If you want to successfully integrate IT into the business, you have to add value as a business partner, develop a reputation for being easy to work with and be likable.
By Larry Bonfante
Last December I wrote a very popular article for CIO Insight about foregoing IT-business alignment and instead focusing on integrating IT into the business. This topic resonated deeply with our readership and I'd like to outline three key strategies that a CIO can use to help expedite the process of ensuring that IT is integrated into the business.
Be a Value-Added Business Partner
First, we need to ensure that IT is perceived as a value-added business partner as opposed to being "The Gatekeeper." Many corporate clients view their IT organization as the "Land of No and Slow." They often feel that they need to directly engage vendors to get the services they need without any of the "roadblocks" created by IT. Right now some of you are probably levitating in your seats, thinking "Sure, but what about integration issues? How about risk? And who’s dealing with compliance?" These are all legitimate issues that cause IT to sometimes appear to be "the bad guy." The key is to frame these challenges and your reaction to them as ways that you are helping your partners in the business mitigate risk, while not using them as excuses for why you can't change. You should be bringing ideas and solutions to bear that help address these critical issues while still allowing your business colleagues to drive change and implement the types of solutions that enable them to improve business outcomes.
Be Easy to Work With
A second key strategy is that we need to develop a reputation of being easy to work with. We need to be perceived as being open to new ideas, flexible in finding ways around issues and adaptable to changing business conditions. We can't take a one-size-fits-all approach to solving business problems. Also, we can't act like we are the only ones with good ideas! Questions you should be asking yourself include: Are we collaborating with our business partners to find innovative solutions to thorny problems? Do we elicit their input into ways to drive change? Are we facilitating a dialogue between peers or monopolizing a monologue since we are the subject-matter experts?
Finally, the third key is something I often discuss with my coaching clients: the importance of being likable. I would argue that likability is a critical component of developing any successful partnership. We've all had the experience of working with someone who is very talented but who is also a major pain in the neck. When your phone rings and you see it's that difficult person who is calling, you have to take a deep breath and center yourself because you know the next few minutes will be nothing but pain and suffering. We often avoid working with these difficult people at all costs! In his excellent book Likeonomics: The Unexpected Truth Behind Earning Trust, Influencing Behavior and Inspiring Action, Rohit Bhargava discusses the research that shows when people are faced with the choice of working with someone who gets great results but is challenging to deal with versus someone who gets average results but is likeable and pleasant to work with, people will choose the likable person the majority of the time. When I worked in the pharmaceutical industry, my team once ran a major project for a client in Asia-Pacific. It was a mission-critical and visible endeavor, but we executed it. At the end of the project, our client, who was a demanding executive, shared with me that not only did our team produce great results, but that he had enjoyed working with us and looked forward to doing so again. And we did. Never underestimate the importance of being likable.
About the Author
Larry Bonfante is a practicing CIO and founder of CIO Bench Coach, LLC, an executive coaching practice for IT executives. He is also the author of Lessons in IT Transformation, published by John Wiley & Sons. He can be reached at Larry@CIOBenchCoach.com.
To read his previous CIO Insight article, "Using Everything as a Service to Your Advantage," click here.