Emerging Tech

Ask the IT Strategy Guy: Why do I get no respect?

The IT Strategy Guy guides you with your toughest IT strategy challenges.

The good folks at Tech Republic gave me the green light to put together an idea I've been mulling for some time: a "Dear Abby" of sorts, targeted to those of us struggling in the management ranks and trenches of corporate IT. While I likely can't help with your marriage, solve problems regarding your intrusive mother-in-law, or provide tips to cure hiccups, I will happily take a stab at your toughest IT strategy challenges.

The rules of the game are simple. Drop me an e-mail at the address in the bio at the end of this article and explain your problem. I'll change your name and any identifying details and will not mention your company name unless you specifically request that I do. I reserve the right to choose whatever submissions tickle my fancy, edit your queries for clarity and brevity, inject some humor into them, and respond to them here, although I will try and let you know if I choose your submission so you can watch for the related article. Without further ado, here comes our first "victim":

Dear IT Strategy Guy,

As CIO, I feel like a B-team player in the boardroom. I'm brought in last for most discussions and get most information secondhand through the CFO, despite supposedly having a dotted-line reporting relationship to the CEO. I hear about the key decisions well after they are made, and in short, I get no respect.

R. Dangerfield, CIO

Dear Mr. Dangerfield,

We've all heard the trite bit of advice that "respect has to be earned," and like most trite adages that our mothers used to tell us, there's an element of truth therein. While there may be a number of factors at work contributing to your lack of respect, usually in this situation it is some combination of these three factors:

#1 IT is perceived as having little value.

Even the lowest level employee lacks patience for the people, groups, and tools he or she perceives to provide little value. This is especially the case as you move up the chain, and you must demonstrate increasingly compelling value to get the ear of the key players.

Even if IT works flawlessly, with nary a moment's downtime, it may be perceived as having little value in the eyes of the CIO. In many cases, IT is a utility that deserves as much thought as the overhead light; it simply works when you flick the switch and the CIO hunting around the boardroom looking for accolades plays as well as the ConEdison rep showing up demanding praise.

In this case, spend some time listening to what the key concerns of your peers are. Don't immediately offer technical solutions; rather seek to offer ideas on processes that might help assuage their concerns, where technology is the "special sauce" that makes them all the more effective.

#2 You are not demonstrating success (of the right kind).

Related to the above, no one in the C-suite really cares about uptime, data centers, bandwidth, or the like until it presents a problem. Rather than touting the behind-the-scenes metrics that are important to the CIO but few else in the boardroom (unless something goes wrong), seek to share the details of where IT projects helped make a business process or line of business more effective. A CRM system might be marvelous and might have saved a great deal of money, but presumably it also reduced sales lead time, decreased the quote-to-cash collection cycle, or impacted some other metric that is near and dear to the CEO's heart. The IT rags hold ROI as the "holy grail," but most businesses have a handful of other metrics that will instantly perk up the CEO's ear. Ensure that you have fresh "wins" to talk about; no one likes hearing about that last successful implementation six years after it went live.

#3 You don't talk the talk.

Ever try and talk with a 13-year-old girl? You're like, so, like, not even speaking the same language, LOL, or something. Similarly, if you are in the C-Suite and regaling your peers with tales of VoIP, clouds, virtualization, and SANs, you will be rapidly tuned out. An odd paradox of the CIO position is that technology and the language of technology is supposed to be second nature, but talk "tech" in the boardroom and you'll be instantly ignored. All this despite the technical language of finance and accounting that is used on a regular basis!

While it may not be fair, the fact of the matter is that you are expected to speak the language of business and couch any technical concepts in that language. You are a translator of sorts, and the most effective CIOs are the ones who can take a complex business problem, identify ways IT can help, and then articulate their strategy in plain business terms. Listen to those around you, adopt their linguistic frame of reference, and get your head out of IT occasionally so you have conversational fodder that matches that of your peers.

PS: You also might want to loosen your tie.

Warm Regards,

The IT Strategy Guy

About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

19 comments
leifnel
leifnel

Instead of just fixing things when they break, or prevent them from breaking (better), be helpful and interested in the business you are employed in. Can you enable the accountant to import data directly instead of retyping data from a spreadsheat? If not, and the accountant really needs it on paper, can you enable the person generating the data to print it on the accountants printer instead of having to email it? In which way can you help the workflow? Spend some time touring the departments, seeing whats going on, often a "semi-outsider" can discover things being done just because it's always been done that way. Granted, this might not be strictly IT, as in Technology, it is more Information Management (or what the buzzword is), but it will make you more "useful" and "productive" in the eyes of the mangagement.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

do you care how your power or water gets to you? Or do you just assume it is there and only when it fails do you pay any attention.

ayaz.haniffa
ayaz.haniffa

Why is it that IT has to learn about the business and not vice versa? Just curious to know your thoughts on this. Thanks!

jkameleon
jkameleon

... for your successor. Just screw something up.

j.baig
j.baig

The question I want to ask is, if the CEO and CFO ignore the CIO in even the IT decisions or just plain Business related issues. Because in my perspective a CIO serves as a bridge between IT and Business and need only be involved in Business Decisions that will affect IT or IT issues that will influence the Business. When you get high up in company, you are only as valuable as you make yourself. A CIO should have an understanding of Accounting, Finance and Marketing and should be well researched in providing IT solutions that saves cost and makes these processes easier and efficient.

maclovin
maclovin

IT is simply still a new concept. If I've said it once.... The problem is, the people that run most businesses, including many IT Managers and CIOs aren't really familiar with the current technologies. ALSO, they don't see what is being done day to day. The only thing they ever know, is when something is not working for them, and interrupts their game of Solitaire. That's not a joke either. I'm in a very small company, perform all roles (network, systems, DB, web design), and the main thing is, the guy that runs it doesn't know much about what happens on the day to day, then makes rulings like he thinks he's a large company, b/c of a little ego issue that comes up every once in a while. Simply put, IT is still a new concept, and, until people that are familiar with technology are in the other roles of leadership (CEO, CFO, etc), then it will continue to be viewed the way it is. It is a question of generational familiarity.

