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Protecting Your Turf in Tough Times

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Over the years, I have had the opportunity to work with a sizeable contingent of CIO's, CTO's, VP's, and a variety of other IT professionals to improve their overall communication skills as well as their public speaking, presenting and messaging abilities.
 
IT is a very technical, programmatic and detailed discipline; and it has been my experience that ineffective communication is one of the largest issues plaguing IT executives. Communicating and being able to articulate and deliver a clear, compelling message is always extremely important. As the economy turns down and businesses look to cut costs, communicating and messaging becomes crucial.

Whether you are a CIO or a front line IT professional, if you can not explain to other professionals, either in IT or on the business end of your organization, exactly what you do and what you deliver for the organization, you will have a problem in this economic climate. Period.

As an IT professional, you need to be able to present to your boss, your boss’s boss, the CEO, and investors or shareholders how the loss of you as an individual, or the loss of your team,  would impact the business and its bottom line. In these economic times, communication is no longer a “soft skill” or “luxury” for an IT pro. It can mean the difference between maintaining your position or losing it and/or the difference between being able to retain funding for your division or your division shrinking.
 
So how can an IT leader become more effective at communicating? These six steps will certainly help:

1. Develop relationships within your organization but outside of the IT department- This seems like common sense but this often gets pushed to the side in favor of day-to-day responsibilities that yield immediate results.  It is much easier to communicate what you do and why it is important to someone who is used to hearing from you regularly. Make a habit of trying to develop a relationship within a different division of the business at least once a month.

2. Develop a message – How does what you do, or what your team does, further the efforts of the organization?  How does it help the business achieve its bottom line objectives?  Being able to articulate this is crucial.

3. Be open. Be available.– IT can often breed a solo or small team atmosphere.  If you are a leader in your organization, be seen. Nothing is worse than a CIO, CTO, EVP, etc., who stays behind closed doors and remains silent.

4.  Treat your top talent as you would your board and investors
– If you think you have talked to them enough, go back and talk to them one more time. Trust me, if your top talent is nervous-- and they are-- and you are not communicating with them, they are looking elsewhere. As times get more challenging, your top talent becomes more valuable to competitors. Replacing superstars in this environment is not easy.

5. Be consistent – Nothing deflates an organization or a team more than perceived inconsistency in communication or communication style.  Everything you do sends a message, and communications, or lack thereof, sends a clear message. (Hint - not a positive one)

6. Be open with information – Within an organization, information hoarding is a thing of the past – the reality is that whatever information you have, others will be able to access soon enough.  Information hoarding within an organization is poisonous and breeds distrust.

Remember, in tough economic times, leadership is always looking for places to cut.  It is your job as an IT leader to be prepared to educate  those in the company hierarchy who don't understand the value of IT as well as those who view IT as a basic commodity rather than an individualized function that improves a company's bottom line.  This could mean the difference between funding increases or decreases, headcount reductions or stabilization, or even the difference between keeping some function in house rather than outsourced.
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by:Ted Bouskill
I want to commend this article.  For example, in our organization IT is poorly understood and often resented and they are 100% to blame (but they don't think so)

For example they have a Helpdesk application for submitted issues.  You submit a ticket then wait for a response.  On your ticket there is a change log for tracking but you have to dig into each issue to see the state.  However, the BIG problem is you don't know why your ticket is taking a long time to be resolved.

If the front page of the website had a simple page of metrics showing how busy IT is then we would have more compassion. The number of staff working, the number of open issues (possibly sorted by urgency and priority) et cetera.  If I knew the network engineer had 20 other urgent tickets I could lower my expectation.

I've actually recommended that to IT and did I get a response? No

Effectively our HelpDesk system feels like throwing a message in a bottle that has GPS into the ocean.  You can see it's position but have no idea how many other bottles there are or if it's going to be found.

When I was backup network support 20 years ago at an Engineering firm I calmed all frustration by simply putting my urgent To Do list on a whiteboard.  When someone who was stressed came to my desk to ask why a task wasn't complete I'd show them my list and recommend that if they wanted to be bumped up in priority they contact they people ahead of them in the queue.  All the stress disappeared.

In our organization IT is a Cost Center not a Business Asset.
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by:younghv
princetonpublicspeaking,
Excellent Article and the timing is perfect for so many IT folks out there.
Thank you for writing this.

"Yes" vote above.
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by:Eric AKA Netminder
Matt,

This is some outstanding stuff; at some point, I'd like your thoughts on http://w.e-e.com/UTsptG (if you would be so kind), because I do think the key to being an effective CIO or CTO, or even an effective manager under any circumstances, is the ability to communicate with the people who work for and with.

Of the six suggestions you make, the last two resonate most clearly to me -- especially when it comes to the information business. Information is worthless unless it's available; one cannot expect decision-makers to make the right ones if they don't have data from all stakeholders in the decisions, nor can one expect subordinates to perform if one leaves out an essential part of the puzzle.

As importantly, it's not just the quality, quantity or consistency of the information itself that matters: it's whether or not it is delivered in a timely and consistent manner, unobscured by facts that serve only to distract -- or even worse, dead air.

I do think you might have given short shrift to a characteristic of the CTO/CIO, and it goes to why people in those positions should take your advice in your first suggestion.

Technology people quickly seem to be replacing doctors and lawyers as our new priesthood. They speak in tongues dominated by mysterious acronyms and baffling definitions of words and phrases. The work they do is often complex to the point where the everyday user cannot hope to understand either the problem or the solution -- and there is little hope he will understand it without extraordinary effort and training. (Thank heavens for that, or Experts Exchange wouldn't have a future, right?)

So getting out of the office/cubicle/server room is critical, certainly in an enterprise-sized operation, but even in a smaller organization as well. The less the vice-president for finance's assistant sees the "IT guys" as some kind of mystic, the more likely s/he is to help her/his supervisor understand the true value they bring to the organization; it also doesn't hurt the IT folks from realizing that they don't operate in a vacuum.

Thanks again for your article; it gets a definite YES vote from me.

ep
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by:Jenn Prentice
Matt-
Great article! Thank you for writing it! I'm looking forward to seeing more of your work on EE! Voted "yes" above!
-Jenn
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by:b0lsc0tt
Thanks for the article and info.  It was a great read and very timely.  Thanks for the time to write it and your contribution to EE.
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