Although not a gray beard or long-timer, during my 14 years in the biz, I have realized some extremely important facts. I'll share some of these things with you in this space.
Here's the first fact: Poor communication will destroy credibility for both individuals and for the IT organization.
This is where you're probably thinking, "Well... duh!" since this is a rather obvious point. However, there's more to the story. Allow me to explain.
Particularly at the senior or executive level, but also pertinent throughout all levels of the IT organization, the ability to communicate ideas, solutions and problems is critical to success. Success in this case includes both personal success and success of the overall IT organization. Now, I've seen some IT organizations that were convinced that they were doing a fantastic job communicating with the user base since they always kept people in the loop about what was going on. But, there was a catch... consider the example below. It's not a word for word account, but something of a summarization of an announcement to an IT governance committee from an IT staffer. The governance committee included a number of people from other departments.
"We made some changes to the core switch routing tables to try to correct the problem we've been having with our connection to the Internet. Also, we applied service pack 3 to our SQL server right after we moved the database from the local disk to the SAN so we could use snapshots."
Care to guess what the reaction was from around the table? If you guessed that, to a person, everyone nodded their heads and said "Ok!" you'd be correct. Even though someone should probably have spoken up at some point, no one wanted to look stupid, so everyone kept quiet. What we had was a serious failure to communicate. Even though the IT staffer in question thought that the message had been communicated, the receiving party had no idea what the gibberish meant. "Communication" implies understanding of the message being sent.
In my opinion, it's IT's responsibility (at all levels of the IT organization) to make sure that the message being sent makes sense and has some context. I can't tell you how many times I've heard from people that they regularly ignore IT correspondence for the sole reason that it's unreadable. To be clear, I'm not advocating a culture of condescendence. There's a balance between gibberish and making people feel like complete idiots!
So, taking a stab at the example, consider this:
"In order to correct the problem with our connection to the Internet, we fixed a configuration error on the hardware that connects us to the Internet. We also installed the latest available update on our administrative database server in order to clear up potential security problems and to improve performance. Finally, we moved the database itself to another storage device. This gives us the ability to quickly and easily recover the database in the event of a failure or in case the database gets corrupted."
It's a little longer, but for the average user, this statement is much more clear without being condescending. When I send a message to the user base, I always try to provide some kind of context and reason for what we've done. I've found that doing so helps the user better associate the message with what they know and lets the user know that we're doing work for a reason... not just because we felt like it. By working like this, users get the message that the IT department is always trying to improve things. Even better the user understands the potential benefits of the changes.
I believe wholeheartedly that appropriate communication from IT to the rest of the organization is absolutely critical to success. If the CIO is not capable of getting a message across to the customer base or to the other executives, initiatives will stall and people will lose faith in the ability of the IT department to get the job done. By making sure people understand the message and benefits, the IT department is seen as "getting it" and is seen as an enabler rather than a hindrance.
Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive with CampusWorks, Inc. Scott is available for consulting, writing, and speaking engagements and can be reached at email@example.com.