Strategic CIO // Enterprise Agility
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7/21/2014
00:00 AM
Romi Mahajan
Romi Mahajan
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4 IT Cultures: Which One Are You?

From White Knight to Curmudgeon, IT cultures fall into four categories. Which one describes your organization?

There is a diversity of cultures in IT departments. These cultures reflect the attitude of an organization’s top leadership toward IT, as well as IT’s own ability (or lack thereof) to learn, grow, and change. Given the importance of IT to modern business, an organization’s IT culture matters. The right fit can make IT a powerful force for positive change.

Though not an IT practitioner myself, I will attempt to classify IT culture by putting IT organizations into 4 buckets. Please bear with me.

They are:

1.      The White Knight

2.      The Work Horse

3.      The Agreeable Friend

4.      The Curmudgeon

The White Knight can also be called Hero-IT. In this organization, IT always comes to the rescue by initiating new projects, failing fast at errant ones, and keeping tight, value-added relationships with the rest of the organization. White Knight organizations are proactive and progressive.

Work Horse organizations are dependable but not flashy. They think of IT’s role as enabling the rest of the business in its current state. They are polite, SLA-driven, and approachable. Work Horse organizations give IT a good name and dispel the perception that IT is aloof.

Agreeable Friend organizations respond to the demands of internal customers, but don’t teach or coach the rest of the company. They get high marks from average employees but rarely impress the more discerning ones who look for sustainable solutions rather than quick fixes.

Curmudgeon organizations believe in rigid, rule-based approaches to IT. For them, the word “governance” is not a 4-letter word. Curmudgeon organizations love IT but don’t like their customers and have fealty to the abstraction they call “the company” as opposed to the people who work on the company’s behalf.

If you think this is fair taxonomy (howsoever imperfect), where does your IT organization sit on the list? Do you see elements of multiple categories within a single organization? Where would you like your organization to be?

My own experiences with IT organizations has been excellent and rewarding. I have not once worked for a firm with a Curmudgeon IT culture. But I’ve also heard the horror stories.

Please share your own experiences and let me know if this cultural taxonomy makes sense to you. Do the definitions work? Would you add other categories? I’d like to hear your feedback.

[Interop’s Business of IT Track helps IT leaders link technology and great business outcomes. Use the code SMIWBLOG to save 25% when you register for Interop New York.]

Romi Mahajan is the founder of KKM Group, a boutique marketing and strategy advisory firm. He is also an Interop track chair for the "Business of IT" track. He spent nine years at Microsoft and was the first CMO of Ascentium, an award-winning digital agency. Romi has also ... View Full Bio
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Jeff Jerome
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Jeff Jerome,
User Rank: Ninja
7/28/2014 | 11:02:34 PM
Re: One More Category: Willing But Constrained or Protect my fiefdem
@ Drew I absolutely believe that you are correct that it does come down to coporate culture.  Top down pressure to perform with out the correct tools and the support mechanism in place.  A culture of fear and protect and take no expsoure is not a healthy culture.  It is sad too because if you create a culture of mutual success then everyone is successful, and frankly that ishow it should be.
Drew Conry-Murray
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Drew Conry-Murray,
User Rank: Ninja
7/28/2014 | 9:51:38 AM
Re: One More Category: Willing But Constrained or Protect my fiefdem
That's a great point. There's often a lot of fiefdom-protecting that goes on. I think in part it might be driven by company culture, where everyone in the organization feels like they have to cover their butts and protect their own interests. It's hard to think about how to drive the business or serve internal customers in that kind of environment.
Jeff Jerome
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Jeff Jerome,
User Rank: Ninja
7/24/2014 | 10:37:34 PM
Re: One More Category: Willing But Constrained or Protect my fiefdem
I agree there is definitely a fifth if not more.  In a recent project that I participated in the customers was very dysfunctional and the key objective was not mutual success or win win but rather take on exposure and protect my fiefdom, at the vendor's expense.  Becasue it as to be someones fault, but not theIT responsible party.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
7/23/2014 | 11:23:21 AM
Curmudgeons
I went to a holiday party at the home of an IT curmudgeon once. It was one of the longest afternoons of my life. However I think the curmudgeons are being pushed out. You simply need too many people skills to succeed in the current digital business era -- tough to get away with being a curmudgeon. PS: @Drew let's not cast Ashton Kutcher in that movie.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
7/23/2014 | 11:22:36 AM
Re: One More Category: Willing But Constrained
Come on, let's be honest - we need a sixth category: Incompetent and despised. This is the super annoying overaged frat boy best friend of the male romantic lead who can't hold a job, smells bad, and is rude to the female love interest and her friends. A walking cliche, he lives in his parents' basement and subsists on cold pizza. The male lead can either jettison the loser or say sayonara to love and success in life.
Drew Conry-Murray
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Drew Conry-Murray,
User Rank: Ninja
7/23/2014 | 9:49:24 AM
IT Soul Mate: The Movie
I can practically see the screenplay for this comedy. A smart but harried and slightly lonely business unit living in a San Francisco apartment meets a geeky but sweet IT organization when IT's pet ferret gets mixed up in the business unit's laundry bag. They discover they both share a passion for digital business and Hadoop. After a few charming mix-ups involving a lost smartphone and some mis-interpreted Instagram posts, they realize they were made for each other and get married. Cue a pop music gem from the '90s, run the dance sequence, and roll credits.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
7/23/2014 | 9:15:21 AM
Re: One More Category: Willing But Constrained
I think IT has to be a bit of a combo-pack, aiming toward Soul Mate (no roses needed, though!), but with a bit of friendly curmudgeon thrown in. Now, this isn't a grouch for the sake of it; rather, it's a team that ensures an organization adheres to regulatory and governance rulings through education and collaboration, not barking and "get off my lawn" signs.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
7/22/2014 | 5:47:32 PM
Re: One More Category: Willing But Constrained
Is "Soul Mate" asking too much of an IT organization? One that's right alongside business units, inseparable, finishing each others' sentences, understanding needs the business units didn't even know they had. (OK, I think I'm tearing up a bit just thinking about it.)

 
Drew Conry-Murray
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Drew Conry-Murray,
User Rank: Ninja
7/22/2014 | 12:12:28 PM
One More Category: Willing But Constrained
I think maybe there's a fifth category that could go here, something like "Willing But Constrained." In this category, IT is open to all kinds of things, but can't get to multiple projects because of staff and budget constraints. Or maybe this is just a subset of all the IT categories regardless.
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