IT’s Relationships

Over many years of consulting primarily for IT organizations I have noticed a pattern into which most IT groups fall.  They have poor or even contentious relationships – with internal customers, vendors, and sometimes even between groups within IT.

And most IT people will say, “So?  What we are supposed to do is technical stuff, relationships shouldn’t matter.”

Maybe relationships shouldn’t matter, but they do.  Unfortunately, I have seen superb technical organizations which are perceived by their internal customers as incompetent.  They are doing all of the right “technical stuff” — they have 99.99% system availability, clean databases, virus-free LANs, capable help-desks and a responsive network — but they are still perceived as incompetent because they have failed to build and maintain good relationships.

Some IT execs have also noticed this and as a result there is a great deal of IT executive coaching focused on improving relationship skills.  Many executive search consultants and their clients have also started evaluating an IT exec’s “soft skills” and fit with the corporate culture during the selection process.

But having a relationship-savvy exec heading IT is not enough to change the perception of IT as an un-caring bunch of propeller-heads.  To change the entire IT organization requires three things:

  1. One person in the organization accountable for IT’s relationships, both internal and external, reporting directly to the CIO
  2. Measurement and reward focused on relationship building and maintenance
  3. Training, coaching and mentoring focused on building “soft skills” across the entire IT organization so that every IT person is doing “relationship management” as part of his/her job

Being an IT leader has become more complex.  Not only do you need to know technology and stay on top of trends and advances, you also need to know the industry your IT organization is part of and how you can best align IT with  business needs.  Now some consultant is telling you that you also need to have relationship building and management skills.  And not only do you need to have these skills, but everyone in your organization needs them and you need a direct report to manage all of your organization’s relationships.

It would be human nature to shrug this off.  It is just too much to cope with and you need to stay focused on technology and business.  But the truth is if you want to take your organization to that next level of achievement, if you want them to be viewed as intelligent, capable, business-savvy and focused on customer-service, then relationships have to matter. You and your entire organization have to build and maintain good relationships with your counterparts in the business and contacts at the vendors.  All great IT organizations have figured this out.  It is what distinguishes them from the merely good IT organizations.

Yes, I understand, relationships shouldn’t matter, but they do.

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