficient.  The good news is that courageous IT professionals have shown us they’re able to consistently demonstrate the kind of toughness, creativity, and resilience required to succeed in a business environment that seems to conspire against them at every turn.  So how do they do it?

IT leaders who thrive in spite of the odds focus on “big picture” priorities that others often ignore.  Here’s what they do to navigate the fierce crosscurrents of their ever-changing world:

1. Embrace the gaps and chaos

You’ve got to start somewhere. And what better place to start than by asking the question: What’s predictable for IT on our current trajectory? Answers from all perspectives and constituents are essential.  However daunting it may seem, confronting where today’s path will lead you, is the first step.

Owning all of it – the good, the bad, and the ugly –  gives you authority to “tell it like it is.” When your voice has this kind of power, negative gossip and opinions have less sway.  By recognizing the predictable future for IT, you’re free to embark on the next step – fashioning a future beyond what’s predictable.

2. Declare a vision your people can get behind

There is no more potent expression of your leadership than a bold stand for IT.  Give yourself permission to “tell it like it will be” … the measureable impact your organization is committed to make for the business.  That’s what your team wants.  That’s what the IT organization needs. That’s what you’re all up to together.  But it begins with you.

You must step up now, when it’s not predictable or realistic.  Before others are ready.  Before others can see it.  Before others believe it.  Before the pathway to realize the vision is clear.  Don’t wait for courage and confidence before taking this leap.  These attributes will emerge as a function of taking bold action.

  • Invite your team to help answer the questions:
  • What extraordinary possibilities is IT committed to realize?
  • What can the business count on from you?

3. Earn a new reputation for delivery

Most often others see IT as unreliable.  You’ve likely inherited a history of unmet expectations.  Only by taking ownership of the past will you truly gain permission for a new beginning.

Credibility is gained in small increments.  You can build trust by making and meeting commitments.  Simple as it might seem, this requires more than meets the eye.  Effective implementation demands far greater discipline, along with new terminology and rigorous practices for negotiating agreements and holding oneself and others to account.

Here’s what it looks like in practice:

  • Define one thing that’s not working (This should not be difficult.)
  • Find out what “working” would look like for those with the most at stake.
  • Promise an outcome, a date, and do whatever it takes to make it happen.

4. Harness the skills technology can’t replicate

The prospect of keeping up with technology is often daunting, even to the best of us.  At the same time, encouraging new insights attest to the difference only individuals can make.

  • In his recent book “Humans Are Underrated,” Geoff Colvin identifies specific human capacities (for things like leading, brainstorming, collaborating, and building relationships) that will continue to remain critical to the everyday functioning of a high-performing workplace.
  • A strong parallel emerges in “The Phoenix Project,” a definitive profile of the impact of DevOps in today’s chaotic IT environment. The so-called Third Way is about “creating a culture that fosters two things: continual experimentation, which requires taking risks and learning from success and failure, and understanding that repetition and practice is the prerequisite to mastery.”

Leveraging human capabilities can transform performance. Such assets are underappreciated and well worth the time and investment to maximize.  To ignore them is one risk you can’t afford to take.

“The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.  A whole stream of events issues from the commitment, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.”

~ W.H. Murray