Aligning IT Leadership with the Business

Leadership shows up in every department within every organizations. Every department managers, supervisor, director, VP or above has the responsibility to know what they are doing and to communicate their vision to their teams.

Part of this responsibility has to do with working ON their business while working IN their business.

When any department leader takes a step back to see how their leadership impacts their own department, they can then take a further step back and witness how their department impacts other departments and also how they impact the entire organization. This is key to working IN their business.

This provides a vantage point for observation, reflection, diagnosis, and planning.

I have been blessed to see much in the area of leadership development first hand in the area of information technology (IT) leadership. Because IT is a life blood to every organization today in our connected world, I want to help you understand how IT leadership really impacts the entire business system. This can help everyone take a deeper look at a systematic infrastructure that is a primary source of organizational vitality today and into the future.

Taking a Deep Dive

IT managers quickly find out that without a true alignment and partnership with the businesses they support times can get tough very quickly.  While the businesses may or may not directly fund IT’s activities, if they aren’t happy with the IT service they are getting, then nothing good tends to come of it.  Unhappy IT customers will do anything to get satisfaction; from creating their own informal IT organization to bullying IT into doing what the business perceives they should be doing.

To help everyone understand how to play nice in the sandbox with such an important business resource, I have some tips to make sure that people, departments, and organizations align their best intentions to have IT be a positive force in the workplace.

Good Tips for IT

IT Leaders must spend time with the business leaders

Setup a face to face meeting at least one a month to talk about the good, bad and ugly.  IT should have metrics so bring them and see if they address any issues.  More times that not when the relationship is non-existent or strained IT isn’t measuring what the business cares about, so here is your chance to get that feedback and make some changes.

Think like a business

Since most IT shops are short staffed and overwhelmed by all the requests coming at them start with a good ROI/Project funding process. A good ROI process will help ensure that you are placing your precious resources on the most worthwhile business solutions that will give the biggest payback to the company.  In an ideal world this means that you have an executive champion for each project that understands, and signs off on, the IT costs as part of their projects.  Organizations fail when they try and open this process up to every request and try to prioritize a request from rank and file along with an executive request.  I have seen lots of IT organization spin their wheels with rank and file requests while missing the bigger picture.

Keep Communicating

After the leaders have established a partnership start communicating across the company in perhaps a regular newsletter or blog.  As companies rely and use technology more and more, IT is an important part of everyone’s job.  Tell employees what is changing, coming up, where to go for help and ask for feedback.  Have success stories then have the business owner tell them and communicate them.

Rotate

Implement a job rotation program where IT and business employees switch roles for a period of time.  This will give valuable insight into both teams as to the challenges each face.

Stop saying “No”

I see this is so many IT organizations, they say “no” to the business before they even understand the request. Typically, this is done in the name of security or cost savings.  However, many users are pretty savvy so restricting behavior only creates barriers between IT and the business.  Work to try and understand the needs that exist and how to meet those needs safely.

If you are in IT leadership, have you tried any of these strategies? If so, did it work?  If you are not in IT, do you wish your IT organization would try some of these ideas? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Scott Archibald
is Managing Director at Bender Consulting
He helps clients through IT transformations by a results-focused approach
Email | LinkedIn | Facebook | Twitter | Web | Blog | Skype: scott.d.archibald | (702) 358-0545

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Leadership and IT Transformation

Leadership impacts everyone.

And leadership takes its form in many different roles and departments within companies and organizations around the globe. One department that impacts almost everyone these days is the information technology, or IT department. In fact, if your IT leader wasn’t doing a good job, you might not even be reading this article!

For the past few years, there has been an evolution underway when it comes to technology leaders withing organizations. Traditionally, IT has been a pretty geeky group of people who spoke a language that other than Star Trek fans only a few could understand.  As technology becomes a more important aspect of every facet of business there is a change underway with many IT departments.  IT Executives and their subordinates are learning how to communicate, market, sell, and run their organizations more effectively and more like a business function.

More than Just Leading Geeks

The head of the Information Technology organization in any company is constantly dealing with a wide array of politics, ever increasing pace of technology change, increasing pace of business. They also have a reputation of leading an organization that usually tells you how something can’t be done.  Some cultures work hard to work around IT rather than to work with them because of real or perceived barriers that IT implements.

I spent 15 years in corporate IT Executive positions and I can honestly say that senior IT folks are trying to do the right thing; but often are fighting a losing battle.  Many IT shops take on too many projects and don’t put the right resources or poorly manage the important ones.  IT leaders have traditionally come up through the technology ranks and they just never had the business training that they needed to be successful.

