CIOs need to help their staffers understand that if they can hold on during the tough times, the pay-off is just around the corner.
One of the fundamental jobs of a leader is to paint an exciting, positive view of the future that connects to the emotional concerns of his staff. This task is particularly critical for CIOs now as the stress on their departments intensifies with the business's hunger for IT services appearing to be bottomless even as it continues to stipulate that IT control its costs. Adding to the demands on the CIO's staff is the growing technical sophistication of their internal business partners, intensified competition from external service providers and the increasing trend toward the commoditization of IT processes, jobs and software.
Mark Walton, former CNN chief White House correspondent, writes in his book, Generating Buy-In: Mastering the Language of Leadership, that "stories are the language of our mind" and that the stories that have the greatest impact - on our thinking, our emotions and, ultimately, our actions - are stories "that project a positive future". The leader's challenge is to "connect the dots between the future you want and the future your audience wants" by 1) being clear about what you want your audience to do, 2) describing the positive future you want your audience to see, 3) illustrating how that future will fulfil their needs, wants and goals, and 4) asking for commitment and first steps toward bringing about the future you want.
Last month in "The Worst Job in IT", I challenged readers to begin crafting a story about how IT will exceed the expectations of the enterprise while ensuring the success and satisfaction of the IT staff. I truly believe that IT is entering a new stage of maturity where it will be easier for IT professionals to do their jobs without the fear, overload and confusion that exists today.
The Long and Winding Road to Alignment
IT has always been a difficult profession. At first, business partners were totally dependent on IT and there was in truth very little IT could deliver due to the limitations of the technology and IT's necessary focus on delivering foundational transaction systems. Then, as PCs and client/server computing became prevalent, IT's frustrated business partners tried to address their own needs through the use of "end-user tools" without the coordination or involvement of IT. IT found itself either fighting for control of systems (and people) that had become enterprise critical or being held responsible for poorly performing "user" projects and systems. Then, as the promise of the Internet and fears of Y2K generated unprecedented demand, the IT budget and organization ballooned. Not coincidentally, systems such as ERP were implemented that either were not ready for prime time or ended up overwhelming the organization's capabilities and finances. As a result, IT's reputation within the organization suffered, and it was forced to retreat to try to figure out how to satisfy the business's demands, often by finding efficiencies within core operating costs. But even during this retreat, the importance of managing IT as an enterprise asset and capability became obvious to every layer of the organization. Ultimately, this gave birth to healthy forms of interdependence (that is, governance, processes and roles) that mirrored practices found in other, more mature areas of the business.
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