Originally Published in CIO Insight | February 12, 2014 | Paul Mandell
In virtually any contemporary business, the IT department pushes life through an office’s veins, supporting everyday activities and helping the other functions maximize their productivity. To be effective, the IT department must understand the mission and needs of the departments it supports. Similarly, the other corporate departments must understand the capabilities and limitations of the IT department, so they can help the IT department maximize its own impact. Fortunately, there is a proven strategy for achieving the mutual understanding necessary for success; it is, of course, communication.
As the head of IT in the office, the CIO is ultimately responsible for the flow of communication between the IT department and the rest of the company. By establishing open lines of communication, the CIO can properly set expectations on both sides, minimizing headaches and wasted resources. Moreover, developing proper communication is a self-serving exercise; helping staff understand IT and vice versa can allow the CIO to put less time into managing frustration and conflict and put more time into supervising his or her department. Below are three key practices to facilitate better communication, suggested by CIOs of Fortune 1000 companies who attended a recent event hosted by Consero Group.
Establish a Common Language. A helpful first strategy for improved communication is to ensure that everyone is speaking a common language: finance. By ensuring that discussions are grounded in financial terms, everyone involved in IT-related communication can focus on the bottom line. This will help colleagues better understand each other’s motivations and limitations, and thereby accelerate decision-making, while reducing the likelihood of frustration based on a lack of shared perspectives.
Build Strategic Partnerships. Another strategy is to build new formal partnerships between IT and other departments. Let the entire office develop a greater understanding of the work of the IT department and align the interests of other departments with yours by exploring solutions to mutual challenges and goals in a regular, structured way. By seeking opportunities to advance each other’s interests together, you will create a foundation for smoother and more productive interactions over time. You will also inevitably become more invested in each other’s interests, increasing the odds of identifying and acting on opportunities for proactive cross-departmental support.
Encourage Open Dialogue. A third way to ensure cohesion between IT and other departments is to pursue regular feedback from each department. If there is no constructive criticism flowing naturally in your direction, extract it yourself. For example, if you do not already, schedule meetings to discuss what IT is or is not doing well, as well as what other departments need more of from IT. Doing so even once a year will keep communication channels open and maximize the odds of IT success.
While there are many elements that impact the success of an IT department, these three techniques can provide a productive, ongoing dialogue between the IT department and the rest of the company, enhancing mutual understanding and improving the likelihood of a positive working relationship. These strategies will also give you an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to the rest of the business, enhance the perceived value of IT, and increase your department’s efficiency—all of which are important when justifying the need for resources in a tough economic environment.