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Why IT Needs To Stop Saying No

How do you turn your IT shop from the "Department of No" into the "Department of Yes?" You need to change your people and change how you measure them.
15 Hottest IT Jobs for 2016
15 Hottest IT Jobs for 2016
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Lots of people will tell you that you need to turn IT into a service organization in order to give your employees the same kind of experience they get when using consumer products.

However, few will tell you how to do it in detail, or do it with the hilarious profanity and honesty that Brad Paubel, vice president of internal customer technology at Maritz will tell you. His presentation at Gartner CIO Symposium, "Changing Culture -- It Takes a Village (and a Sledgehammer!)," is a step-by-step primer on how to change IT from the "Department of No" to the customer-centric group CEOs and employees are demanding.

The story of how IT got here is a familiar one.

IT tried to control demand. It put people and business processes in line for technology rather than granting access. But consumerization taught people that technology could be easier to get at home than at work. In short, Paubel said: "We got caught up in our own importance."

[This is how one marketing person sees IT. Read IT Stereotypes: Time to Change.]

So what did he do to change that?

He stopped concentrating on technology and started concentrating on people, starting with his own people. Paubel told all his managers they would start being measured on people skills and that they should train themselves on soft skills.

"I gathered all my people and I said, 'We want people managers -- managers [who] can really understand and work with internal IT to get work done. We are not selling technology anymore. We are selling our people. I want our IT people to get in front of our customers and hear what they have to say.'"

It wasn't easy. Some managers simply weren't suited to do it. "We started telling our people when they were in a meeting to look people in the eye -- don't be that [expletive] everyone hates in IT. People want you to listen."

He went on to tell a story about a network architect who was one of his best. "He was a great architect, but he was an [expletive]. You were always wrong. He was always right. No one wanted to work with him, and the ripple effect was terrible on my organization. Everyone hated him."

To change perceptions, Paubel had to do some internal marketing the old fashioned way.

"I was out drinking with an internal customer ... go ahead and laugh ... but I do it quite often. You learn a lot," Paubel said, "And our customer said, 'Our bill from Azure is hard to read.' They could say that because they went to cloud without us, of course. So hearing that, I created a service for creating a bill for them so they could understand their usage and costs. I introduced a completely new service. And I was able to do that, because I'm closer to my customer. Stop competing and become a broker for your customers."

He has taken the idea of becoming a broker for his customers very seriously. "The first thing I do when I hear something from my business that they need, I look around and see if someone can do it better than me. If they can, I broker that for them. If not, I do it."

Once he started looking at serving people (the village), he needed to take the sledgehammer seriously. (People in his group are brutally honest in manager evaluations, using words like "wishy-washy" and "incapable of making eye contact.")

After every meeting with an internal customer, his group has a meeting to discuss how the meeting could have gone better. They practice "perception-based management." They only consider what they do a success if the customer thinks it is.

When organizations change to this strategy, he said, certain roles diminish. He doesn't need as many sys admins, network admins, or storage admins. Instead, he sees other roles as growing, including business relationship manager, service engineer, and automation architect.

Why automation architect? Because there are three steps to get to Paubel's goal.

  • Step one is automate everything you can. Your people can't concentrate on serving the customer if they are just keeping the lights on.
  • Step two is focus on those soft skills.
  • The third step is to become that broker of services. You should look outside your company for solutions when you can. Think of IT as becoming IS (Information Services). Most important, give customers the experience they want. Consider how their lives and careers work, so that the best solutions can work seamlessly between the two.

"It isn't going to be easy. People are going to ask if it is a popularity contest. No, [with] every transaction you are building your brand. You can make things unique for your customer, because other people can't. You're the only one who knows them."

If it seems too hard, Paubel ended with a phrase that should help you be motivated. "Be the change … not the changed." In other words, if you can't do it, they'll find someone who can.