CXO

The dollar sign is the language of business

Despite the dollar sign being the language of business, most IT managers don't speak it. Here are some tips to get you speaking the language of business.

It seems that whenever I talk to businesspeople about IT I hear the same old, never-ending refrain: IT people are too technically oriented. They don't speak in business terms.

And it's not just the business managers who feel this way. Most IT leaders agree that their teams don't speak the language of business.

Pundits, gurus, and consultants galore (guilty as charged) write about this topic and work with clients to address this issue. It seems that everybody knows it's a problem and everybody wants to solve it. With so much being written about this subject, you'd think by now there wouldn't be a single IT manager on the planet who did anything BUT speak the language of business. Alas, that's just not the case.

So in the space I have in this blog, I'm going to (1) explain why, despite all the best efforts and hard work, most IT leaders are not speaking the language, and (2) give you some very simple and concrete methods to get you speaking the language of business.

Face it, IT ain't sales

Sales and marketing is the sexy front office of the business. Sales drive the company. Nearly every major corporate initiative (save cost cutting) is somehow linked to improving sales and marketing results. Accordingly, many IT projects are put into place in order to support these sales and marketing initiatives.

Nothing jazzes up IT leaders more than being called to the aid of sales and marketing. They love to feel connected to these cool departments. They give internal presentations to one another and at industry conferences touting their incredibly important role in driving sales and "showing off" how they speak the language of business. They think that because they are working on a sales-related project that by definition means they are talking in "business terms." I have even seen some presentations where IT leaders have claimed to be driving sales. And that is precisely the problem. Because let's face it everyone, being a sales enabler is not being in sales. And talking about a sales-focused IT project is not speaking the language of business. It's just a domain focus.

OK, I can hear all my friends in the CRM community screaming and shouting, "But what about all our terrific SFA systems and marketing automation systems that play such a critical role in driving sales? When we talk about these systems and initiatives, aren't we speaking the language of business?"

With all due respect to my colleagues, and despite all the very important functionality these systems provide, marketing and sales executives will invariably argue that it's their ideas and execution efforts, i.e., the marketing and sales content and activity, that flows through the system that are the major drivers, not the system itself.

This doesn't mean that IT isn't strategic to the company's success. All I'm saying is that you are not speaking the language of business by talking about IT's role supporting sales and marketing (unless, of course, we're talking about ecommerce-based businesses, and that's a whole other discussion).

And IT ain't finance or supply chain or ...

If the above holds true for sales- and marketing-related projects, it's equally clear that the same logic holds with regard to all the other functions in the business that IT supports. No matter how strategic the project itself is, as long as the language you speak is the language of the project per se, you are not speaking the language of business.

So what is it then?

Like most great truths, it is painfully simple. So let's get it out of the way. In business, there is only one language that is spoken in the executive suite and that's the language of money.

Outside the executive suite, from middle managers and down to the front line, dedicated employees work hard to build and deliver products and services to customers. Working together to meet customer needs, they speak to each other in terms of the products, services, projects, and so on needed to deliver on the operational commitments of the company day-to-day. But in the executive suite, all they speak of is money. Everything, and I mean everything, is evaluated in terms of financial impact and performance. That's just the way it is.

So if you want to have credibility and influence in the executive suite, you had better learn to translate all your IT speak, whether about SFA projects, HR automation, or disaster recovery, into money.

Careful, we're not done yet

At this point, some of you may be tempted to think that I am suggesting you present everything IT in terms of cost. That's not the case at all. Sure, IT-related costs are part of the money discussion but only a part.

The money-based IT language of business is more sophisticated than that. In addition to direct cost parameters, it takes into account process metrics, key performance indicators, and other hard money-focused measures that are deeply meaningful to the executive suite.

In next week's post we will take a closer look at these items — I call them the nouns and verbs of the money-based language of business for IT leaders — and ways you can put them to work to build your executive credibility and influence.

Marc J. Schiller is a leading IT thinker, speaker, and author of the upcoming book The Eleven Secrets of Highly Influential IT Leaders. Over the last 20 years he has helped IT leaders and their teams dramatically increase their influence in their organization and reap the associated personal and professional rewards. More info at http://marcjschiller.com.

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