Value. As I have mentioned many times in my previous articles the role of IT teams is to use technology to deliver value to their organisation. One of the biggest challenges to the delivery of IT value is that delivering value through technology is a cooperative act between IT and other teams across the organisation. While every team is dependant on others to some extent, no team is so dependant on effective cooperation as IT. Why? Because IT value is not delivered within IT. IT value is delivered across the business when capabilities developed by IT are used. Value in use. This is largely unique within an organisation. To be sure all teams are dependant on others to some extent but most teams have much more control of the value they are producing within their team than an IT team does.
This interdependence, which IT has on other teams, means that to be successful IT teams need to operate predominantly through peer to peer influence rather than through direct management and leadership. As a result ensuring your team can work effectively across the organisation is a critical component of your ability to deliver value and get to the top of the IT Hierarchy of Needs. Unfortunately, it is a very rare IT team indeed that has widespread influencing skills within their team. Let’s face it, influencing others is not a skill that comes naturally to a lot of IT people.
We shouldn’t be surprised by this, after all IT has always been full of introverts and most people do not go into technology because of their love and desire to be with others. In fact, for many it is exactly the opposite. We are attracted to technology because we find solace in our own company and often enjoy the logical challenge of working out solutions to problems on our own. This problem solving skill, sometimes wrapped in superb creativity, is one of the superpowers that many IT people are blessed with. But it comes at a cost. While our very best technical people are awesome problem solvers they sometimes struggle to effectively communicate with their non IT business peers.
Let’s face it, IT has a language all of its own and when we talk to non IT people we tend to use this IT language. Most of our customers, the users of our IT services, don’t understand this IT language and as a result we often come off as geeks that don’t understand business. Needed geeks, after all IT has to keep the business running, but largely irrelevant.
To make matters worse, our business people are being constantly sold to by well funded professional IT sales teams. These sales teams, usually full of extroverts, have been taught the arcane arts of influence and persuasion. They have money to burn and can paint a very rosy picture of what the new world will look like if our customers buy their product. Shadow IT is born as our business begin to work around us and do their own thing. We struggle to compete because we’re not sales guys and we don’t have the budgets and resources or training that they do. What to do?
There are many things that you can and should do to improve your team’s influencing skills including investing in influence training for your teams, however as a starting point consider this. If you want to “sell” your ideas successfully it helps enormously if you use the other team’s language. A simple way to do this is to capture any proposal we wish to make in a value proposition.
A value proposition comes in three simple parts:
- A definition of the business issue or opportunity that we wish to address. A business issue or opportunity can take many different forms from processes that cost too much to opening up new markets or additional customer groups. An example might be a company who has traditionally focused on wholesale markets looking to grow their business by selling direct to the retail marketplace. They believe if they do this they can grow their sales and their margins. If technology can support them to do this (through an online sales process for example) then IT enabled value will accrue to the company.
- An outline of the proposed solution that will address the issue or opportunity (including options if appropriate).
- A definition of the benefits (and costs) that will flow from addressing the issue with the prefered solution. Look to the six sources of value when seeking to identify benefits. While you should never start with the proposed technology solution when presenting a value proposition you can change the order to suit your audience. If your CEO is “all about the money” you may wish to provide only a very high level introduction to the issue, then outline the benefits that are possible by addressing the issue, as this is what they will be most interested in. If, on the other hand, you are presenting to the COO and they are primarily concerned that any change is the right change and done the right way, then you will likely go into a significant amount of detail to define the issue and then show how the proposed solution will deliver this for them and then follow up with the benefits. Either way, in developing your value proposition you may want to think of it as a thoughtfully purchased and beautifully presented gift, it needs to be tailored to the recipient.
You may recognise this as the basis of traditional business cases and it is. The key is to keep focused on the business problem / opportunity and the benefits that will accrue rather than being predominantly a detailed technical explanation of the solution. Too many business cases today provide detailed explanations of the technical solution and as little business context as possible. Being business relevant demands that this balance needs to change. The focus is on identification of the business issues and benefits that will accrue from addressing the issue.
In the end if we become influential we deliver substantial value to our organisations. Recent research shows that digital leaders generate 30% more profitability than their industry peers. This is not possible without having a high performing IT team that is led by highly influential IT gurus. But better yet is the personal gain for highly influential IT guru’s. They build better relationships with their business peers, are consistently recognised for their expertise and contributions, and they get to do cooler projects and play with great technology that delivers value. A win for everyone.