With that said there are A LOT of top quality, knock-your-socks-off CIO’s out there.

Changing Roles

Some say there is a new trend of CIO jobs disappearing and the role is being absorbed by the COO with perhaps a CTO being brought in as well.  I have no doubt that you will see changes such as this, but it is dependent on the organization and how IT is used throughout the company.  Regardless of whether you are a CIO, CTO or COO trying to manage an IT function, we have some leadership help on the way.

Here are some tips for IT Executives looking to accelerate their IT Transformation.

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Top 10 IT Leadership Tips

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Workforce:

Ensure that you have the right skill sets in the organization to carry out today’s goals as well as tomorrow’s. Look at whether the people you are hiring today will have the skills for where the organization is going 2-3 years from now. This will require that you have a strategic view of where the organization is going.

ROI:

You must have a good ROI process to make sure that you are placing your precious resources on the most worthwhile business solutions that will give the biggest payback to the company. In an ideal world this means that you have an executive champion for each project that understands, and signs off on, the IT costs as part of their projects. Organizations fail when they try to open this process up to every request and try to prioritize a request from rank and file along with an executive request. I have seen lots of IT organization spin their wheels with rank and file requests while missing the bigger picture.

Commodities:

Determine and make a clear separation of commodity versus value services. Look for ways to outsource commodity services so that you can focus on innovation/value services. Typically commodity services deal with legacy mainstream solutions. Evaluate this at least annually as the landscape does shift.

Rotate:

IT employees need to spend time in the business side and vice versa. Start a job rotation program so that IT and business employees understand both worlds and their related languages. Job rotating can help IT get inside the business rather than just aligning with the business. This should be easy to implement and employees can typically enjoy three to six month rotations.

Cost-Cutting:

Be comfortable with continuous cost-cutting and optimization, including layoffs (see above point on workforce to minimize skill set driven layoffs). By the very nature of IT, solutions are deployed and will later need to be optimized. Institute a continuous efficiency and optimization process. Also, hiring employees with the right skills can help with future non-skill set layoffs.

Innovation:

Innovation is good and critical, but the focus has to be on “useful innovation.” Don’t be afraid to fail and realize that many R&D shops may only have one success out of 100 experiments. Create a culture where small-scale experiments are encouraged and successful experiments can move to the next level of funding. Part of your success criteria should include business value and ability to implement any proposed solution.

Stop saying “No”:

I see this is so many IT organizations, they say “no” to the business before they even understand the request. Typically, this is done in the name of security or cost savings. However, many users are pretty savvy, so restricting behavior only creates barriers between IT and the business. Work to try and understand the needs that exist and how to meet those needs safely.

Communications:

IT executives must be good communicators within their organization, across their business partners and the company they work in. IT executives also need to be savvy business people as well and it starts with the communication skills.

Partners:

Line up your strategic partners early and make sure that you have great partners in place well before you need to roll out a big systems implementation project. Prioritize building up those partner relationships early. Most effective leaders in Fortune 500 companies know how to use internal and external consultants/partners effectively.

Disruption:

Look for disruptive technologies and models that you can explore and understand. Many of today’s mainstream solutions were viewed as very disruptive when they were first introduced. When you look at disruptive forces (technology or business), understand whether you could apply some of the principles to your IT organization. Perhaps not deploying them right away, but maybe at the right time down the road might be a valuable idea.

How has the role of technology leader evolved in your organization(s) over the last many years? And how does that impact overall team morale, productivity, and workplace effectiveness? How has technology troubles hurt the overall performance of your team? And if you are a technology leader, do you think these tips will help? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Bookmark Leadership and IT Transformation

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Scott Archibald
is a Managing Director at Bender Consulting.
You can follow Scott on
Twitter at http://twitter.com/Scott_Archibald

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Leadership Dead Zone

I got busted. Busted in the Leadership Dead Zone.

I signed up to be a Contributing Author here on the Linked 2 Leadership Blog. Over the last year I have been one of the top contributors. I signed up because I wanted to serve a larger community with what I have learned and to point the growing audience of global professionals to additional resources that could help them in their leadership journeys.

I have a servant’s heart and want to contribute to others with this personal leadership initiative of mine. I want to give back to others out of appreciation for what I have received. But something happened to me along my journey. I lost something in the dead-zone fog of leadership atrophy.

