Sonny Taragin, CIO and CTO, Mid-Atlantic Health Care
An important factor to IT success within an organization (as well as with external customers) is how IT is perceived by the people it serves. Perception of the department occurs at every level in the organization from the CIO to the help desk technician. In many organizations, IT struggles to connect with the rest of the company and to be viewed as a partner in its success.
Here are some suggestions for improving IT’s relationship with the other departments within your company. These can be applied at all levels of IT staff and may also work in how us techie nerds relate to the world in our personal lives (for fans of The Big Bang Theory TV show, perhaps this can be viewed as a guide for transforming from a “Sheldon” to a “Leonard”):
Be a Good Listener
There are many facets to be and being perceived as a good listener. It starts with giving the other party (or parties) the opportunity to speak without being interrupted. This may sound fundamental but human tendency is to either stop listening or start interrupting at the point when one disagrees with the speaker. Here are some suggested tips for being a good listener:
• Listen thoughtfully… the way you would like to be heard!
• Be careful of body language that conveys a lack of interest or negative reactions.
• Play back what you heard in an objective manner and get agreement that you understood it correctly (“If I heard you correctly, what you said was…. Is that correct?”)
• Consider thanking the person for expressing their concerns, thoughts, ideas, etc. Even when you disagree! Validate their perspective and you are sympathetic to the problem (or need… or whatever) they are experiencing.
• Take notes and don’t feel the need to necessarily respond on the spot where additional thought or research is needed. Don’t be afraid to say that you want to consider the matter more thoughtfully and respond at a later time/date (but see later in this article about timeliness…).
"Respectfully push back in a collaborative way if you feel the request or need is not achievable as desired. Collaborate on how and when the project or task can be completed. Listen well! Explain well!"
Be a Good Explainer
Probably the most frequent complaint I hear about IT people is along the lines of “I didn’t understand what he/she was telling me”. It is also not a surprise that end-user satisfaction begins with understanding what a help desk or IT staff member is telling or explaining to them (user manuals notwithstanding). Here are some tips and techniques around speaking or even writing to people about IT. This, again, applies to all levels within the IT organization:
• Be thoughtful about who you are speaking to. Understand their level within the organization, their level of interest, and their level of technical acumen.
• In many (most) situations, you may want to explain what happens (or happened), not how. For example, rather than saying something complex like: “The router lost its routing tables and couldn’t determine IP addresses for signal switching”, say “the network device failed and had to be reset”!
• Be a little self effacing and use humor (appropriately – a lesson, by the way, I am still learning…). The objective: not to be intimidating to those who fear technology or who fear IT people!
Be a Good Writer
We have become a society that prefers texting and emails to speaking and phone calls. Practice good writing techniques:
• Be succinct! Check for unnecessary words. Don’t repeat concepts or information. Use techniques from above to clearly explain in non-technical and easy language.
• Review what you write before sending. You can’t do that when speaking but you can when writing! Usually. Count to 10 (in binary) before responding in writing to something that has made you upset.
• Use email appropriately. It is a good vehicle for asking questions or conveying information. It is not a good vehicle for resolving issues or for obtaining requirements, specifications or user needs (where dialog is often needed to clarify, verify understandings and probe details).
Be time conscience
Second most frustrating facet to users in dealing with IT is not knowing the status of a project, request, or issue and/or a deadline passing without word of what is going on. This category could also be sub-titled “setting expectations”. Here are some techniques to consider using:
• When undertaking a project there are three considerations: 1) requirements, 2) resources to accomplish and 3) timeframe. I generally tell the sponsor that he/she can set two of the three and we will tell them the third. Think about that!
• Respectfully push back in a collaborative way if you feel the request or need is not achievable as desired. Collaborate on how and when the project or task can be completed. Listen well! Explain well!
• Set reasonable but aggressive time-frames. Understand and explain risks and/or obstacles that could impact timeframe.
• Keep sponsors, users, others informed of status and, in particular where the timeframe stands. Make sure everyone in your organization understands the importance of providing updates, particularly if a deadline is going to be missed.
Be Viewed as Problem Solver and a Partner
A valuable lesson I learned from a CEO I reported to is that problems or mistakes happen. So what really matters to people is what you do about it. Technology will fail at times and mistakes will happen. How you respond–in attitude, timeliness and resourcefulness–is what matters. Make sure people are not afraid to let you know of problems (particularly those on your team or in your sphere of influence). Be someone who appreciates those who communicates problems to you.
Lastly, don’t buy in to the myth that IT is a “vendor” and that the rest of the company is IT’s customer. IT and the other corporate departments are partners to each other’s success.