13 Jul Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the mosh pit
Recently, it seems like lots of folks are bemoaning the fallen state of IT. I’ve come to lump these conversations in the “Dear Abby” bucket. Admit it. You’ve read at least one Dear Abby column that starts something like “When we started our relationship it was so exciting. Now we hardly ever talk and everything I do seems to make him angry…” That’s a passably accurate description of how many IT shops view their position within their organizations.
We’re far enough past the dot bomb and far enough into the economic recovery to pause and examine where IT stands. We hear a lot of talk about the strategic value of IT, chants of becoming full business partners and full operatic choirs of consultants singing about the economic wonders of best practice IT organizations. But let’s face it. When it comes to doing cool new things, if executives ask IT to be involved up front—and that’s a big if—it’s because they feel they have to, not because they want to.
We could hope for some CIO to waltz in, search for some sympathetic business executive or wait on some other common business-rescue fantasy. But the stature of IT and its relationships with the rest of the organization are at least partly in our hands. In dealing with people trapped in unsatisfying and even destructive relationships, Dr. Harriet Lerner, noted psychologist, uses the concept of a relationship as a dance between partners. As in dancing, if one of the partners changes his or her steps in the relationship, the other partner is forced to change their pattern of steps as well. In changing relationships, Dr. Lerner suggests we start by looking within rather than trying to change our chosen partners.
This is not a suggestion that IT work to become a more perfect martyr for the random whims and shortcomings that exist in every organization. Looking within is not the same as doing nothing visible. I’ve seen too many customer service initiatives and service level agreements that just formalize and measure the dysfunction in an organization rather than create real change to cure it These kinds of efforts are usually started unilaterally by IT or forced upon it from outside the shop. The fatal flaw in this approach is that business relationships, like personal relationships, are not the sole creation of one partner or the other. The relationship, like a dance, is a shared product of all who participate.
Before you start your next customer service initiative, before you write your next service level agreement, take some time to understand how your organization contributes to the problems it is experiencing. Understand how your processes haven’t kept up with changes in the business or have mutated far beyond their original purposes. Uncover the mismatches between capabilities and needs for your IT shop and for the organization it is a part of. Cutting-edge IT in a company aiming for competitive parity isn’t a winning strategy and neither is the reverse. Figure out where negative behavior is being rewarded and remember that compensation is only the tip of the reward iceberg. Your attention, your mention of staff in certain circles or even just leaving them alone may all feel like rewards to your staff. If you can’t figure out why a negative behavior pays off to the individual exhibiting it, you’ll have a hard time changing it.
The good news embedded in the relationship-as-dance metaphor is that IT does have some control over the outcome. The more challenging news is that the control is not absolute. Changing IT relationships is not just a matter of will and discipline. It requires patience, cooperation and a willingness to acknowledge one’s self as culpable. A sense of humor doesn’t hurt, either. No relationship will go from mosh pit to Fred and Ginger in one smooth, linear process. But you learn to dance by dancing, not by listening to the critics. So start the music and see what happens.
Byron Glick is a principal at Prairie Star Consulting, LLC, a planning and program development consulting firm in Madison, Wisconsin. He can be contacted via the e-mail at byron.glick@prairiestarc onsulting.com or via telephone at 608/345-3958.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.