4 questions to determine your IT team's "electability"

IT shops are competing with shadow IT, outside vendors, and consultants for "votes." See if your IT team meets the requirements for "electability."

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Image: metamorworks, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Electability is a rather funny word in the political sphere. On paper, it's the simple notion of whether or not a candidate has what it takes to be elected to public office. Where things get fuzzy is the "what it takes" part of the equation. For political candidates, it could be something as straightforward as how much experience they have in politics, or something far more nuanced like views on a particular issue, or even their ethnic backgrounds or genders.

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Just as candidates for office occasionally take their electability for granted, so do we as technology leaders. Unlike a political democracy, in many cases we're benevolent monarchies at best, or tyrannical dictators at worst, and the only game in town when someone in our organization needs technology guidance from the mundane help desk ticket, to the technology piece of a major strategic initiative. However, some of that is changing, as anyone armed with a corporate credit card and a web browser can now provision anything from a CRM suite to an entire data center, all without IT's blessing.

While the question of electability can be rather fraught when evaluating political candidates, in this new era of growing competition it's worth considering your IT shop's electability along these dimensions.

Do you reflect the values of your organization?

Just as voters generally want candidates who reflect their values, organizations want to see an IT shop that reflects their values. For example, a financial institution that values (and needs) trust and security would suffer "organ rejection" with a technology leader that played fast and loose with security and put the overall company at significant risk.

Ask yourself if your leadership style and technology organization reflect the broader company's risk appetite, speed of working and communicating, and overall culture. It's difficult to become a trusted advisor when you don't speak the same language or value the same organizational traits.

Can you play nice across organizational lines?

While politicians who can reach across party lines seem to be an increasingly rare commodity, IT is an area ripe for cross-organizational collaboration. By virtue of working with most of the organization in some capacity, we're uniquely positioned to forge relationships that provide value to the company. Rather than acting as an order-taker who diligently implements a project for a defined stakeholder, look for opportunities to leverage the company's technology assets in new ways. That analytics tool you implement for sales likely has value for marketing, just as the product lifecycle management tool for engineering has valuable data for finance.

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Serving as an organizational "connector" of sorts, working across company silos has tremendous value, oftentimes with a relatively low resource investment. This type of collaboration also dramatically demonstrates the value technology can bring to the table and will put you on speed-dial with your peers, rather than your peers inviting IT to the party well after key decisions have been made.

Do you have an inspired vision of the future?

Grand visions and promises of the future are the bread and butter of politics, but unfortunately missing from many IT leaders. It can be uncomfortable if you're not used to speculating about the future, but applying your knowledge and experience with the organization's strategy should allow you to paint a compelling picture about how technology can help the broader company achieve its vision. You need not promise a chicken in every pot, or freebies for your "constituents," but when asked how IT will help execute the company's strategy, you'll need more than some variation of keeping the lights on and doing what you're asked. Generally, it's better to channel your inner politician and apply a little bombast and storytelling--this is not usually the hallmark of tech leaders--and your goal is to inspire and illustrate an ambitious goal, rather than a "lowest common denominator" vision of tomorrow.

Are you easy to do business with?

A key element in competing for "votes" with shadow IT, outside vendors, and armies of consultants is how easy you are to do business with. Theoretically, internal IT should win the metaphorical election every time: You're physically and strategically closest to the organization, you and your people should have the best knowledge about the company and its industry, and you should have an intimate knowledge of your systems and data.

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However, many IT organizations squander these advantages and drive support elsewhere. Something as simple as you or your team regaling anyone who asks for help with stories about how difficult working in IT is, how you're perennially underfunded and under-supported, and other tales of woe can turn supporters into detractors. Spend some time every few months evaluating your key interaction points with the rest of the organization. If it takes 14 help desk tickets and significant administrative runaround to fix a broken computer, and the default response to any new project request is "we're backed up at least 18 months," don't be surprised when you find shadow IT and cadres of external vendors roaming the halls.

It's time to evaluate your team

While it may be unfamiliar or uncomfortable to lump your IT organization in with any political candidates, it's worth evaluating your electability with a similar degree of diligence. Just as a long-term incumbent who ignores his or her electability can be dethroned by a more savvy upstart, so can you find your organization defunded, ignored, or even outsourced should you commit the same sin.

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