By embracing a different mindset and changing their language, IT teams can better communicate with the business and finally overcome a long-standing division.
When IT and the business collaborate, success is higher. It’s that simple. So, if the benefit is so clear, why are we still talking about an idea that’s been around for decades? Why is there still a gap between the two?
Despite having a common, fundamental goal of success, IT and the business think differently, by the nature of their work. IT professionals focus more on execution and worrying about the short-term downstream consequences of their choices. They think about who will inherit what’s been implemented and about creating documentation. They worry about not incurring hours of technical debt and fret over getting a 2 a.m. troubleshooting call, the red light flashing, and the “wonk, wonk” sound of a breakdown.
The technology mindset is one of fast cycles and immediate consequences. It’s trained to consider 10 steps ahead so an incorrect choice won’t have drastic systematic effects. But while downtime could potentially halt business for a duration, IT’s not concerned about causing the company to fail overall.
In contrast, this is exactly what the business worries about. It’s much more tolerant of a single bad decision and takes a long view of consequences. Decision-making from a business mindset usually boils down to three outcomes: growth, cost, and risk. Will an initiative increase customers? Will it reduce cost? Will it help avoid risk?
IT needs to better understand the long view: one of years, not just weeks. Just like other functions in the organization, IT teams are expected to create a five-year plan—which is essentially irrelevant given the pace of technology—but they still have to understand why they’re being asked.
Realizing that there's no such thing as a technology initiative -- only business initiatives with technology components -- is a starting point for change. Embracing this mindset puts IT on the right side of the conversation and prevents implementing technology for the sake of technology.
Words really do matter
Just like speaking in Russian to question a train conductor in Paris won't put you on the right train, giving more technical details to business executives is not going to make them care more. IT professionals need to change their language to effectively communicate with the business. At first, this adjustment may take overcoming a bit of anxiety around operating in an unfamiliar environment. But fear can be alleviated through knowledge.
Becoming more comfortable framing situations in business terms means knowing more about business terms. Check out the company’s annual report, look at the balance sheet, learn about EBITDA, and so on.
Even more, figure out which of the three key outcomes mentioned above are most important to your organization. What are the business drivers and how might they change throughout the year?
Remember the joke about the 7-layer OSI model? No project ever fails from something going wrong in one of those layers, it fails because of layers 8, 9, and 10. It’s an old joke that still applies to this old problem. In other words, get past the “politics” and figure out a fix for the business problem.
Be viewed as an authority by becoming business-fluent. The ability to translate between the two languages puts an IT professional in a stronger position.
State of trust
Getting a seat at the table comes from repeatedly demonstrating this business understanding and delivering intended results.
Over time, the IT/business relationship gets stronger, and the level of trust enables experimentation without wheel spinning. Nearly every IT professional has faced the situation when an executive, after a chat he or she’s had on a plane or the golf course, or after reading something about the latest hyped tech trends, comes and says: “Let’s implement X."
It’s that one step forward and two steps back that forces IT into implementing technology for the wrong reasons. On the other hand, when the business trusts IT, mandates evolve into questions about emerging tech like “Why aren’t we implementing it?" or “How can we best leverage it?"
With such a state of trust, instead of, let’s say, AI for AI’s sake, IT can test a use case and create a proof of concept into which the business is much more willing to invest. Hype cycle expectations can be managed, and it becomes easier to get buy-in for something new.
On the same page
The overall benefit of IT and the business working together is greater success. The odds are much higher when there’s open, honest communication and everyone is speaking the same language.
Fewer headaches are also likely when the business isn’t forced into technical speak and, instead, IT understands the direction, not just the edict. For example, if the business wants to deploy CRM by 2023, an executive may call for a specific product simply because it’s the most well-known. The chosen product, however, is more complex than needed and overly robust for the task at hand.
Yet, when IT understands the business direction—in this example, the need to manage inventory and create global pricing controls—a solution that actually matches the goal can be deployed. Soon, IT is viewed as the ultimate resource for the business: An expert to turn to proactively versus relying on random outside information on what’s cool in the market at the time.
Eventually, this type of partnership leads to more creative problem solving and helps uncover new opportunities to take advantage of unexpected technical capabilities. It’s truly exciting to know what the business is trying to accomplish and to be part of the achievement. The old saying is true: Sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it. So, change the way you communicate with the business and finally fill that gap forever.