It’s like I dropped my car keys somewhere and never really got off the couch to go find them.

In actual terms, I have been procrastinating for quite some time now from writing another entry that would serve others in their leadership journey. But why? I guess that I just felt like I just didn’t have anything original left to write about. But why? Why?

Where did I lose my drive? Or was that I lost my road map? Or was it the keys that I couldn’t, or wouldn’t go locate?

I thought about this. I spent some time contemplating what it is like to be in this Leadership Dead Zone. I spent enough time thinking about it to realize that sometimes it could just be that one can simply just over-think situations.

I was over-thinking what to write about. I suffered from analysis paralysis. I was lost in a fog.

Sometimes, we as leaders procrastinate, or over-think what our next big bold earth-shaking move might be. As leaders, sometimes we get caught up with what the next fancy strategy should be, or what could be the next big move for the group, company or even our careers. We get caught thinking too much in that ineffective dead-zone.

When leaders are really in their element, when they are in the “leadership zone,” I don’t think they are concerned about any of these things that can distract them from their targeted mission. When we are in the zone we are being natural and doing what we do best; leading.

So, if you find yourself over-thinking a certain situation, maybe it is time to just start moving.  I think that you will find as you get going that you will gain momentum and that you will find yourself getting in that zone of influence and better results.  Don’t worry about whether you actually find yourself in the zone or not, that is not important.  What is important is that you start moving and getting your organization and people moving. Employees hate an organization that seems stagnant and lacks direction. I  believe they hate it even more when they ask a question about the organization’s future or direction and are told “We are working on that…”

The One Week Test

Here is a rule of thumb to help you know whether you are over-thinking something: If you are taking more than one week of time to get all the input and do all the planning, then you might be over-thinking the activity. I have worked on projects that had multi-million dollar impact in Fortune 50 companies, and we would never take more than a week to form an initial hypothesis and get going.  Sure, we would test it out from there and adjust as we went along but you are moving forward and that is half the battle.

What do you do to ensure that you are not over-thinking something?  How do you involve your employees when it comes to strategic or organization changes? Have you ever been in the Leadership Dead Zone? How did you recognize your predicament? How did you bet back into the real Leadership Zone?

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Scott Archibald is a Managing Director at Bender Consulting.
You can follow Scott on
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44 Seconds

44 seconds. That was the difference between first and second place in a nearly six and half hour race. It was my 12th triathlon of the 2009 racing season and I came in second place. By 44 seconds…

Triathlons are a unique sport as there are no scoreboards and usually no coaches providing you any information throughout the contest. The nature of the event is that it is an individual sport and you are racing among your peers.  However, you generally don’t know who your competitor, or “peers”, are during most of the struggle.  You can pass others and/or be passed in the swim, on the bike, or in one of two transitions. This can happen and you may not even realize what happened.

This happened to me.

I was leading after nearly four hours of swimming and biking. Somewhere on the run, I was passed by one of my competitors. But, none of that is part of what I learned during this last race of 2009. I learned that when you don’t have any information while in the middle of a process,  you need to keep your the plan and continue to move forward.

Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail

When I was at mile five of the 13.1 mile run that day, I knew I that was going slower than I wanted to.  I knew I was in pain. And I knew that it was only going to get worse. I became discouraged. And rather than keeping a slower pace and maintaining steady progress as I had planned, I did the worse thing possible: I nearly gave up. I assumed that I had gone from winning to merely finishing simply becasue I had no information to tell me otherwise.

I allowed my default mental position to be a negative thought and didn’t refocus my thoughts on the careful plan and preparation that got me that point of success. I was considering giving up and didn’t even know that I was very much in the front of the pack. As a matter of fact, I could have won that race had I simply executed my winning plan rather than doubting it. Mistakingly, I focused on my pain and forgot that everyone else was in an equal or greater amount as me. All I really had to do was to gather information on my own to see that everyone was hurting on the run and we were all moving slow. Arghhh!

Leading Through Pain

Sometimes, our employees probably feel the same way.  They may be in some kind of “pain” caused by frustration, inadequate resources, or confusing signals. Their work may not be going as planned and their leaders (us) may not be providing all the information needed.  Or, perhaps the plan was just wrong. Just like my run plan in the race was wrong for the course I was on. as leaders, we need to have the level of communication with the people on our teams to be able to coach tem through the difficult times and be there to give them as much information and feedback as we can. We have to immagine that they could be feeling as though they are in an epic battle (internally) and need some help to get through it.

