IT Leadership Challenge #3: Misalignment with Business

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This blog is the third entry in Sofbang’s on-going blog series, The IT Leader’s Pain Management Guide. In each post, we’re exploring one of the top challenges facing IT directors, CIOs, CTOs, and other technology leaders, diagnosing each problem in full and exploring the industry’s most popular and effective treatment options.

Diagnosing the Pain – Why Business & IT Fall Out of Step

A strong business is like a well-made watch. Each team, department, or division is a gear or spring, tasked with doing a specific job that supports overall operations.

When any one piece of a watch’s clockwork movement is broken or functioning incorrectly, it impacts the overall timepiece’s ability to do its job because the individual pieces are fundamentally interconnected. Similarly, when any department sags or falls out of alignment with the overall company mission and goals, business growth is stunted.

How Senior Leadership Unintentionally Harms IT-Business Alignment

Here’s something every IT manager knows but doesn’t want to say to C-level leadership: the overall scope of departmental responsibilities makes it extremely difficult to maintain focus on what’s actually important.

Business leaders and strategists often have minimal understanding of the daily realities of IT, like the constant uphill firefighting that limits productivity on major projects and the expectation of providing the best possible daily support to both internal assets and current or potential customers. 

Even excellent business planners don’t understand the unique challenges of IT

That lack of understanding when it comes to what the work really “looks like” makes it difficult for leadership to strategize well and plan accurately with IT in mind. When they make their own estimates about timelines and deliverables, those in charge of steering the business often set their IT colleagues up for failure, or at least struggle, when it comes to productivity and time/project management.

How IT Departments Unintentionally Harm IT-Business Alignment

Building a great IT team requires hiring programmers, web developers, user experience specialists, technicians, and so on who are excellent at what they do and born to solve problems. 

With that said, low- and mid-level IT management often struggles to provide structure and design workflows that keep those great assets pointed in the right direction. The capacity to maximize talent and productivity exists, but it’s frequently sacrificed in the name of “agility” or “responsiveness.”

Make no mistake: it’s crucial for your IT team to be able to swoop into action and save the day when tech issues occur, but it’s more powerful from a business point of view when their primary focus is pursuing long-term projects and focusing on identified initiatives.

Often, IT managers and leaders believe that the best way to keep their team integrated into the company culture and demonstrate value is to be of service to the rest of the team, when, frankly, the best way to be of service is to stay focused on business goals and work toward those big, powerful milestones rather than getting mired down in the day-to-day grind.

What Happens When IT & Business are Out of Alignment

When IT falls behind on planned projects or fails to work in the ways business strategists expect, whether it’s due to over-ambitious goal setting, a lack of day-to-day perspective, or unexpected attacks on productivity, the results are always bad.

Why IT falls out of line with business goals, the results can be catastrophic

For example, if website developers and user experience specialists are not plugged into the planning and timeline for a rebranding effort, it can lead to the entire initiative being completely botched. Marketing can create new content and graphics, but if the actual reskin of the website is delayed or significantly improving the UI is not treated as a priority, it significantly harms the business’ overall ability to present itself in the most professional possible manner in order to take the next step forward.

On the other hand, if business isn’t aware and respectful of IT’s ongoing responsibilities and keeps piling projects onto the backlog, it can do significant damage to morale, engagement, and employee culture, first within the team and then spreading through negative interactions with other departments. That’s why it’s so important to stress two-way alignment: IT understands business goals, and business understands the realistic pace and timeline of IT.

If misalignment between business and IT persists, you’ll eventually reach a point where either projects are hopelessly backlogged or not being completed in a way that actually reflects business goals and high-quality work.

Pain Management Recommendations

If you begin to fear that your organization’s IT department is falling out of step with business goals, it’s important to be proactive before the problem spirals out of control. Here are two strategies you can use to triage the pain and promote a culture of alignment:

Build a “One Team” Understanding of Your Operations

IT has always been an isolated or insular department because it requires a high degree of specialized knowledge that, frankly, nobody else in the organization needs to have. Business leadership, on the other hand, prefers to get a bird’s eye view of everything — meaning they rarely think about the granular concerns that drive day-to-day IT.

Aligning those two teams requires challenging both sides. As an IT leader, you must push your ground level managers and supervisors to build greater interdepartmental transparency and communication. 

Getting IT on Board

In order for your IT team to drive business successfully, leadership needs to speak your language and understand what you’re really doing. To many IT professionals, that can seem like a lot of painful teaching, but an up-front investment in time spent building a shared understanding has the potential to deliver huge returns, foster a more collegial environment, and help both sides build a mutual understanding.

Bring in an Outside Alignment Expert

If you can already tell that your IT department and leadership’s business goals are well out-of-alignment or you’re drowning in a backlog of major projects and service tickets, it’s important to act sooner rather than later.

An outside consultant is your best bet to identify problems you’re not noticing and bring a new voice to the table to advocate on behalf of IT. You can connect with an IT alignment expert either by advocating with leadership, or you can use extra money in your departmental budget to bring someone in yourself.

Business-minded IT consultants have experience transforming underperforming departments into stability- and business-driving powerhouses. They’ve seen businesses of all different sizes and backgrounds, and they know how to teach you the skills and mindset that you need to continue leading in an impactful manner after they leave.

When things feel out of whack and business and IT are spiraling away from each other rapidly, it’s time to make the call and bring in a specialist.

What’s the first step?

If you’re an IT leader experiencing the pain of misalignment with business, the first thing you need to do is build a complete picture of the problem with an eye towards planning a solution.

Contact a leading IT consultancy like Sofbang to schedule a goal-to-value realization session, in which you’ll build a shared understanding of goals and identify actionable IT initiatives to be tried and tracked. That session will bring your IT department and business leadership together and leverage your relationship with the consultant to break the stereotype that IT is the “back office,” clarify expectations for everybody, and designate a direction. By clarifying expectations for accountability/alignment and building a framework for constant feedback, a goal-to-value realization session with a true IT expert can get your entire business rowing in the same direction again.

Enterprise IT Pain Management from Sofbang

Sofbang is one of the industry’s leading system integrators. We help IT executives in asset-intensive industries fight their day-to-day fires and leverage evolving technology to provide measurable increases in workforce efficiency.

We’ve spent the last two decades building a proven and impactful team of project leaders, developers, architects, and other experts who have the collective skills, knowledge, and enthusiasm necessary to solve just about any IT challenge. If you’re a tech leader experiencing pain, contact Sofbang today, and we’ll set you up with a free Tech Enablement and Goal-to-Value Realization Blueprint session to help you describe, diagnose, and treat your daily pains.