When you have reached a point of genuine recognition--and not a minute before--you can say something about how you appreciate and value a particular contribution.
DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT try to shortcut this process by arriving tomorrow at the IT team meeting and giving them a BS story about how important IT is to the business and thanking them for their hard work. That's not recognition. That's going through the motions. Recognition means recognizing--for real. The public declarations of thanks come afterwards. The IT team is starved for genuine recognition, not for empty corporate speeches. They will see through the empty phrases in an instant, and it will only make things worse.
I could devote the next several paragraphs to explaining the impact that your genuine attention and appreciation will have on the IT team. How IT people, who are motivated at their core to build things for others, will react to this positive reinforcement of their very essential selves. But something tells me you get the point. So, I'll move on.
Number 2 - Offer IT staff and managers opportunities outside of IT. If you really want IT people to walk and talk the business, then that is exactly what they have to do. They have to walk and talk the business as business people. If you want your IT team to really think like marketers or product development managers, then they need to spend time doing that job--not just hearing about it from their "customers." It's not the same thing. Never was. Never will be.
Beyond the obvious value of first-hand knowledge accumulation, there is a far greater value to this practice. It sends a very clear message to the IT team: You matter. Each of you is one of us. You have potential in this company just like everyone else. You are not just a techie.
If you feel that you can't do this--that your IT people just couldn't cut it in any other group--then you need to fire your head of HR. Seriously. That executive is clearly recruiting the wrong people for your company.
And one more thing: The value of circulating IT (and other) people throughout the company goes way beyond providing career opportunities and increasing motivation. It reinforces the importance of process and collaboration. It chips away at territoriality and reduces political squabbling. In short, it creates a much more interdependent and cooperative work environment overall, where shared innovation can flourish.
In closing, a challenge for self-examination
I've spent a lot of time with CEOs and other senior executives talking about technology-related matters. As a general rule, I find that most senior executives adopt an attitude towards technology along the lines of, "I don't really get all this complicated tech stuff. Just make it work. I have to get back to the real business."
Many CEOs wear this attitude like a badge of honor earned over the years. Almost as if to say, "cool CEOs don't display an interest in geeky tech stuff."
Well, that may have worked in the 1980's, '90's and even a bit in the first decade of this century, but it doesn't work any more. You just look ignorant and ill informed. IT is simply too much a part and parcel of all things business.
To say: "I don't get IT" in 2011, is fast becoming like saying "I don't get marketing." You don't have that option as a CEO. So, for your own sake, for your own personal success, as well as for that of your company, implement the two changes I have shared with you today. Take notice of IT in a positive way and bring them into the fold of the company.
Thank you for allowing me to "speak truth to power."
Marc J. Schiller
About the Author
Marc J. Schiller, author of "The 11 Secrets of Highly Influential IT Leaders," is a speaker, strategic facilitator, and an advisor on the implementation of influential analytics. He splits his time between the front lines of client work and evangelizing to IT leaders and professionals about what it takes to achieve influence, respect and career success. Download a free excerpt of his book at http://11secretsforitleaders.com