As leaders, we need to be smart, creative, and flexible enough to adjust the plans in certain situations. This is much better than abandoning the race.

Application

The next time you are responsible for a multi-phase program, make sure you have a good plan that takes into account your organizations capabilities as well as the terrain (physical, political, organizational) that you will be covering.

  • Establish checkpoints along the course and objectively evaluate progress at those checkpoints.
  • During those evaluations, be realistic with how the health of the team is holding up (are they pushing too hard?, not hard enough?).
  • Evaluate whether you have all the resources that you need to be successful.
  • Evaluate whether you can accomplish your goals when you cross the finish line.

Adjust your program plans as necessary to meet your goals, but don’t get discouraged along the way and end up losing by 44 seconds.

Have you ever second-guessed your progress only to see that distraction cause you to come in second place? Are you confident enough in your plans so that you can proceed and win? Do you have contingency planning in place that will allow you to change pace, or recalibrate your plans along the way? And what are you doing to insure that your team is getting enough information to help them keep their bearing along thier journey? I’d love to hear your stories or comments?

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Scott Archibald is a Managing Director at Bender Consulting.
Scott can be reached at sarchibald@bendercon.com

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Timeout

Sometimes a timeout is appropriate and deserved.

If you have kids or if you play(ed) sports, you can probably relate to calling a timeout. In either case, calling a timeout halts the immediate “play” and allows time to regroup. But not only in child-rearing or on the sports field is calling a timeout an appropriate thing to do, in business settings or meetings, sometimes timeouts are also appropriate, well-deserved, and are a smart thing to do.

As business leaders, many of us believe that we have to be the strong ones who keep relentlessly pushing on without taking breaks in the action for any reason.

But is this always the right thing to do? Are there times when we should take a break in the action and call a timeout?

Well, from my personal experience,  I have learned that it is better to work smarter than to work harder.  Pushing on and making bad decisions due to a variety of factors (fatigue, lack of information, etc) can actually lead an organization (and those you are leading) down the wrong path or even worse. Generally speaking, the consequences for not calling appropriate timeouts fall into the category defined by the law of diminishing return.

Smart Fella’

I once had a peer who admitted to the group that he would always want to have 24 hours to “think” before any major decision were made.  When he said this, I immediately assumed that he was admitting to being mentally slow and that he was making excuses for his inability to make snap decisions.  I wasn’t immediately impressed with his “timeout” concept.

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But after a few months of observing his well-placed moderation, I came to realize that he was using this 24-hour period as a way to analyze potential outcomes; he was giving the new situation the time it needed so that he could discuss the issues with his key advisers.  After observing behaviors that I first thought were retarding his leadership performance, I realized that his approach was brilliant as he made better informed decisions and that he was even involving his staff when possible. Not only did he always seem to get better-than-expected results from this tactic, he also increased the loyalty within his organization.

Timeouts are also a good tactic to use when a discussion gets too heated or too emotionally disruptive.  Timeouts gives people time to reflect on the real issues and talk with those they trust.

Well-placed timeouts can tend to let emotions get back from the boiling point and allow for clearer heads to prevail.

Though not a cure-all, timeouts can certainly help. Keep in mind that some issues are so emotional for some people that even a timeout won’t do much, and people will let their emotions rise right back to where they were once the discussion starts again.

But overall, they are good things to do.

As a leader, one must realize when it is appropriate to call a timeout.

Calling a timeout can be done either for yourself or if you think a situation is becoming non-productive and a break might do everyone well.  When you call a timeout, I encourage you to do something to get into a different setting.  Sometimes I walk around the building or go to the cafeteria and have a coffee to clear my head.  Also, make sure that you have a general agreement with the other people involved as to how long of a timeout you are taking.  Sometimes, you may need to simply take a timeout from a topic and set it aside for later while the rest of the agenda can continue forward.

My experience tells me to work smart and use timeouts when needed for yourself or others in the meeting so that you make smart decisions and have productive work interactions.

Do you have  formalized procedures for calling a timeout at your organization? Are you implementing appropriate breaks when extra time is needed to let clearer heads prevail? Are you taking enough time and deliberation on important issues to make sure that rush decisions are not being made? Please let me know if you do timeouts. I would love to hear!

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Scott Archibald is President of Accelerated Business Consulting.
He can be reached atscott@acceleratedbc.com

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It’s All About Culture

Culture

So what exactly is culture?

