Four Courageous Conversations For Every IT Leader

IT leaders must be prepared to have difficult conversations with their bosses, with their customers, with their teams and with themselves.

business meeting

It is much more honest and respectful to be upfront about our organizational capabilities, limitations and options. That is what the phrase, "Yes, we will need…" does. Typically, you will end that sentence with either a description of the prioritization that you need to take place ("…to deprioritize…") or the resources that you will require to expand your capabilities (either people or money). It postures us in a positive position of saying "yes," but we are also honestly acknowledging our limitations. That takes courage. But it is required if we are to effectively execute our roles and fulfill our duties to our customers.

Conversation #2: With Your Customer

“What should we not do?”

During my keynote in Australia, I identified what I call the "four new rules of the new era." One of these rules is that we will be defined in the future by what we do not do. As technology becomes truly ubiquitous and finds its way into even the most pedestrian applications, it will simply become impossible for IT organizations to reasonably maintain control over all of it. Nor should we want to. The days of IT being the sole source provider and sole manager of technology are over. We need a new approach.

We need to begin having a courageous conversation with our customers. One in which we discuss candidly which businesses we should be in and which we should not be in. As IT professionals, we need to stop seeing ourselves as managers of technology. Instead, we must see ourselves as providers of strategic technologies that produce a competitive advantage. As we move into this future, our value will not be defined by our ability to manage and deliver this vast array of technologies that could just as easily be delivered by other organizations. Our value will be derived from the strategic technologies that we co-develop and deliver and that provide some form of unique advantage or differentiation to the organization.

This revelation also brings realization. We will be unable to deliver that kind of strategic innovation unless we shed all of those non-strategic technology platforms. It will demand that we be brutally honest about which elements of the technology stack, while perhaps important, do not provide the type of competitive and differentiating value that warrant our involvement. Those elements of the technology stack are the "lines of business" that we must exit. We must simply select an appropriate delivery partner and then get out of the business of providing those services.

The challenging part is that we have spent the better part of the last four decades "training" our customers on how to interact with us. And the linchpin of those conversations was that "everything technology-related comes through us." So, to acknowledge that this is simply no longer the case will take courage. The immediate reaction will understandably be one of, "Well, if I don't need IT for this any longer, do I need them for anything?" It is a fair and honest question—and one that we need to be prepared to answer. Having this conversation will be scary. It will be inviting our customer to challenge everything for which we have historically stood. You will have to make this transition rapidly and deliver on your promise that an increased focus on the most strategic organizational initiatives will yield a competitive advantage and differentiation.

That's a courageous promise, but it's one that every IT leader must be prepared to make.

Conversation #3: With Your Team

“What delivers strategic value?”

Humans are creatures of habit. Technical people take that age-old idiom to another level. Despite the rapid state of technological change, IT organizations and the IT professionals that comprise them have remained largely unchanged for the last 45 years. Structurally, organizationally and procedurally, we have largely done the same things, the same ways, for years. The problem is that many of those things that we have done for years have now become commoditized. They provide little discriminate value. Yet we continue to cling to them.

This article was originally published on 09-05-2013
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