by Paul Rudo on 31/10/12 at 7:37 am
There seems to be a dangerous trend where IT managers believe that they don’t need a business background in order to do their job. In fact, it’s commonly said – when referring to the role of IT management – that “The mechanic doesn’t need to know how to fly the plane”.
This is a toxic mindset that has cut short the careers of many IT pros.
Reactive IT Management
A reactive IT manager believes that they operate in an isolated cave beneath the organization. And as long as projects are delivered on time and within budget, and as long as the machinery is running smoothly, then they are doing their jobs properly.
These IT managers seem to always be putting out fires. They often complain about being over-worked and under-budgeted, and they constantly feel misunderstood and underappreciated within the organization. Another sure sign of a reactive IT manager is that they often have trouble obtaining buy-in for new proposed initiatives, and that others within the company simply don’t understand the “big picture” issues which need to be addressed.
Usually, reactive IT managers keep to themselves and avoid discussing their work with other departmental heads whenever possible. This usually happens for a number of reasons.
- They believe that their work is so complex that it couldn’t be broken down and explained in a way that could be easily understood by a non-technical person.
- They believe that the role of IT is so clear-cut and obvious that anyone outside the department should easily be able to identify the importance of IT, and its contribution to the overall success and functioning of the organization.
- Especially within IT, it’s commonly believed that secrecy is a form of job security. (If you’ve spent years building a complex IT infrastructure, you’re likely the only one who truly understands its subtle inner workings… and the company would grind to a halt without your expertise)
- They see socializing as a useless waste of time. They’re too busy juggling priorities, putting out fires, and catching up with other last-minute tasks that require immediate attention.
This mentality can often backfire in some very ugly ways. All of a sudden, these IT managers might find themselves being blamed for performance and productivity issues that were completely outside the scope of IT’s responsibility. But by this time, it’s too late.
The damage has already been done because IT failed to set appropriate expectations and properly define their role to others throughout the organization. Additionally, this lack of transparency can also lead IT to focus their efforts on low-value areas of the business while unknowingly neglecting high-value areas.
Proactive IT Management
In marketing, they often discuss the importance of proactive branding. If you don’t have a clear idea of your company’s identity, your customers will craft their own ideas of what your company stands for. And this vision may not be a pleasant one.
This applies equally to your personal brand as a leader within the organization. It’s critical that you have a clear understanding of where the organization is headed… and that you clearly and consistently communicate the important role you play within these plans.
A proactive IT manager is an eager partner who wants to have a say in what objectives the organization wants to reach, and how they’ll get there.
Proactive IT managers don’t judge themselves based on how well they do their jobs. Instead, they judge themselves by how useful they can be to the organization… and strive to continuously improve their importance and usefulness in the eyes of the company. This is a subtle, but very important, difference which can have a profound impact on the attitudes and beliefs of these IT managers.
- If an idea is very complex, it’s important to break these concepts into smaller, easy-to-understand chunks, and then gradually educate others within the organization. This will make it easier to communicate the importance of future projects when the time comes to ask for buy-in or funding. (An IT project is much more likely to be approved when other departmental heads are also voicing the need for these changes)
- Never assume that a concept which seems obvious to you should also be obvious to others. Often, the mindsets which make these concepts seem obvious were the result of being immersed in a culture of technology. Someone from an HR, Legal or IT background may have very different views on these topics. You need to communicate with others in order to make sure they understand where your assumptions are coming from, and to correct any potentially negative misconceptions they may have developed as the result of misinformation. You may be surprised to find that the role of IT is not as clear-cut as you had once thought.
- If you hope to move up the ranks within an organization or remain as the head of IT for a growing company, you’ll need to make the transition from tactical to strategic. This will eventually mean relinquishing control and empowering others to take on some of your responsibilities so that you can focus on the “big picture”. In these instances, a culture of secrecy may actually cost you some important growth opportunities.
- The 80/20 rule states that 20 percent of your efforts generate 80 percent of your value. Cultivating a habit of open cross-departmental communication will help you become more productive while also allowing you to save time. This is because – with a clear idea of the company’s direction and where you fit within that vision – you can focus more of your efforts on value-generating tasks while pushing off or delegating low-value IT activities.
Too often, IT workers tend to over-value the depth of their technical know-how. But it may surprise you to find that you can take just about anyone with a business degree and – given enough time – train them to run a machine. However, it would be much more difficult to take a technical expert and teach them the softer communication, collaboration, leadership and people skills which truly are the foundation of an organization’s success.
This is why it’s important to keep business partners up-to-date on what IT has been doing, and inform yourself on what other departments are doing.
In a world of tightening budgets, the role of IT is often seen as a cost-center. As a result, it’s under constant assault from competing interests within the organization. And in this environment, an IT career can only flourish through a constant focus on business skills.