5 Ways IT Can Crush Corporate Caste System - InformationWeek
Government // Mobile & Wireless
09:43 AM
Connect Directly
[Dark Reading Crash Course] Finding & Fixing Application Security Vulnerabilitie
Sep 14, 2017
Hear from a top applications security expert as he discusses key practices for scanning and securi ...Read More>>

5 Ways IT Can Crush Corporate Caste System

C-level types talk the talk of IT-business partnership, but at the end of the day you must learn their world and assert your expertise.

The grim reality is that there's a caste system in corporate America today. At the top sits "the business" and below it, IT and operations. Most C-level types have learned to talk the talk of partnership, but at the end of the day, when the business says jump, IT has little choice but to ask how high.

The good news is that we in IT can improve our lots in life and our companies' bottom lines with empathy. And not the kind that forces us all to link hands and sing kumbaya; rather, the kind that Wired magazine called "a revolutionary force for change."

Here are five sequential steps that enlist empathy to crush the corporate caste system:

1. Question the value of disintermediation.

If you're in IT, your business stakeholders are middlemen, between you and the customer. And you're lucky if it's one degree of separation. Many functions in large IT shops need to play six degrees of Kevin Bacon to get to the customer.

So the first question to ask: What do business stakeholders bring to your game? If your answer is "requirements," then you might just be doe-eyed enough to think there are rich, thoughtful layers behind them. A solid business strategy, perhaps. Real customer voice. The next big idea. Or at least the next 20 little ones that pave the way.

You'd be wrong. On the strategy question, most of what's paraded out in large orgs is so bereft of real data and so vanilla at the industry-level that it comically frames playing defense against your competitors as competitive advantage. On idea generation, three words come to mind: ideas are plentiful. And those are the pleasant three. The not-so-pleasant three are "absolutely," the f-bomb and "worthless."

In most of the orgs I've worked in, the main role that your stakeholders play is governance -- bureaucratic controls over budget and funding that more often than not simply reaffirm the status quo.

Now here's your first opportunity for empathy, a chance to practice the first rule of Roman Krznaric's Six Habits of Highly Empathetic People: Cultivate curiosity about strangers.

Put yourself in the business's shoes. What can they deliver without you? Or more precisely, at your price point? (Because we all know that if they need something fast or unconventional, they'll pay a premium to engage a vendor, because vendors staff their shops with elves. Elves!)

Given that we're in the information age, here's the answer: nothing. In this economy, IT is execution. And ideas without execution are like bikes without seats -- and just as comfortable. So whether or not you realize it, you have leverage. And empathy can help you understand that fact.

The first step to exercising that leverage is to learn everything you can about your business. Don't think MBA -- it's a money trap. Pick up a few books, a +5 cloak of darkness and ...

2. Shadow the business.

The Achilles heel of most nerdlings is that they don't (usually) understand the business that they're asked to serve. That's partly from years of disinterest and partly from years of buying the line that everyone should focus on the one thing they do best. It's a line because you can do more than one thing well, especially when the stakes are this high.

Global CIO
Global CIOs: A Site Just For You
Visit InformationWeek's Global CIO -- our online community and information resource for CIOs operating in the global economy.

Fill the business knowledge void, and quickly. No need to crash any parties. You'll be surprised by how cheap invitations to business conference calls are. Participate if you like, but if nothing else be a fly on that wall.

Here's what I've learned again and again by exercising habits two and three of highly empathetic people (discovering commonalities and trying another person's life) as well as by shadowing stakeholders: We in IT are living parallel lives with our business stakeholders. We can't write code or deploy infrastructure because we keep going from meeting to meeting to meeting. And they can't form a business strategy to save their lives. Period.

No wait. It's actually stranger than that. It almost seems as though some Wharton professor with keen business sense and serious influence -- someone who I imagine wears a mask and calls himself Dr. Inertia -- decided that attending meeting after meeting after meeting is how stakeholders should develop a business strategy. And here's the weird part: You could win the global presidency of all businesses in a landslide by running on a single campaign promise: End all meetings. If the business world has a frenemy, it's meetings.

1 of 2
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
User Rank: Apprentice
5/7/2013 | 3:23:03 AM
re: 5 Ways IT Can Crush Corporate Caste System
Women have a killer sense of dressing. However, they never underestimate the role played by an accessory as well,so does man.

Your,can choose a nice dressing,it is skinny bootcut jeans.
User Rank: Author
5/6/2013 | 7:31:12 PM
re: 5 Ways IT Can Crush Corporate Caste System
Also: Are you hiring listeners? Too many IT "rock stars" are all talk and no listen. That used to be prized in the 90's...Does your recruiting process identify the folks who know how to both talk and listen? Or does it just favor the talkers.

Laurianne McLaughlin
User Rank: Ninja
5/6/2013 | 7:12:19 PM
re: 5 Ways IT Can Crush Corporate Caste System
Today there are fewer IT leads reporting to the CEO than there was 10 years ago. There's really no action a CIO/IT lead can do that will change his position in the organization. Most corporations are top down management structures. Lets face reality, Harvard still reads IT departments as cost centers to be managed by the head bean counter. Other than a reduced budget, a fly on the wall is the most the CFO wants from the IT department when it comes to the business.
How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Enterprise
How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Enterprise
To learn more about what organizations are doing to tackle attacks and threats we surveyed a group of 300 IT and infosec professionals to find out what their biggest IT security challenges are and what they're doing to defend against today's threats. Download the report to see what they're saying.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
2017 State of IT Report
In today's technology-driven world, "innovation" has become a basic expectation. IT leaders are tasked with making technical magic, improving customer experience, and boosting the bottom line -- yet often without any increase to the IT budget. How are organizations striking the balance between new initiatives and cost control? Download our report to learn about the biggest challenges and how savvy IT executives are overcoming them.
Twitter Feed
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.
Flash Poll