Moving In The Right Direction
A glimpse into the book, Get Out of I.T. While You Can.
For the purposes of an imaginary exercise, randomly choose someone in your IT organization and picture them in your mind. This could be you or anyone at any level within the ITO. You could also choose someone from HR, finance, administration, marketing, or sales for that matter.
Do you have someone in mind?
Now imagine your CEO grabbing that person in the hallway at work and saying, “I really need your help! A group of prospective customers is here for a tour of our organization, and we would really like to get their business. I was supposed to give the tour, but an emergency came up, and I have to leave. Would you please give them the tour and overview of our organization? “Don’t stress,” she says assuringly. “They will probably just ask you some basic questions. You know questions like,
- who does and doesn’t your company serve?
- Compared to your competition, what are your company’s core competencies? Why do you think the client experience here is better than the competition?
- How does your industry measure excellence, and how do you rate?
- What will be the main differences five years from now in your organization?
- Oh, you are in IT? What are you doing to drive your company’s strategy and client experience?
- How is your company innovating or investing in the future to ensure long-term viability?
“You know that kind of stuff. Thank you, thank you, thank you,” the CEO continues as she heads down the hall. You hear in the distance a final remark, “Thank goodness everyone is in sales. It will be great for us to get this business.” No pressure, right? As you take your candidate through this exercise, how did the tour aspect go? Consider the following questions:
- Did he or she clearly know the facilities and charters of each department?
- How strong and succinct was the answer content for the questions asked by the prospects?
- How well did they differentiate your offering in comparison to the competitions (without bad-mouthing the competition)?
- Prospects don’t buy your products and services; they buy your belief in your products and services. Did your candidate have enough understanding, belief, and enthusiasm to close the deal?
What a great litmus test! This helps identify where individuals are on the Little i/Big I scale. The CEO’s comment, “Everyone is in sales,” should be true to a great extent. To be in sales, you have to believe in your market offering in comparison to the competition. I know many professionals do not see this as part of their job, just as many see their occupation as a job instead of a career. It is interesting how many highly competitive people do not see their role as helping their employer compete.
Moving to the right side of the Little i/Big I scale is an effort that could pay handsome dividends, not just create more homework. Those who strive to understand the rationale behind their organization’s strategy, purpose, and competitive stance enjoy their work more while driving more value. It feels like less to deliver more.
We cannot live better than in seeking to become better. —Socrates
IT individuals can drive and sell their organization. I asked for a tour of Quad/Graphics from one of my contacts in their IT department. Quad/Graphics is the third-largest printing company in the United States, having about $4.764 billion in revenues. I was interested in a tour not because of my background in IT, but as a CEO who wanted to understand what made Quad/Graphics so successful. I was measuring its success by both its continual recognition as one of the best places to work and its consistent growth.
My tour guide was Steve Jaeger, the VP of Information Technology & Infrastructure. As we walked around one of their locations, I got an overview of all that transpires, seeing raw materials transform into products just as they arrive at the readers’ doors. As I looked at their finished products, it seemed that just about every magazine on earth must be printed by them. My tour guide enthusiastically showed me how “Quad” was innovating to improve printing and logistics within its industry. He clearly understood the role of all areas of the organization. He shared how all areas toured were yielding distinctive competitive advantages. I then asked him, “How is IT innovating to yield competitive advantages?” Without skipping a beat, he said, “It’s all about data! IT is very strategic here; in fact, we even generate revenues: QuadData Solutions has revenues of about $12 million. We have developed ink-jetting solutions so our customers can individualize literature for their clients. We have developed integrated publishing solutions which help our clients’ ‘publishing teams’ collaborate better. We help drive production planning, advertising, and production management, and give our clients significantly better decisional data.” Steve then shared that their Quad/Tech division developed solutions that their competitors were buying from them. What a validation of competitive advantage it is when competitors or peers buy products you have developed internally. I love going on organizational tours, and this was one of my favorites. I saw a culture that educates and innovates all over the company. Over time I have met several people within Quad’s ITO. It came to mind that although I was fortunate to have Steve as my guide; many other professionals within their IT organization could have given a great tour as well. Everyone I met was excited about how they are improving printing and service of their clients.
