For an IT transformation to work, IT’s old image must evolve in the minds of IT leaders, the IT staff, and the C-suite alike, says Joe Topinka.

Whenever I hear another industry analyst's warning about the need for IT to transform, an image pops up in my mind. In this image, a group of old-school doctors (the analysts) wearing white jackets and stethoscopes hanging around their necks stand over a faceless patient (the IT department) and direly pronounce their diagnosis that “IT must transform, or it will die.”

What strikes me about such warnings is that many industry analysts hold IT at arm’s length as they deliver their findings. They don’t typically talk about their own, or the C-suite’s need to change.

A New IT Mindset

For an IT transformation to work, IT’s old image must evolve in the minds of IT leaders, the IT staff, and the C-suite alike. Successful transformation demands that all three groups shift their mindset. This is what I call the "IT Transformation Trifecta."

As an industry, IT has come a long way. Though undeniably, there’s still much to do before we achieve business peer status.

From my own experience, taking a holistic approach is the most effective way to make lasting and impactful change. Focusing only on the IT organization leaves change stranded on an island within the company.

As CIO, it’s crucial that you map out a game-plan that encompasses yourself, your team, and the C-suite. All three groups have operating model assumptions that were formed by old-school actions and behaviors which keep IT progress fenced in.

Here are some ideas for your IT transformation game plan.

1. Yourself

Personal accountability and IT transparency are fundamental to any transformational program. CIOs start the journey by establishing their ground game here.

Personal Accountability. For IT to become a business peer, everything starts with you, the CIO. Adopt a philosophy of personal accountability where you answer to the outcomes of your choices and actions. When you encounter problems, resist the temptation to discuss the issue with everyone else at the watercooler and instead, take them straight to the people involved. Be the person known for gathering and then acting on facts rather than the office storyteller who only spins their wheels.

Transparency. Make it easy for your business peers outside of IT to engage in projects. Collaborate on investment decision criteria and make projects visible to anyone across the company. For example, post active project updates on your company intranet. (For more on this, see my blog Make Transparency a Core Competency).

2. Your IT Team

Help your team get out of their own way on the quest for business peer status. To set IT on the right path, teach your team to think and act like business leaders.

Language. Teach your team to stop sidelining IT with their language. Stop marginalizing yourselves by referring to internal departments as your “customers” or any group outside of IT as “the business”. Drop geek speak outside of the IT department and instead, start speaking the language of business as a deliberate step toward becoming business peers.

Connect the Dots. Ensure that every team member understands and can articulate the company’s business and strategy. Connect the dots on active projects to show how IT initiatives drive strategy, impact external customers, and define customer engagement.

Open. Make sure your team, especially your Business Relationship Managers, transparently shares the successes and failures of all projects company wide – just like all the other business units do.

3. The C-suite

Too many C-suite executives don’t know enough about IT. Get them to dive in and play a significant role in IT’s transformation by having the executive team hold IT accountable for top or bottom-line results. Once they get more involved, their example will reinforce the idea that IT is a business peer and should be treated just like the rest of the company.

 "Project successes and failures have to become everyone’s responsibility."

Engagement. Executives have to take an active role in understanding how IT shapes customer engagement, and how it adds value by enabling the company’s strategic goals. As a project sponsor, they need to know the status of projects and the major issues and risks. When they do, people around the company will follow suit, thus sending the message that IT projects are relevant.

Reciprocal Incentives. Most executives long for the day when teams collaborate. Encourage executives to champion incentive programs where cross-functional teams have each other’s goals in their plans (e.g. include sales department goals in IT incentive plans and conversely, IT project goals in the sales team’s incentive plans).

Set an Example. Executives that lead by example don’t tolerate useless judging. They understand that when people are judging, they aren’t leading and teams aren’t tackling problems head on. Executives must set a course where the “IT blame game” becomes a thing of the past. Project successes and failures have to become everyone’s responsibility.

IT transformation is inevitable, just like change is for all companies and roles. But don’t think that an IT shake-up is only about the IT department. The IT Transformation Trifecta requires CIOs to get committed personally first, and then draw in their IT organization and executive team. Change is hard and you’ll hit some bumps on the way, but fight the temptation to play the blame game.

transform IT

Once the transformation begins taking shape, executives and team members will take notice and it’s likely that the company’s financial results will improve too. As the trifecta evolves, everyone will recognize IT as the business peer it is.

IT transformation

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