CXO

Focus your staff behavior to position your department as a strategic business partner

If you want to position your IT department as a true strategic partner to business goals, you have to first address the collective behavior of your staff and make changes, where needed, to align with the rest of the business.


As CIO, you should be able to describe: the cultural identity of your IT organization; where you are in your quest to become a truly recognized partner of your business vs. a cost center; and how your organization is acting to affect this. After reading the last article in this series, perhaps you have given fresh thought to your department's relationship with the business you support. In doing so, you should begin to develop a new awareness of where you stand and what your gap is in meeting the following goals:
  • Clearly demonstrating your true value to the business
  • Positioning your department as a true strategic partner to the business

The behavior of your IT staff is the key to your success in these goals, and you must address staff behavior with the purpose of meeting these and other cascading goals.

Follow our series on understanding cultural behavior
The first article in this series, "Examine group behavior to identify causes of nonperformance in your IT department," offers a way to take your own behavioral identity test. The second article, "Understand behavioral culture of IT teams to help align with business goals," explains how behaviors are manifested in the organization.

First let’s understand these goals as clearly as we can. The first challenge is that these goals are subjective. This is not as simple as measuring the uptime of a server over a 24-hour period. The goals are also sequential. That’s no accident. Though it may seem obvious, it bears pointing out that until your IT department begins behaving the way the business needs it to, it will never be treated as a true partner. This means that, in actuality, the first goal is the goal. Or better yet, the first goal is your new mission: To clearly demonstrate your true value to the business. In this stage of our industry’s maturity, and at this juncture in our economy, there’s no truer mission for you. And if you do so successfully, all other things will fall into place.

With that said, consider for a moment that clearly demonstrating your true value to the business begins with alignment. From a high level, alignment resembles Figure A.

Figure A


You understand your business, its mission, and its goals. You also spend a predominant amount of your efforts aligning your department’s mission and goals with those of the business. But it’s the ground-level component you need to focus on and work harder on. It’s here that we struggle to:
  • Fully implement our technology.
  • Effectively implement and maintain production processes.
  • Maintain a stable production environment.
  • Communicate effectively within the department.
  • Establish and maintain a generally happy, challenging, and stimulating working environment.

It’s here that we also fail to communicate effectively with the business and often fall short of demonstrating our value to the business. It all begins and ends with our staff’s day-to-day activities and performances, all driven by the way we collectively behave. It’s how your staff performs that defines successes and failures. And performance is a direct effect of behavior, for better and for worse.

If you look closely and find that behavior is what’s holding you back, or limiting your success, what do you do? Attack it in two phases: awareness and transformation.

Awareness
To this point, this series has been all about awareness: your awareness as the IT executive regarding your situation. But that’s only the beginning. You must share this awareness with your organization, your management, and the staff. This takes us into the process of transformation, or put more bluntly, doing something about the situation.

Transformation
The only way to pursue your new mission is by adopting this goal: Change the mindset, objectives, and behaviors of your IT organization.

Remember that our definition of the ideal IT environment is one that’s designed to exceed the enterprise’s strategic goals while nurturing the individual to achieve exceptional productivity and job satisfaction. This won’t happen without everyone in the organization doing their part to behave in a way that is conducive to this environment.

New technology or new processes aren’t going to do the trick. You’ve been wasting precious time and resources on those for years. Standing up and preaching renewed vision and values are not going to do the trick either. Not with a group of technologists and geeks.

So what will do the trick? In his book, Leading Geeks, Paul Glen points out some very important characteristics to take note of if you’re going to engineer any positive changes in the mindset, objective, and behaviors of your staff. The most germane (to this topic) include the fact that geeks:
  • Approach everything with a problem/solution mindset.
  • Resist changes simply thrust at them; traditional hierarchical leadership does not work well in the geek environment.
  • Carry a profound sense of meritocracy.
  • Are deeply independent and rebellious by nature.
  • Are always curious; the need to understand how things work is paramount.

Keeping these in mind, a very important aspect of transformation is involving your staff intricately in the reconstruction process. The objective is to involve them in the problem, and engineer the solution. Why shouldn’t they engineer the solution? That’s what they excel at. The ideas are theirs—the mission is yours.

Now, to accomplish this, we take an organization through the process shown in Figure B. (MBOs are objectives and goals that are agreed to with staff for any given period of time—month, quarter, year, etc.—that management can manage against.)

Figure B


Addressing the “wound”
When you have a wound, often what is needed is for that wound to be opened, cleaned, and sewn up. The same is true of the CIO when it comes to sharing behavior information with the organization. However, it doesn’t come easy.

While it’s important (and sometimes humorous) to point out characteristics of geeks to your organization, it’s like preaching to the choir. They already know these things about themselves, though they may not be able to articulate them quite so clearly. The next and more important step, however, is to get the group or groups to focus on the symptoms of their behaviors, come to their own conclusion that those behaviors are not desirable for the most part, and commit to themselves and each other that they need, and want, to change.

I call this the bleeding process—opening the wound.

Staff education
The next step is to educate your staff on the business they support—their client, the reason they exist as an organization. More than the traditional alignment components, this step is about guiding your staff to understand the makeup of the business and, more importantly, business people. This means elaborating on the right column of the IT-Business Contrast table in the previous article.

And though these contrasts may seem obvious, it’s important to remind the IT staff that their customer is, in general, the opposite of themselves, which poses a unique, inherent, and constant challenge to their success. Yet, in understanding comes comfort and, more importantly to the geek, a solution—cleaning the wound.

Next steps
If you think all this sounds more like psychology than traditional leadership, you’re right. But there has always been a psychology factor to leadership. And geek leadership intensifies the psychology component exponentially. If you’re also beginning to doubt that you can make the changes you need to make in your organization without prudent command of this psychology component, you’re right again.

Next, we’ll visit the following two stages of the transformation process to reach your ultimate goal: Changing the mindset, objectives, and behaviors of your organization to clearly demonstrate your true value to the business.

For more information on the Harris Kern Enterprise Computing Institute, visit harriskern.com.

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