Want to Make IT Great? It’s All About Culture
As IT professionals we all have a natural affinity for and an attraction to technology. It is natural for us. But the key to our future is not just about technology.
Yes, new technologies—including AI, automation tools, intelligent assistants, mobility, and the like—will certainly change the future agenda of IT and improve how we work every day. But the future of IT is likely more closely tied to cultural change than any single thing. Cultural change is remarkably powerful, virtually limitless, and has the power to renew IT and transform the business.
In today’s post, we will look at a few key elements of this cultural change so we can begin to think about implementing these cultural changes and plan accordingly.
As we remake IT and equip the organization for the future, it is a good guideline to think in terms of every minute that is spent on technology should be matched with a minute spent on people and culture. Commit to this balance and watch the value come back to our teams many times over.
The very survival—and then the following success of business over the next 25 years—is very much about innovation, and innovation delivered in such a way that it brings real value to customers. Most businesses today are searching for a means to deliver meaningful innovation and create competitive advantage. An important source for this innovation, although unlikely in the eyes of some, is the IT organization. IT has the tools, technologies and know-how to build an engine of innovation for the business—this goes far beyond the traditional boundaries of IT but the talented people of IT are able to answer the call of the business and step up to this critical challenge. And rising to this challenge starts with accepting that IT will shift into a leader of this activity and then making the cultural changes and resource assignments across IT to bring this priority to life.
2. Customer Focus
This is certainly not intended to imply that IT has not cared about the customer in the past. That is clearly not the case. This issue is very much about emphasizing the customer focus in our daily work across IT and elevating it from being "one of" the priorities in IT to being at the top of our list. This focus goes hand in hand with innovation, and together these two elements will drive the transformation of our culture. If there is ever doubt or confusion, this focus on the customer brings us clarity. IT will move closer to the customer and will create new direct engagement models with our customers and then work as a teammate with sales, support, marketing, development, account management, and other organizations to both improve the user experience and improve the pipeline of solutions that will ultimately touch our customers every day. IT will also join new discussions that focus on future, more strategic customer requirements and these needs then take a place in the pipeline of innovation.
When we commit to innovation, our customer focus naturally grows, and when we focus on the customer we create an engine of creative thought that spawns innovation. Each needs the other; each provides for the other.
Teamwork is a wonderful and powerful force of good in an organization. Not altogether missing in IT, it becomes a more central model for how we work going forward. In particular, we will form new cross-functional teams to drive the new initiatives of IT and the engagement model with key business owners and customers. This becomes the natural way of working and brings our people of IT closer together and united around common causes. Small teams are best, something like 3-5 people and each team should be cross-functional and represent several of the traditional IT functions. This is a healthy model and brings the additional benefit of melting away the silos of IT naturally and quickly. This model is far more effective than an artificial mandate.
Building the entrepreneurial spirit of the IT culture is a natural next step in our transformation of IT and begins with a few simple questions: How can we make the customer experience better? How can we make the jobs of our key business owners easier? How can we create loyal and happy customers? How can we improve the experience of every employee that touches an IT system? How do we make the systems of IT easier to use and faster? These simple questions will drive a change in how we see everything. We can then ask the additional questions of "why do we…" and "what if we …". This positive and business-oriented thinking is highly contagious and will spread through IT quickly.
5. New Skills
The IT organization will always require technology related expertise and domain experts. This is our foundation and this requirement is timeless to a degree. However, we require new skills in IT to complement these technology experts and to drive the new culture and all while supporting our growing alignment and partnership with the business. These skills will further accelerate the changes ahead of us and make the new culture of IT a reality. The new skills of IT will include financial planning skills, customer-facing skills, communication skills, creative skills, and program management skills to name a few. Think in terms of running a business that is focused on innovation and customer engagement and the skills requirements come into focus. We then assign these new skills into the cross functional teams we described earlier and paired with technology and domain experts and amazing things will happen.
We should not believe for a moment that a focus on culture in any way would distract us from the day to day business of managing and leveraging technology. Culture enhances technology and enriches technology. Our people and the culture they create, elevate technology and make it strategic to the business. This is an important relationship that can’t be underestimated. Technology is important, culture is critical, but together they are an unstoppable force.
Keep the faith my friends.
Check out Kevin’s book on Amazon: The Practical Guide To World-Class IT Service Management and follow him on Twitter @kevinjsmith4IT.