Moving in the Right Direction Doesn’t Take Much
In my last conversation with my friend, Charlie, I shared with him the “best you in your employer’s industry” concept. (For those readers who don’t know Charlie, he is my fictional character I use throughout my book, Get out of I.T. While You Can.) I challenged him to see the human-need purpose his employer served. I let him know that changing one’s mindset from a being a Little i to a Big I isn’t that hard, but it takes a little commitment and time. Charlie tried to stump me. “If I get out of IT and into my industry, who is going to do my job and support my infrastructure? My users?” I was glad he asked this important question. He assumed that I was telling him to get out of his role. I was not. Being a little more industry focused can be life-altering but doesn’t need to be world-shattering. Recognize in the analogy I use in Chapter Two of my book about how the ditch digger and the hospital builder are doing the same job. I replied to Charlie, “You will do your job for now.” Moving to the right requires as little as 20 to 30 minutes a week. Schedule it in whatever calendar system you use. In Get Out of I.T. While You Can, the “while you can” means it is necessary to have regularly scheduled time to get into your employer’s purpose, strategy, and industry. There are some fundamental assignments that you should impose on yourself. Don’t wait for your boss to tell you – remember, leadership happens at all levels. To ensure that you are at least in Middle I territory, tackle the Mid-I list:
- Read your annual report. (Week One)
- Study your strategic plan. (Week Two)
- Make your own list of things that need to evolve in IT to drive the strategy. (Week Three)
- Review your Website and marketing collateral. (Week Three)
- Discuss findings and/or suggestions for improvement to colleagues.
Then move on to competitive landscape, market leaders, and best practices.
- Look at your primary competitors’ Website, annual reports, and strategic implications. How they are using IT to drive better client experience or increased market share? Remember, if you don’t think it is your responsibility to help compete, you won’t.
- Look at industry-leading peers’ Websites, annual reports, and strategic implications. Don’t be shy about getting inspired by a market leader. Pablo Picasso once said: “Invent as a last resort: Good artists borrow, great artists steal.”
- How are these organizations using IT to drive better client experience or increased market share?
- Ask your vendors, “What should we start, stop, or think about doing to be great in our industry?” Most vendors are “verticalizing” by industry segment, and if they have both a clue and a backbone, they will have some suggestions for improving your priorities.
- Google “IT best practices” in areas that need improvement. It is humorous how many great ideas are yours for the asking.
- Consider joining an industry IT affiliation organization.
- Job shadow customer-facing staff. This should happen periodically. Good people with good intent can defend the way they do something. And once they see and hear customers, they become open and innovative. At Mayo Clinic, IT staff job shadows 911 operators, receiving and admitting, and even surgeries. Then they are chartered with innovating, no matter how small, to improve their delivery.
- Ask a customer about his or her client experience. What should you start, stop, or think about doing to serve their purpose better? (This can be done continually over time.)
- Examine which IT services are most important to driving your company’s business. (This can also be done continually.)
- Finally, share, share, and share your evolving perceptions with colleagues. Leadership happens at every level. No matter what your role, you should lead by example.
We are talking about a choice. Those professionals who have the best quality of life, add the most value, and grow the most, choose these meaningful charters. They choose to set specific, time-bound goals to accomplish relevant objectives. Believe me, the Mid-I checklist is relevant. Getting to your desired state is your choice.
You Have a Responsibility
If you are in charge of employee reviews, then assign these exercises. You have a wonderful responsibility to help your employees grow personally and professionally. Assign these exercises, and then organize a small group discussion to discuss how your department can drive more business value or competitive advantage. Conversely, if you are going into your annual review with your boss, establish specific goals ahead of time. Go in prepared to discuss purpose, strategy, the competitive landscape, and tasks you should start, stop, or think about doing. I don’t just want you to understand your company and how you can help drive strategy, but how you can help your company compete in its peer group. This is where you can add great value. As I previously acknowledged, a career path for today’s IT professional can be void of business training. Diligently completing these exercises can offer you an education beyond that of many of today’s business graduates. You will soon be in a position to help drive strategy and competitive stance.
