IT departments are famous for creating enormous value no one understands. Only 4% of IT leaders surveyed last year described their teams’ communication with non-IT colleagues as “highly effective”, and according to CIO magazine, communication between IT and non-IT professionals is in a state of crisis. Poor communication is problematic because it widens the gap between the business perception of the value IT provides and the actual value IT provides, and ultimately negatively impacts the perception of IT.
While most IT departments are proactively deploying and optimizing cutting-edge tools to help their businesses run more effectively and provide positive user experiences, most non-IT people think IT exists only to reactively fix things that are broken.
If you ask people around your organization about IT, you’re not likely to hear much that’s positive. We were recently in Las Vegas for a convention and asked every person we interacted with to tell us the first word that came to mind when we said “IT” – taxi drivers, restaurant servers, bartenders, etc. The responses spanned adjectives such as “dull” to “nerdy” to “complicated” to “alone in a dark basement.” The perception of IT among all of these non-IT people was the exact opposite of what IT, at its best, can and should be: “innovative,” “collaborative,” and “transformative.”
This disconnect exists because IT departments typically lack the effective communication strategies and communication skills to help them articulate the tremendous value they provide to non-IT people. In order to improve the perception of your IT department and improve communication with non-IT colleagues:
1. Communicate the “Why”
As we know from Simon Sinek, people care less about what you do than why you’re doing it. The best way to generate enthusiasm around your IT project and improve the perception of your IT department is to clearly and consistently communicate the “why” behind your IT project and the business outcomes it will deliver.
We recently gathered 10 key client project stakeholders and asked each of them to write down what they were trying to accomplish with their IT project. These stakeholders were all working on the same IT project, and all had different answers. These answers weren’t wrong, but each stakeholder had his/her own idea about the project’s purpose and value to the business. When everyone has a different idea of the “why”, expectations become impossible to manage and the project is almost certain to suffer – as is your colleagues’ perception of the value of what you’re doing.
When the “why” is clear, you can align stakeholders to the vision of your project, break down communication silos that inhibit your ability to drive value, and more clearly articulate the value you’re providing back to the business.
2. Keep the “What” Simple
Information technology is complex, but it doesn’t need to be communicated in a complex way. By moving away from technical terminology (ie. “we’re installing a new back-end system”) and communicating business outcomes instead (ie. “you’ll be able to track the status of your tickets”), business and non-IT people will be able to understand your message and the value you’re providing.
Using tribal language common to IT departments, complete with many indecipherable acronyms, makes it nearly impossible for colleagues without technical knowledge to understand what you’re saying. For example, “We just deployed a new CMDB and integrated it with our ITSM and BSM systems in order to improve MTTR and our SLO’s to you.” …Come again?
From the point of view of employees in non-IT departments, this kind of language creates an impression that IT colleagues aren’t working on “my” stuff, they’re working on “their” stuff – tech things that don’t really relate to the business as a whole. In reality, just about everything IT does should be “ours” and relevant to everyone. For this reason, we need to keep our “what” simple and free of IT jargon in order to assure all departments that IT goals are aligned with business goals.
3. Build your Elevator Pitch
Building a simple, overarching message about your project that all stakeholders can understand is a powerful tool for driving interest and enthusiasm for what you’re doing.
A good elevator pitch should be simple, compelling, and brief. Develop your pitch in advance and commit to spending a little time on it since you’ll likely go through several iterations before settling on the final version.
Just like all your communication with non-IT colleagues, your pitch should focus on the business outcomes that your project or idea will deliver, not the technical wizardry that will make it happen. Your pitch should also identify the “unique selling proposition” of your project – that is, the thing that makes what you’re doing unique to your organization, or gives your business or your colleagues a singular advantage.
4. Develop a Strong Communication Strategy
There is a huge difference between having a project communication plan and a project communication strategy.
Most “communication plans” we see boil down to twice-a-week meetings with key stakeholders to discuss the status of the project. These meetings are important, but they’re project management meetings – and as such, they’re focused on the “what.”
A communication strategy goes beyond key stakeholders and status reports. Business people want to know about the “why” and the “how” – Why does the customer need to achieve what the project team plans to deliver? How will desired outcomes be achieved? What risks stand in the way of achieving desired outcomes?
In order to build a comprehensive and effective communication strategy, you must consider all target audiences and all possible communication tactics. Such tactics may include posters, e-mails, a page on the corporate intranet, training sessions, departmental open houses, etc. to explain the value of your solution in language business people will understand.
The state of communication between IT professionals and everyone else may be in crisis in many organizations, but it need not be that way in yours. By clearly and consistently communicating the business goals of your next IT project, you can align all stakeholders to the same vision and expected business outcomes, and improve the perception of the value your IT department is delivering. That’s how you accomplish IT success.
Reach out for a deeper conversation about how your team can communicate their ideas, so the tools you deploy are broadly adopted and drive lasting value.