The 7 Keys to IT Success in 2017—and Beyond

By Marc J. Schiller  |  Posted 05-17-2017
Keys to Success

The 7 Keys to IT Success in 2017—and Beyond

In the second quarter of 2017, one thing has become clear: IT stands at a unique juncture in the road.

For decades, IT was a back-office support function. Now, as digital technology transforms every business function, process and role, IT is beginning to take center-stage within the business. More and more, we see IT professionals who have a deep desire and commitment to:· work hand-in-hand and truly be part of the business; take a proactive role in strategy formation; earn a seat at the table; and contribute directly to the business' success.

As technology becomes a primary driver of value for nearly every business function, this trend will continue. IT leaders will increasingly find themselves in a uniquely qualified position to contribute to—and shape the success of—their organization.

Yet, while there is such opportunity for IT, most IT leaders report feeling frustrated, left out and without the influence and voice to drive the value of IT for their companies.

Why? Because the roles and responsibilities of IT are changing—and so are the keys to success. As IT makes the journey from the backroom to the boardroom, it is no longer the technical or functional competency that most contributes to IT’s success. Instead, an IT leader’s success will increasingly depend on his or her ability to work as a true partner with the business.

Recognizing this shift, a new set of keys to success emerge for ambitious IT leaders for the remainder of 2017—and beyond.

Key #1: The Stakeholder Relationship Is the New Key Driver of IT Success

In the past, the ability to create and maintain strong stakeholder relationships differentiated first-rate IT teams from the rest of the pack. But, as IT moves to center stage in their organization, every IT team will depend increasingly on their stakeholder relationships to succeed.  

Here’s the problem: Stakeholder relationship management and engagement is the weakest, least developed and least understood competency of many technically oriented IT professionals and teams.

To improve your stakeholder relationships, you first have to take them out of the fluffy qualitative realm and move them into the realm of hard data-driven standards and benchmarks that IT feels comfortable with.

Key #2: Stakeholder Relationships Can Be Quantified

Quantifying stakeholder relationships isn’t easy. My firm spent eight years creating our tool to measure our clients' stakeholder relationships, but the work was worth it. When IT teams objectively measure their stakeholder relationships year over year, they become acutely aware of how their actions impact their stakeholder relationships. No more guesswork.

By working for years with clients to measure and improve their stakeholder relationships, we’ve come to recognize that there are a few core actions every IT organization needs to take to produce successful stakeholder relationships. These insights form the remaining keys to success.

Key #3: There are Nine Building Blocks of Stakeholder Success

If you want your stakeholders to feel a deep foundation of confidence in your IT organization, you need to establish these nine essential building blocks:

1. A stakeholder benchmark

2. IT vision and strategy

3. Strategic information systems plan

4. IT organization model

5. IT operating model

6. Annual operating plan

7. Performance scorecard

8. Internal and external communications programs

9. IT leadership development program

These building blocks probably look familiar to you. Chances are you already have some, or maybe even all, of them in place. But, as a general rule, we’ve found that the standard approach most IT teams follow when they create building blocks often falls short of what stakeholders are really looking for from their IT teams.

Part of this disconnect comes from the very structure of how IT teams often form these building blocks. For example, stakeholders often feel better about an IT organization model that assigns IT leaders to specific stakeholder functions (e.g., a vice president of R&D) rather than internal IT platforms (e.g., a vice president of SAP). But a large part of this disconnect also comes from the way IT teams and professionals directly interact with their stakeholders as they form and operationalize these building blocks.

Key #4: There Are Also “Soft” A,B,Cs of Stakeholder Success

As IT forms and operationalizes the above building blocks, they move through countless interaction points with their stakeholders. To succeed in these interactions, IT teams and professionals must follow this set of A,B,Cs: Attitudes, Behaviors and  Communications.

Some of these A,B,Cs are global: They are general rules to follow whenever an IT team or professional engages one of the stakeholders. For example, the language IT uses, such as referring to business peers as “stakeholders” rather than “customers” goes a long way toward shifting these interactions to a successful mindset.

