This week I was fortunate to speak at the National Association of Attorney Generals IT training summit in Denver, Colorado. The training brought together IT professionals from Attorney General offices nationwide. Not only did I learn a significant amount, and have fun with the other attendees, but I was inspired by this groups’ passion to connect IT to people and process, and by their dedication to public service.
The training summit covered a variety of important topics from e-discovery in the cloud, to bring your own device (BYOD) and agile methodology, to challenges around sharing data. But one of the resounding themes that I noticed The explicit need for IT professionals to be able to speak the business language.
This skill is an essential for IT professionals in today’s world. All levels of government rely on safe and secure IT systems to conduct critical operations and so today’s IT professional must be able to effectively communicate across teams and with all units in an organization. In doing so, they can fully understand needs of users, and make investment decisions tailored towards needs, producing better agency outcomes. I’ve heard this phrase so many times: “The IT solution exists – we just can’t get the buy-in from leadership.”
Navigating the human-element of IT might always challenge IT professionals, but here are some starting points:
Ask the Right Questions
Learning to ask the right questions is truly an art. Whether you are conducting an interview, pitching an idea or providing feedback to your team, asking the right questions is key. Being able to do so will give you the insights to help you understand user needs, and how to more adequately support your users.
For instance, if a shadow IT project is happening within your department, a perfectly acceptable question would be: what can I do to support your needs? Ask your questions in a way to understand user need, and not questions that make people feel like they need to get defensive. In so many cases, people want to do the right thing, but simply do not know they are violating a policy or their actions have led to a security risk. Ask a question that clearly indicates you want to put them in a position to excel and make their job easier.
It’s just a simple fact: relationships take a lot of effort. Whether it’s with your partner, friends, boss or colleagues, positive relationships are the by-product of hard work. They are fueled by open communication, honesty, acceptance and flexibility. But relationships are a two-way street, and if the relationship is not built on a foundation of open and honest dialogue, you’re heading for a dead end.
About a month ago, I wrote about the keys to reflective listening. I referenced a clip from “Modern Family.” In that post, I explained that the ability to listen, digest and understand the heart of the matter is essential. Reflective listening helps you ask the right questions, develop a deeper understanding of an issue and hopefully find some solutions.
Prepare Your Position
If it happens to be an IT solution you’re working on, prepare your position. Be sure that you can speak from a technical and non-technical position. If you are looking to deploy a cloud solution, you’re going to need to be prepared to explain your needs effectively to leaders. This is especially true if you do not have purchasing authority, and are relying on others to create contracts for deployment. You need to be sure that you are ready, and have anticipated questions or concerns.
Talk Opportunities, Not Obstacles
It’s my belief that challenges present organizations a great opportunity to transform how services are delivered. They force people to think about innovative solutions and should lead to working across teams and departments to share knowledge and resources.
While working through challenges, always keep conversations positive and focused on the opportunity in front of the agency. This is a simple way to build positive relationships, and encourage collaboration by having a shared vision.
As you start your next IT project or deployment, it’s important to remember to work on speaking the business language. The IT solutions exist, but IT leaders must be intentional about working across teams and improving communications.