It has been said that in the face of adversity one can determine the true character of an individual. I believe the same can be said of an organization’s senior leadership. It is during the tough times that one can determine the true character and motivators of those who have enough power to make decisions that can shape the direction of an organization, or figuratively carry the organization on their shoulders – to success or sometimes utter failure.

We (at least in the US) find ourselves once again in tough economic times. These times have put stress on people and organizations alike and things probably will get worse before they get better. In the mean time, organizations that are not going out of business are belt tightening. In fact, most have already tightened their belts and are preparing to, if not already, beginning to shed parts of themselves in order to stay afloat.

It is during these times that you can determine how senior management feels about IT and what role IT plays in the organization. If management looks first to IT for sacrifices at the budget altar, then it is clear that IT is only viewed as a cost center – a necessary evil for doing business. The more management tears IT down in an attempt to keep the organization afloat, the less engaged IT becomes from the rest of the organization and the less chance (if it had any) to become more enmeshed in the organization – a “true business partner” as the literature would say.

However there are those organizations that look to IT and technology to help work themselves out of trouble. The question is asked “What can we automate, what technologies can we acquire that will allow us to work better, cheaper and smarter?” This is a sign of enlightened senior management that understand the true role of information technology in an organization. Management that sees IT as a multiplier of its existing workforce – a unit that is capable of helping it literally to do more with less – if it is allowed to.

This type of management/leadership when confronted with fiscal challenges asks its business units how they can work smarter, not how they can simply cut costs. This type of management will actually entertain investment in IT during these times to gain efficiencies and effectiveness while at the same time capitalizing on the fact that their competition is probably doing the inverse. To compound this advantage, an organization can attract some of the competition’s best and brightest as they witness their own organization squander its information technology investments and talents.

I am witnessing this now with my own friends and colleagues. Two of the brightest CIOs that I know are now in another state working for new organizations simply because they were fed up with giving blood to organizations with seemingly insatiable appetites for cost cutting in IT. These two individuals are nationally known in their sectors and collectively have over 60 years experience between them. Some may read this and say that their IT organizations obviously were not integral to their organizations and they did not achieve true “business partner” status. To that, I will reply that some leadership gets IT and some doesn’t and of the ones that don’t, they never will – no matter how good of an individual you have in the CIO role. Tough economic times just exacerbate this situation.

Thus, if you are unclear as to the role IT plays in your organization, it will soon become apparent to you if it hasn’t already. And while it may be that you have been dealt the hand of leadership that doesn’t “get” IT, now is the time to get creative. Think out of the box and try a pre-emptive strike on those who may slash your staff and budget. Put together a plan that shows how investment might actually reap returns and that the belt tightening need occur elsewhere in the organization. You have nothing to lose if you know they are coming after you and everything to gain if you can change the direction of their thinking. Who knows – it just might be your idea that helps leadership turn the corner, both in how they view IT and the organization’s struggle. And if not, hang tough, and perhaps you will be one of the “best and brightest” that get cherry picked by another organization. In either case, it’s a happy ending for you!