I was recently asked to comment on how an IT manager can most effectively build partnerships with the business side of the company. Having a very technical background and a business background as well, I have had the benefit of sitting on both sides of the fence. To the IT director, the IT department is the heart and soul of the company; without IT the company would grind to a halt. To the rest of the business, IT is often looked at as a necessary evil. They don’t really understand what IT does, and they often don’t care. They just want their computers to run quickly, their printers to print, and they want their reports to contain accurate data that they need to get their jobs done. This dual perspective can create tension between IT and the rest of the company, with IT feeling unappreciated and the other departments feeling that they are at the mercy of IT.
For an IT director to be successful, he or she needs to bridge the gap between the technical side of the house and the operations side.
The following are some techniques that an IT director can use:
1. Foster relationships with all department heads. You don’t want your only interaction with other departments to consist solely of break/fix situations. Go to lunch with them and socialize with them with the occasion arises. Don’t be invisible.
2. Keep consistent communication flowing from the IT department. Consider an inter-company monthly newsletter. Use the newsletter as an opportunity to tell a bit about what your department is doing – what patches are being deployed, what’s the latest virus threat, how they should report issues to IT, and so forth. Each month consider what the most common question was posed to your IT staff, and talk about it in the newsletter. This education will help ward off future calls: Think prevention.
3. Train your IT people in the soft-skills area. The stereotype of an IT person is intelligent, but arrogant and with little social skills. Teach your staff to be friendly and smile, and teach them to have patience with the end users in your organization. Scoffing at someone because they don’t know how to use a command prompt won’t gain you any friends – or any respect. If your company has core values, make sure everyone lives them.
4. If your IT department makes a mistake, own up to it. Don’t hide behind technical jargon or blame a vendor – apologize for the mistake, explain what happened, and explain what you are doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again. No one expects you to be perfect, don’t act like you are.
If you establish a solid relationship with departments outside of IT, you will find them much more open to working with you through the problems that will arise, you will find it easier to get budgets approved, and you just might have more fun.
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