To move in the right direction and get into your industry, visit www.getoutofit.net.
Recommended reading: Get Out of I.T. While You Can: A Guide to Excellence for People in I.T. By Craig Schiefelbein
The Second Renaissance
Terrorism and natural disasters notwithstanding, now is the best time to be alive. There is no shortage of people who romanticize about life during the Renaissance. Yet today we exist in a second renaissance where possibilities for innovation and advantage are endless. Gutenberg’s press catalyzed the original renaissance. Information and ideas could be shared faster than ever before. Entrepreneurs of that era were able to spark economic prosperity like never before – not just writers, but anyone interested in advancing themselves. People could learn from broader range of resources as well as each other’s mistakes. We are now in the second renaissance. Anyone with initiative can advance themselves easier than ever before. The overbuilding of infrastructure (which sank companies like Enron and MCI) has given as many as four billion people access to the Internet. Libraries and industrial research are accessible to anyone with a Web browser. For example, when I searched Google for “IT Help Desk Best Practices,” I received 8,300,000 articles in .21 seconds. This technology enables us to research, learn from others’ mistakes, collaborate, and possibly spark original ideas. Unlimited business opportunities are available for those with the enterprise to do so. I think another variable that makes this renaissance more beautiful is that there is less prejudice in it. I would like to think that this ugly issue doesn’t exist, but that would be naïve. I do believe, though, that there is more equality now than there was in the last renaissance. As a result, good and righteous ideas from anywhere have greater possibility of finding a home. This is an important improvement. I am convinced that three hundred years from now, people will be discussing the victors of the second renaissance. There will be countless stories of entrepreneurs who leveraged these resources to their maximum benefit. This opportunity is yours. By opportunity, I don’t necessarily mean that you have to search online for a new career or company. You can use this resource to find ways to add more value to your present job. The benefits will come. One can certainly argue that there is too much information out there to navigate. I would side with that argument; however, that is no justification for the discontent to become complacent. The same discontented individuals who are criticizing the work ethic of youth today have a laptop that can get them to a better livelihood if they exhibit a little work ethic right now.
1) Moving in the right direction requires committing to concrete goals. As you review the suggestions of the Mid-I list, also answer the questions below. First come questions about your organization. Next are questions about its competitive landscape. Remember to assign yourself these questions when you are preparing for a review. Are you ready to give the company tour to key prospects?
- Who is our target customer base?
- What need are we trying to fulfill?
- Independent of price, what gives us a loyal customer base?
- What are our two to three distinctive competencies or competitive advantages? What about our organization would we like to be industry leading in 36 months?
- How big do we want to be in 36 months? (Consider geographic trading area, revenues, employees, etc.)
- What does my company need or want to make this happen? What are our biggest obstacles to success?
- Does the IT organization understand how they are contributing to our company’s/clients’ strategic vision?
- What is our 30-second elevator pitch (commercial) to give to a prospective client?
Competitive Landscape/Industry Questions
2) Who is our primary competition?
- How are they applying IT to create a great customer experience?
- How are they applying IT to control costs or mitigate risks?
- What can be learned by comparing our organization to theirs (both the ITO and the entire organization)?
3) Who is the market leader in our industry?
- What are their specific competencies?
- What are their competitive advantages?
- Independent of price, how are they trying to create a loyal customer base?
- What are their weaknesses?
- Assume the IT organization of a “market leader” has a clear vision; what do we suppose theirs is?
- How are they applying IT to create great customer experience?
- How are they applying IT to control cost or mitigate risks?
- What can be learned by comparing our organization to theirs (entire and ITO specific)?
- How can we share lessons learned with colleagues?