The 7 Keys to IT Success in 2017—and Beyond

Other A,B,Cs apply only within certain contexts. For example, when an IT professional is building support for project approval, he or she will need to be skeptical (an Attitude), perform Nemawashi, a Japanese term that is about building consensus (a behavior), and utilize the Madison Avenue Sales Method (a style of Communication).

In each case, the A,B,Cs help IT professionals succeed whenever they interact with their stakeholders. Many IT professionals and teams tell us these are really hard things to learn and follow.

Key #5: Stakeholder Relationships Must Succeed at Three Organizational Levels

Following the A,B,Cs is important because the IT professional or IT team interacts with stakeholders at so many interaction points. As digital transformation continues, these interaction points will multiply in volume, depth and importance. Stakeholder relationship success truly is a team sport.

To transform your organization, this new focus on stakeholder relationships must be brought to life in all three levels of your organization.

Level I: The CIO must deliver the visionary leadership that shifts the IT organization’s focus to stakeholder relationships.

Level II: The IT management team must deliver processes that focus on creating structured, valuable interaction points between IT and the stakeholders.

Level III: The individual IT teams and staff members must create successful engagement with their stakeholders by following the A,B,Cs for each interaction point.

This is a simplification, of course. For example, there are A,B,Cs that help every level of interaction with stakeholders, and members of the management team will be deeply involved with the formation of the IT team’s vision. But overall, this mapping provides a practical framework to get everyone in the IT organization to shift their focus to improving stakeholder relationships.

Stakeholder relationship success is all about realistically applying this shift—and not simply talking in loose, conceptual terms about the need to better engage your stakeholders.

Key #6: There Is a Practical Road Map to Stakeholder Success

It isn’t enough to have a conceptual understanding that stakeholder relationships are the new key driver of IT success. IT teams and professionals need a practical way to understand and put to work the ideas and methods that drive improved stakeholder relationships.

There are many books out there that provide a practical roadmap to building and growing successful professional relationships. I wrote one such book, The 11 Secrets of Highly Influential IT Leaders, to offer an IT-specific road map to follow that pulls all of these concepts together and allows IT professionals and managers to get started on improving their stakeholder relationships without requiring a custom consulting engagement.

the book lays out a three-part journey:

Part 1: Influence Begins With Credibility 
The book walks you through the key activities and behaviors you need to establish a foundation of credibility—the basis for influence.

Part 2: The Essentials of Influential Communications 
It reveals how to quickly improve your standing and influence with your stakeholders by addressing the biggest challenge faced by most of IT: communications.

Part 3 – Game Time 
It teaches the specific tactics you need to succeed in critical situations and contexts in IT where you, as the IT leader, have the opportunity to shine.

Following this system takes work. But it’s worth it—on both an organizational level and on the level of your career. 

Key #7: It’s About Your Individual Success

One purpose underlies improving your stakeholder relationships: Doing that helps you—the IT professional, manager or CIO—do better. When you focus on improving your stakeholder relationships, you will command more respect, leverage more influence, and increase the value you provide for your stakeholders, your colleagues and your company.

Focus on improving IT performance and you will make IT better for its own sake—and for the sake of the organization IT supports. But by increasing the value of what you provide, you also will enjoy a more fulfilling and rewarding career.

It’s my wish that you follow this road to find increased IT success—and your own increased professional success—throughout 2017 ... and beyond.

Marc J. Schiller, the founder and managing partner of Rain Partners, is a leading voice on IT leadership and management. His book, The 11 Secrets of Highly Influential IT Leaders, discusses the most significant management challenges facing IT leaders today—and how to address them. Schiller's focus on stakeholder engagement, management frameworks and creative communications has helped dozens of IT leaders gain a seat at the management table. A former partner at PwC and global practice leader for IBM, Schiller has worked with, and learned from, CIOs on three continents.