Within a business organization I define culture to be a set of beliefs, values, and norms that characterize behavior within an organization.   Culture is present in every organization and if you don’t foster it from the top and pay attention to it then it will develop on its own. Letting culture develop on its own in your organization is dangerous because culture shapes “how” the employees work within an organization.

If your employees enjoy the environment they are in and feel like they are a useful part of the organization they will work harder to obtain their goals.

And, if the employee’s goals are aligned with the organization’s goals then everyone wins.  If you create a culture within your organization where employees are respected and empowered to be successful then they, and you as a leader, will succeed.  Not only does good culture promote success from within it also attracts good talent into the organization as word gets out that this is the place where you want to be.

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Us vs. ThemI have seen senior leaders ignore the culture within their organizations and the damaging effects that can have.  Those organizations frequently had a disconnect between the employees and leaders which usually turned into an “us” versus “them” mentality.  Furthermore, organizations that ignored culture also suffer from employees who use gossip as the main way of communicating and take on a clock puncher mentality.

Cultivate a successful culture by communicating effectively and walking the talk.  Create values that the organization will use across the board and then live by them.   Make sure that everything that you do, how you act and how you lead support the organization’s values.  Empowered cultures tend to also include employees in the decision making process.  This doesn’t mean that everyone gets a vote, but it does mean that there are times when you need to listen and then act.

Let me know what your experiences are with culture in your past or present organizations. What sort of cultural conflicts have you been involved in? How did you handle them? Are you presently having difficulties with culture at your organization? What are you doing about it? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Scott Archibald is President of Accelerated Business Consulting.
He can be reached atscott@acceleratedbc.com

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Sweat Equity: Inspiration From Perspiration

Inspiration from Perspiration

I am often told that I inspire others with what I do. But what does that mean?

Sometimes I honestly don’t know why this is the case; as I feel that I am just doing what I do on a daily basis the very best I can. But, maybe that in itself is the key: I am being honest, working hard, and just doing what I do the best way I know how.

But, why do I inspire people?

I am not really sure. I can only guess. I’ll probably have to create a poll to find out why for certain, but it seems that I am doing what others see as worthy. Perhaps my efforts and subsequent results stand for something for which they long in their lives. For me, “doing what I do” means that I persist with a lot of effort in things that I enjoy doing.

Whether it is competing in triathlons, running a consulting business, or sitting on the board of two non-profits, I give it my all and I persist to achieve excellence in all of these arenas. Perhaps this is what is standing out to others that makes them want to pay attention to me and emulate my results.

So if this is what is working to inspire others in my sphere of influence, my advice then to other leaders would be to say to them “that your persistent actions toward excellence really counts!”

While some of the people around me have loyalty to me and follow me initially because of the inspiration that I manage to cast on them, they come back for more because I am honest and willing to roll up my sleeves along side of them.  They see honest effort coming from someone who cares. I make a concerted effort to be authentic and put my willing hands into helping them complete projects.

Being Authentic

Just as a child can tell when adults are lying to them, so can employees tell when the “BS meter” is getting too high.  So, to continue to emanate a practical posture of authenticity, I adopt the attitude of “when the going gets tough, the tough must keep going” despite any difficulty involved.

Examples

Sometimes it is very difficult to be honest with a team that may be no longer needed. Or it may be gut-wrenching to tell a team that the program they have been working on for ten months has just been cut. But, as a leader, you must persist with an honest communication approach that is consistent with being an authentic person of integrity. Even if it is difficult to have to convey bad news.

For me, each time I have had to have these discussions, I just simply told the truth in a humane way. Perhaps this has helped my be an inspiration in both times of good news and bad.

Honesty is the Best Policy

The next time you are talking with an employee, a group, a department, or even your whole organization, be honest with them.  Remember that while working with them, that you actually are also living with them. Work with your employees as you would with your neighbors when you are making your neighborhood a better place to live.  Rather than trying to “create inspiration” from some false set of creative blah, blah, blah… simply let your honest efforts and hard work speak for you while always remembering to treat employees like your neighbors. 

Inspiration will come with some perspiration.

How are you working to instill a regimen of authentic behaviors in your daily routine? Where do you see growth patterns available to you that will help you stand out as an authentic person of integrity? Tell me where you stood up with sweat, hard work, and persistence that caught someone’s eye. I’d love to hear you story.
  

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Scott Archibald is President of Accelerated Business Consulting
He can be reached atscott@acceleratedbc.com 
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