Are You Winning the IT Participation Trophy?

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IT has gotten a bad rap in the past and I think it’s partially deserved. There are still far too many IT leaders just willing to phone it in. That’s an old way of leading IT and it’s about winning the participation trophy.

You do know what the “participation trophy” is, right?

The participation trophy is often awarded to each player on a youth sports team. It recognizes that the team member showed up to most of the practices and most of the games.

And while that may be an accomplishment, it doesn’t mean (at the risk of being harsh) that anything was won or accomplished. It doesn’t represent an outstanding contribution.

It only means that a player showed up.

Many organizations recognize that IT leaders need to be business leaders who are actively working with the rest of the organization to drive value. Many IT leaders have accepted the challenge and are the business leaders that their organizations need. However, there are still traces of the old way of leading IT around some IT organizations.

Here are the signs that the old way of leading IT is present in your organization.

6 Signs You’re Only Winning the IT Participation Trophy

You measure and publish outputs instead of outcomes
Crossing things off a to-do list and checking off the tasks that IT accomplishes isn’t enough. Everyone produces outputs. Anyone can check off tasks. But the IT leader of today is the one who understands how those outputs lead to the outcomes that drive the business forward.

IT works in a silo

Today’s IT organization can no longer be just a support department. If you’re only working within IT in near-isolation from other departments, then you’re continuing the mistakes of the CIO of the past. IT includes more than technology these days. You can’t simply show up for the technology aspects of business initiatives. Today’s IT is about co-creating value, enabling flow across the entire organization, and leading innovation. IT leaders must work with the rest of the organization on initiatives from start to finish.

Everyone is an adversary

If you see fellow employees as customers and not colleagues, then you’re winning the IT participation trophy. Not everyone is against IT like so many CIOs have believed in the past. Modern CIOs view other departments and leaders within the company as allies. Even when these people have feedback about IT that is hard to hear, you need to treat them as allies who can help you elevate IT. If they didn’t care about your success, they wouldn’t be sharing that difficult feedback.

You’re always playing defense

CIOs holding the participation trophy are always playing defense. They are too worried about protecting themselves from criticism and keeping prying eyes away from IT to be truly effective.

Today’s great CIO now plays offense. They are continually innovating and looking for ways to improve IT, even if that means on occasion having to accept some tough feedback or criticism. They know that experimenting from a position of knowledge, learning from mistakes, and being responsive is more important than protecting IT from criticism.

You selectively use – or avoid – data

Whether it’s good or bad — you need to rely on the data of your IT organization. Picking up the IT participation trophy means you’re focused on what looks good for IT and how you can shine the best light on IT. This means you avoid the data that can show you where you need to fill in the gaps or where you’re leaking value.

You’re on the sidelines in business decisions

IT has traditionally been seen as a support department. Some CIOs are content for it to stay that way, passively accepting whatever the business asks of them, and never really taking an active role in the larger organization-wide initiatives.

Give Up the IT Participation Trophy

If any of this sounds familiar to you, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is there’s plenty of opportunities to give up these bad habits and say goodbye to perpetually winning the participation trophy. The bad news is that you’re going to have to make these changes quickly because technology is evolving by the day and organizations need involved and innovative IT leaders.

So if you want to be more than a participant and instead, be a leader, it starts with changing your own mindset around the power of IT and your own role in IT. Technology plays a vital role in organizations these days and as an IT leader, you have to play just as big of a role. This might mean ditching some previously held beliefs about your role or the way IT has been managed. If you find yourself thinking “but we’ve always done it this way,” that’s a sign that you’re holding onto that participation trophy a little too tightly.

But with a shift of your mindset, you can take the actions that will shift the mindset of those around you. Slowly but surely, you’ll stop winning the participation trophy and instead start your campaign to win the MVP.

Learn more about becoming an innovative CIO by downloading the CIO’s Guide to Navigating Shifting Priorities, which is a bundle of 3 of my most popular webinars for the CIOs who want to advance their organizations in the next 12 months.

Download the CIO’s Guide to Navigating Shifting Priorities.  

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