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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