CG IT
CG IT

It is then, as the article mentions, something like the lights. I don't include eCommerce into IT, because eCommerce is selling products over the internet from a web server. That's not really company/business/corporate IT. So while those of us in IT would like to be taken more seriously because of the technical knowhow it takes to keep the network running, what we do doesn't create the products and services the company sells to make money, unless we create hardware and software IT products other buy.

ssampier
ssampier

Here's a question. What is the value of accounting? I'm not trying to be flippant. Sure we need to "count the beans" and track cash flow, etc. If IT workers support light switches, accountants count them and other assets. Sales are the only division that really makes money. Tax accountants can save money, but so can properly implemented I/T. Accounting as a whole still gets a lot more respect than I/T. My best guess is that accounting is a really old profession and we all know what is/does. Technology changes too fast to get a clear picture. Personality can play a part, but I have meet accountants of all stripes from nice and outgoing to taciturn and rude.

NickHurley
NickHurley

It's not even so much a case of respect, that whole attitude of "IT last", is normally the recipe for delays and over-runs. They don't think about the light switch until it fails to function is one thing (expected of them really), however it is quite another to build houses without sockets and fixtures. The big wigs so busy with "moving" and "shaking", that little things like logistics seem to elude them. It's all the pointless singing and dancing that shows the mindset of the CEO and Co. needs to change.

TheProfessorDan
TheProfessorDan

Though I do understand Rodney's dilemna, the flip side is that in the IT field, if they aren't talking about you that generally means that you are doing a good job and will stay employed. I understand that IT struggles to be held in the same regard as departments like Accounting, Finance and Marketing but the reality is that we in many ways are glorified maintenance men.

Imprecator
Imprecator

Yep, that's bout right. IT NEVER will get any respect because it's infrastructure. And that is in "Good" Organizations, in "Bad" Organizations IT is a "service" not related to the "core business". SO the real the answer is: change careers

ssampier
ssampier

It really depends on the company and industry. "Keeping your head low" and "fly under the radar" was my old bosses' motto (including my director and board). That didn't fly with me. I wanted us to occasionally stick our necks out and do something bold/different/unusual for our clients/customers. I grew annoyed and quit in frustrated. Ah to be young and foolish. I should point out that I worked for a school. Schools, in my experience, tend to very risk-adverse.

j.baig
j.baig

Your strategy is good if you like being in a dead end job and don't like to advance yourself. It is a simple fact that those IT personnel do much better who have a solid understanding of the Business processes. It is not like IT is regarded any less than these other departments, what you have to understand is that IT is a cost center and it is CIO's job to show how IT adds value to the firm. If he is unable to do that, then he is not doing his job.

TheProfessorDan
TheProfessorDan

from what I have seen in my time in the IT field, the reality is that when people are talking about IT it's because something is going wrong not to praise IT for all of their hard work.

mafergus
mafergus

I think what both of you say has merit. The most success I have seen in IT/Business relationships involves both factors. I have seen many IT initiatives die, because they were too visible, too soon at too high of a level. Things have worked when IT does the small things. It's like a campaign. When upper management isn;t thinking about IT "wasting time and money" it makes it a lot easier to work at the grassroots level. It's middle management that will make or break any IT initiative. They are the ones providing feedback when upper management gets that request for the latest project. Middle management is also the level that has to work with IT solutions. It's a lot easier to provide solutions when their people have already bought into them! I remember one intannce where we needed a simple change to a report generated on the mainframe. IT sent a representative who tried to explain that we didn't need this change even though there was no easy way to extract the data and we were literally copying and re-entering this data by hand daily. It was clear that they had no desire or intent to meet our needs as a customer.

Yam Digger
Yam Digger

were I do refreshes of end-of-lease computers. I also work as a security guard when I'm not doing that. Would you believe that both jobs pay almost the same rate per hour?

NickHurley
NickHurley

Depending and where you work or who you work for, it's like all that time training and studying were for naught. I would recommend merging your skill-set though.

j.baig
j.baig

You picked the least paying job in IT. No one gets paid for A+ any more. Most companies lease machines from companies like Dell and HP and utilize their support. Plus, it is not a hard skill set to begin with, just a frustrating one. You might be better served merging your two jobs into one. IT Security is a high paying job, look into some certifications/training in that profession.

ragtopsnake
ragtopsnake

Excellent points all. One other I would add is that IT tends to be in the way, not helping pave it. IT is often seen as the wet blanket to a blazing good idea. Make sure that you and your teams are focused on enabling the business and accelerating things, not acting as the governor or the "voice of reason" all the time. It's OK to talk about risks and costs, but not at the expense of movement. Watch how the corporate attorneys handle themselves, they have a similar assignment (and sometimes the same reputation) but a good one is enabling and offering alternatives, not stopping the party, so should you.

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