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IT leadership -- let's get our act together

I’ve been consulting to organizations for many years now. To the point that I’ve probably worked with, in some capacity or another, well over 100 different companies and IT leadership teams. They’ve ranged from regional banks to global manufacturers to massive federal government agencies. Some have been privately held while others were publicly traded and they’ve covered a variety of industries. In addition, I’ve been fortunate to have been engaged in various international events and efforts. So, I’ve worked with a fairly broad spectrum of companies out there.


In all of these entities, I’ve seen some unique traits certainly. There is usually a common thread that is rarely stated or acknowledged in public by the vast majority, however. This common but many times unspoken sentiment is: “We really need to get our act together”. It many times also comes in the form of: “If we could only get out of our way”.  Most people within the organizations I’ve worked with know the problems their companies are facing. In many cases, they also know what’s needed to help fix them. What does this mean, though if the people on the ground know the problems and to some degree, how to fix them?

A company who has active projects to improve various operational processes like change or incident management would seem to be aware of what they need to fix and/or improve, right? In some cases it’s true, but in most others, these efforts target the symptoms and not the sickness. For example, poor compliance with associating the correct asset to an incident ticket generally falls under incident management metrics. But what if the real problem is the asset management group, which regularly corrupts the inventory lists, which undermines all downstream processes? And worse, what if that manager has been unable to lock in the necessary budget to improve their discovery tools and governance processes. Who is to blame for this: the incident management team, asset management team or their respective IT leadership who haven’t grasped the interdependencies and refuse to fund the foundational components?

The problem is at the top

For many companies, the problem lies in a lack of IT leadership. They don’t set and then fund a vision that will enable foundational corrections in their organizations. Sometimes it’s because this change isn’t the new shiny object; other times, they’re just not in tune with the reality of their organizational needs. Lower-level management typically can fund and direct process level projects. They cannot, however, set the direction or vision for the broader IT operations organization. That is IT leadership’s responsibility. This leaves department managers and supervisors to do the best they possibly can with spot solutions that fix immediate needs but rarely solidify the footings upon which everything else rests.

3D renders of an old compass with different textsIt’s important to understand the difference between leaders and managers. The way I like describing it is that leaders are like compasses that guide you in the right direction and adjust that direction as needed.
The managers are the task masters that hold the stopwatch and ensure things get done and on time. We need both of these roles actively engaged in our environments. Together is how organizations prosper and enable positive business outcomes.

What now?

The solution is actually pretty straightforward in theory. In execution, of course, it turns out to be more difficult than people expect. That’s what I work on with my clients so that they set reasonable expectations. As leaders, even if we don’t do it well, we know that we need to communicate and enable the strategic vision. We fail often though in our follow through.  As IT leaders, we need to make sure that we support those who are trying to deliver the tactical steps. True leaders don’t show up to a kickoff meeting to say how important the effort is and then never engage again. As IT leaders, we can’t promote conflicting projects that unknowingly undermine the vision we just set. We must do better.

We need to be smarter in our actions not just our words. The disarray is visible to the employees and they have the right to be frustrated. The good ones also have the opportunity to leave, which hurts the organization. When you live in the trenches, you understand what needs to get done to achieve the corporate goals. You also recognize when you’re wasting your time and need to move on. Let’s get our act together and help them so that everyone benefits. It’s the only way to help our organizations prosper while our employees grow.