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By Nick Wiley

We’ve all been there. We’ve started new jobs, stumbled our way through the first few weeks of training, planted our collective rears in freshly-Lysoled office chairs, and put our heads down ready to take on the world. Then in walks our supervisor or seasoned colleague with some exciting news:

I know they taught you to do it a certain way in corporate training, but this is how we do it in this department. This is where we store our files. This is the printer we use.

Imagine, for a moment, that every single team in your company is operating exactly the same way. Independent of each other. Disjointed. In many ways, you don’t work for a company. You work for a collection of mini-companies.

In all my years of IT engineering and consulting, I have never had a meeting with an IT manager who wasn’t riddled with angst and long-running frustration from years of supporting disparate systems for the collection of mini-companies they’ve themselves charged with supporting. As a result, IT has gotten a reputation as a reactive, thankless field staffed primarily with curmudgeons who’d rather not be helping you. Rest assured — your friends in IT aren’t crabby because they have anything against you. They’re crabby because they know you probably aren’t going to take their advice when you ask them for better solutions.

Why aren’t you going to take their advice? Because your boss didn’t tell you to. Your expectation is that you’re going to follow your own preferences, or your immediate department’s protocols — not your corporate standard operating procedure.

A 2017 survey of 388 CEOs by Gartner revealed that only 42% had started to take real control of their business technologies through a “digital business transformation”, and that “half of CEOs have no digital success metric.” We know that what gets measured gets managed, so what does it mean for your business that you haven’t addressed your technology in a strategic way?

I’ll state the problem as clearly as possible: Companies have problems that need solving. Companies have access to IT professionals, internal or external, that solve problems for a living. With surprising frequency, the leaders of those companies haven’t created an environment where their IT professionals can solve those problems.

What can executives do?

If you are an owner or executive, the first step is to address your company’s technology head on, even if you hate it, fear it, or have no personal interest in it.

Strategic Planning

Engage in the process of choosing whole-company technology solutions for communication, work management, finances, project management, etc. and then bake those solutions into the entire company’s culture. Then, pull those technologies and the experts you’ve hired to manage them into your strategic planning. A suggested framework might look something like this:

  • Work with company leadership and their teams to identify business problems
    • This should be a thorough process that includes interviews with staffers and analysis of critical processes
  • Coordinate with IT to organize and assign priority to the problems identified
    • Complicated problems that require change in employee behavior are always very difficult to implement. But, that doesn’t mean that tackling them isn’t worth it. Plan accordingly and limit the number of problems to solve each year.
  • Flesh out targeted problems into achievable goals
    • Set metrics that clearly define progress and ultimate success

Set Employee Expectations

It may sound extreme, but consider adjustments to compensation plans that include incentives for proper use of company-owned tech. You’ll be amazed at how quickly employees start to follow the rules when they become “part of the job.” Document and include procedures that standardize and define your company’s tech culture. Some examples might include:

  • Communication: i.e. when to use e-mail vs. phone vs. chat?
  • Password management
  • Accurate, consistent use of company ERP/CRM/file storage
  • Continuing technology & security education

Without that direction, teams and individuals will begin inventing their own solutions for all the problems technology can solve. I’ve literally consulted for a company that hired people to pick up papers from one printer and scan them into another disparate system on the other side of the room. All day long. You can do the math on how much that was really costing them.

Be Consistent

I have observed over the years that many executives, while often individually tech-savvy, tend to isolate themselves in a bubble of non-standard technology. This phenomenon is most sterotypically witnessed in the arms of the bright young CEO, hellbent on their “need” to carry a Macbook or Surface despite company policy demanding their uglier, more rugged, more-Thinkpaddy, and objectively more-supportable counterparts.

There is a superior alternative. Work hand-in-hand with your IT experts to develop policies and procedures, then hold yourself accountable to said procedures. If it’s a good idea for non-executives to change passwords frequently, it’s an even better idea for executives to do so. If it’s important for data-entry to be accurate, fast, and consistent, it’s just as important for reporting, analytics, and decision-making to be accurate, fast, and consistent. To revisit the original example — your IT manager doesn’t want you to carry an ugly black plastic laptop because they want you to be miserable — they want it because parts, service, and replacement are available within 24 hrs in almost any location in the known world.

By facing technology head-on, you’ll see improvements in communication, efficiency, profitability, free time, company morale, accountability and reporting, practically every facet of your day-to-day life. Leaving IT out of your strategic goals is like sleeping on a cheap mattress and wondering why your back hurts.

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