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The Number One Reason IT Is Unappreciated (and how to change it)

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There’s a quiet mumbling that occurs in every IT organization across the world. You can only hear if you listen very carefully. It’s the quiet sounds of IT organizations feeling underappreciated.

The C-Suite and many parts of the organization don’t fully understand what IT does so they pile on projects and hold off on praise. The IT team members get frustrated with their workloads and the thankless nature of the job. If you’re an IT leader, then you have seen this from both sides.

You know that most of the organization sees IT only as a support team and IT feels like they are an order taker. When other departments have unrealistic needs or timelines and IT pushes back, they are seen as resisters who are blocking productivity.

The truth is, many people in the organization don’t understand the complexities of IT and IT team members are so overwhelmed with work that they can’t take the time to explain to other departments how they are contributing to the business.

There is one person in every organization who can help IT feel more appreciated: the IT leader.

IT Is unappreciated because IT can’t clearly communicate its wins and how those wins contribute to the business. The responsibility of communicating these wins falls onto the IT leader.

Let’s take a look at what every IT leader can do to help their team feel more appreciated.

1. Claiming IT wins

Most organizations don’t pay any attention to the IT department until something is falling apart. But IT leaders can help spotlight their teams by sharing wins and updates from their department.

This can be easily done with a regular IT update, either monthly or weekly. Send this to the C-suite or to other leaders in the organization. You may stop me right there and say “Well Doug, I already do that and no one seems to care.” So I’m going to ask you how you framed these wins?

Because, unfortunately, it’s not enough to just share your team’s wins. Unlike the sales department, IT wins don’t always directly relate to revenue. The C-Suite may not understand how improving service desk response times connects to business goals.

As the IT leader, you must be willing to learn to connect each of your team’s wins to the organization’s business goals.

Most people don’t really care what you do unless it affects them. This isn’t just in business. This applies to everything in life. Think of it this way. If you live in Indiana, you may not care about a thunderstorm in Miami. But you will care if you have a flight booked to Miami and that thunderstorm is delaying your vacation.

As the leader, you need to show your organization how that thunderstorm in Miami is affecting someone in Indiana.

How does IT impact the rest of the organization’s ability to do their jobs and hit their goals? This is the question you must regularly ask yourself when you are reviewing projects and strategies.

When you view your team’s wins or accomplishments through the scope of the rest of the organization, you can better communicate them to others so that they care about those wins. This brings me to our next point.

2. Speak business language

In this digital day and age, it is required for IT projects to link to business outcomes and value. Most IT leaders use technology terms that business leaders don’t understand and really, don’t care about. IT often communicates backward. IT loves technology and features and think others do as well. But most others in the organization will only care about the benefits and outcomes of using the technology. The function of technology is not the value. The features are not the outcomes. It’s necessary to focus on the outcomes of every project.

Be willing to look at the data of projects from start to finish. Many organizations justify IT projects by citing anticipated revenue increases or advances in customer satisfaction but many are unable to track these successes after the project is completed. Work with other departments to understand how your IT work contributed to their win.

As an exercise, we recommend dividing a piece of paper into three columns. Label the columns features, benefits and outcomes. Then under each project, service or product, break down them down into each category. You’ll be able to develop value-driven messaging when you view your projects through this lens.

3. Get over the fear of self-promotion

Many leaders struggle with self-promotion but it runs rampant in IT. There is no easy way to release this fear other than to recognize that if you cannot clearly explain how your team is winning, no one else will be able to either.

As a leader, when you self-promote, you are doing so for the benefit of your team members. It’s not bragging or selfish. It’s improving your department and it can improve the entire organization.

When your organization works well. the entire organization runs better. Not only that but when you claim your wins, the organization feels more confident in their own wins and can own them as well. 

If promoting your department truly isn’t for you, there is another option. Many organizations have started hiring IT communications specialists to help market the IT department internally. If you don’t have the budget for it, you may want to enlist help from your marketing department to learn how to better market IT.

4. Be visible

A frequent mistake made by IT leaders is they feel they are too busy to participate in interdepartmental meetings.

While it is tempting to choose to do the work over promoting the work, no one will ever know what you and your team is doing if you are too busy to attend the meetings. No one will know what you’re doing if you’re too busy to attend meetings.

If you want a seat at the table, it’s important to act like you want a seat at the table. Of course, you may point out that you don’t get invited to the high-level meetings. Well, if they don’t give you a seat at the table, you can make one.

Connect with other department leads, form alliances when necessary and support other departments in their goals. These other leaders can help act as a champion for IT when you are unavailable.

If you absolutely cannot be visible and have no choice but to remain in your own department, I recommend being active on emails and quick to respond to voicemails.

5. Training your team to do the same

Finally, it’s important that every IT leader teaches their team to communicate their wins and share the business value of IT. Your team can act as IT department evangelists if you empower them to repeat these steps at their level.

When you talk about your services to your team, identify them in terms of business value and outcomes. Encourage your team to share their wins in your team meetings and ask them about the business value of their wins so that they have a better understanding of how to explain their projects.

How can good SM help IT become appreciated?

1. Defining IT services in terms of business value and outcomes. 

Define and describe the business value and results that your business colleagues get from doing their IT business with you. Remember that PCs and smartphones can be obtained anywhere so you need a case for why they need to go through the IT organization. Create a service portfolio that establishes an understanding of how the business is using technology solutions from IT and how that technology contributes to the business outcome

2. Implementing processes that facilitate, not control, getting work done.

Don’t allow your process to kill your productivity. Too many processes are designed and implemented with “control” in mind. Good process design should enable, not constrain, getting things done. Work with your team to evaluate your processes and measure if they are the most effective way to get the work done.

3. Formalize the business relationship management approach.

Business relationship management focuses on the relationship between the IT organization and the business it serves, as well as the level of satisfaction with IT. Proactively building positive, business-like relationship with key stakeholders helps change the perception of IT from “order taker” to “business differentiator”. 

As much as we don’t want to admit it, there’s politics at play in every organization. IT leaders can hide behind their computers and stay overwhelmed or they can learn to step out and own their team’s wins and communicate their teams’ value.

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