How Recognition Drives IT Innovation

By Marc J. Schiller  |  Posted 10-18-2011

Dear CEO: IT Innovation Depends on You

Dear Mr./Ms. CEO,

I'm glad you were open to the ideas in my previous letter  Since you expressed an interest in the additional methods for supporting the IT team, I am following up with the last two points. But be prepared. These aren't quick to-do items you can add to a list. They are big and important changes--ones with real transformative power.

About our motivations, mine and yours

In my first letter, I recommended that you implement my suggestions in order to dramatically improve the efficiency and efficacy of your IT group.

As we move into these more advanced practices, it's worthwhile to note that their impact goes way beyond improving the efficiency and efficacy of IT. These practices are like catalysts to starting an innovation chain reaction--the Holy Grail of every CEO for their IT group.

The principles I am about to share with you will generate tremendous energy, enthusiasm and contribution from the IT team. Moreover, when practiced correctly, they will benefit not only the IT team but your entire company.

Picking up from where we left off, here are two steps you can take to energize your company's IT group:

Number 1 - Show a little love, appreciation and respect. Here's the problem: Whether you realize it or not, your IT group does not feel appreciated and respected. You may think you tell them they do a good job, but that message is not getting through. In fact, exactly the opposite is occurring: IT feels alienated from the rest of the business.

In one survey after another, IT managers speak of being unappreciated. They do not feel that their personal work is respected and they do not feel that their department is valued. And while it may be easy to "blame" the IT group for the situation, it's up to you, as the leader of the company, to fix it. 

So, here's what can you do:

  1. Face up to the fact that the relationships between IT and other areas of your business are not in particularly good shape.
  2. Internalize and accept the fact that much of this stems from a lack of respect, recognition and appreciation for IT. (This really shouldn't come as much of a surprise. After all, it's a pretty common issue in human relationships.)
  3. Make an important change. In place of your current attitude towards IT (which probably sits somewhere between irritation and indifference), start to take notice, real notice, of what the IT group actually does. Take a few minutes to understand how difficult their work really is. Actively demonstrate, with your attention and the look in your eyes, that you care about their work and that you can see how important and valuable it is to the company.

How Recognition Drives IT Innovation

It won't take much for you to get there. You're very smart. Once you take a careful look, I know that you will be amazed at what is going on. In case you need a reminder of how critical IT is, try operating your company for a day without any IT at all.

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."

Best,

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