How to Balance Stakeholders’ Needs With Realities
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Strong IT leadership requires developing a strong business sense while acting as expert stand-ins for stakeholders’ tech-related decisions.
Caught in the digital revolution, our stakeholders demand more from technology than ever before. Often, it makes our stakeholders feel overwhelmed, and (at best) they expect IT to figure it out for them, without them. To act as their “proxy."
The real role of IT leaders in 2016 is to be full mental stand-ins for our stakeholders’ technology-related decisions. They don’t want to sit down and work through the problem with us. They don’t want to spend a lot of their time answering our questions, and explaining their requirements. Instead, they say to us, “Just pick the right system, and once it’s finished we’ll take a look at it.” And when we really press in order to perform a focused analysis of their requirements, they tell us—“You work in the company. You know technology—figure it out for me.”
Being a proxy is a complicated thing. It requires subtlety, nuance and understanding. It’s about achieving a closeness of mind, perspective and approach with our stakeholders. In other words, it’s about business intimacy.
When it comes to developing business intimacy, there are four types to consider:
1. Proximal Intimacy: When we work in the same physical space as our stakeholders, we absorb myriad little items of information about their needs, their constraints, their priorities and their values. Many of these items of information are insights our stakeholders expect us to know, but would never think to tell us outright—and which we often would never think to ask.
2. Financial Intimacy: If our stakeholders expect us to make decisions for them—especially about new systems and implementations—we better understand exactly how and why they spend on technology. How much budget do they have? What do they consider a worthwhile investment? When budget restraints force them to make cuts, where can they cut and where do they need to keep allocating their dollars?
3. Process Intimacy: Most IT leaders understand we have to be aware of our stakeholders’ processes. They are often capable of articulating key Level I steps in any given process, with perhaps a few Level II details. (If pushed.) But few IT leaders go beyond awareness of business processes, and develop true intimacy in this crucial arena—to the point they fully understand the flow subtleties and special cases inherent in their stakeholders’ processes.
Strategic Intimacy: This is the crux of being a good proxy—achieving a deep understanding of the critical, strategy-related issues they face. We can’t make the big decisions for our stakeholders unless we can independently answer big questions such as:
What outcomes must our stakeholders achieve in order to meet their commitments, and how can technology help them achieve it?
Where can a new unified platform help them respond to the CEO’s calls to globalize?
Where are they furthest “behind” their industry technology development within their function?
All of the above examples are classic strategic issues—big and important problems or goals that occupy our stakeholders’ minds in a significant way—and they are all issues our stakeholders would prefer we solved without any significant involvement on their part.
Developing each of these kinds of intimacy sounds like a lot of work, and it is. But developing these forms of intimacy is nothing new. Top IT leaders have understood their importance for many years. What is new: these forms of intimacy are no longer the mark of only the best IT leaders –in 2016 they are the table stakes for all IT leaders.