IT Management: For whom the bell tolls

With apologies to Ernest Hemingway, you can’t wait for others when it comes to asserting the value of IT. It’s up to you.

Romi Mahajan

A lack of assertiveness is both the best and worst quality of IT professionals. It’s a good quality because it helps the IT department avoid the arrogance and complacency often found in other parts of the company. It can also be a bad quality because it means IT doesn’t ask for its due within the organizational hierarchy. It’s long overdue to impart a special kind of assertiveness within the IT community.

There’s one crucial distinction to make—the distinction between assertion and aggression. The former is a positive tendency that can go a long way toward putting things and perspectives in their rightful places. The latter is an offensive, destructive tendency you should employ only in reaction. Aggression destroys. Assertion clarifies. Aggression creates distrust. Assertion creates the opportunity for honesty. Aggression is a downward spiral. Assertion is a stairway to true success.

For more than a decade, the IT profession has been lambasted and pilloried by executives and those within other positions and departments in the organization. Accusations and mythmaking abound. These manifest themselves in a culture of negativity and condescension in which IT is improperly regarded as the following:

  • A spender of money, not a generator of value.
  • An organization that exerts unnecessary authority, not an enabler of business.
  • A slow-moving behemoth, not an agile organization.
  • A team of “culturally different” folks, not a team of highly skilled and necessary co-employees.
  • A “be seen but don’t be heard” group, not a team whose ideas can help drive the business forward.

These massive misconceptions stem not only from ignorance and propaganda, but also from the lack of defense put up by IT professionals. This is where the importance of assertiveness is clear. It is imperative that you as IT professionals set the record straight. You should begin a program of:

  • Getting the rest of the company to ask the right questions.
  • Proactively marketing yourselves and your creed in a bold and audacious way.
  • Making it clear that IT runs business, not the other way around.

Let’s take a look at these factors and examine how you can turn things around within the context of each.

Ask the right questions: If people within your organization ask the wrong questions, and you answer them on their terms, you automatically lose. For instance, many people ask how IT professionals can “justify their jobs” with increasing automation in the technology world. In this instance, if any IT professional started to justify his job, then the battle is lost. He must ensure it’s understood that the very question is insulting, ludicrous and ignorant. Training others to ask the right questions and avoiding the biases that lead to the wrong questions is job No. 1 for IT professionals.

Self-marketing: Proactive marketing is the single best way to dispel biases before they take root. Telling the full story behind the IT department’s operations and priorities is a powerful way to educate the organization. When the rest of the department heads have the full story of the role you play in every aspect of company operations, they are less likely to take that for granted. This type of marketing can be banal at times, so it would be better to employ a bold approach that uses clever and thought-provoking techniques to get people to care and understand.

IT runs the business: For too long, members of the organization in all departments have solidified the myth of the business/IT divide. In the last two decades, IT and business have converged to a point of singularity. There’s now a productive state in which everything from productivity to customer-connection is mediated by IT systems. Making this convergence clear to everyone is the only way to forever banish the misperception.

Now, this is not to say that you need to become more aggressive, with all the negative implications that embodies. What it does intend to clarify, however, is that at no point in the evolution of the organization can you let complacency take root. You can’t simply let people rest on the assumptions that “results prove themselves.” After all, companies are human institutions with all of the attendant pitfalls, foibles and layers of interpretation.

Speak up and speak out

Therefore, you need to tell your own story. The beauty is that the story is a grand one characterized by innovation, value-addition, community cohesion and a services-oriented culture. It goes on to prove how IT generates short- and long-term results for the organization. It’s also a story of agility, skill enhancement and productivity. All of these aspects are necessary for the long-term health of the organization and the business.

Given the difficulties IT professionals have faced, it could appear natural that you have retreated into a defensive posture. While understandable, it’s the wrong approach. Even if occasionally victimized, you should never play the victim.

When looking through the lens of rationality and not bias, one immediately finds the tight correlation between great IT and great business results. A further step recognizes the human component and suggests the connection between great IT professionals and great business results. So, again, the time is now to tell your story.

Romi Mahajan

Romi Mahajan* is president of KKM Group. Prior to joining KKM, Mahajan was chief marketing officer of Ascentium Corp. A well-known speaker on the technology and media circuit, he serves on a variety of advisory boards and speaks at more than a dozen industry events per year.*