Businesses must adopt the "manage up" approach to improve the standing of IT, says John Dillion.
"Managing up" is the term usually applied between individuals within departments, but is there a case to be made for the IT function managing up to influence the business as a whole?
Contrary to what management consultants might suggest, it is not a complex technique but a simple and effective way of encouraging positive change where resistance has been encountered before.
Managing up would go a long way to overcome the frequency with which IT proposals are rejected by business units. Research commissioned by WebMethods shows that more than 33% of IT directors believe that their non-IT savvy colleagues are in the dark when it comes to understanding IT.
This explains why 66% of IT proposals meet the stiffest resistance from the finance department, the board and line of business units. The main reason cited is that they cannot see the immediate commercial advantage of going with the IT director's recommendation.
For the past few years the industry has been chanting the "IT department needs to become part of the business" mantra without any real conviction and the research findings bear this out. There needs to be a change and it lies with IT professionals to make this happen.
In adopting the managing up approach, the IT department involves all the relevant personnel from the business department to help make technology decisions. This is not a charm offensive to improve internal PR, but a strategic attempt to influence at the highest level within the business.
My advice is to bring business colleagues into discussions on a need-to-know basis at key points in the build-up to submitting a proposal. Consult with non-IT colleagues and make efforts to allow business processes, wherever possible, to cater for departments' commercial requirements.
Keep it simple. IT is often seen as a "dark art" by the uninitiated and throwing in technical terminology can alienate those you are attempting to influence. Business people care about business benefits so carefully explain this throughout the proposal-building stage and during final negotiation. Any proposal should clearly state how the IT project will add value to the company, reduce costs and risk.
Better informing business colleagues means they will have an appreciation as to why the IT director is tabling a proposal and realise the competitive advantage it will deliver. This is not a case of the IT department rolling over and relinquishing control but about getting greater buy-in from the people upon whom the proposal's success depends.
What do you think?
What methods do you use to show the board that your IT project adds value to the company? Tell us in an e-mail >> ComputerWeekly.com reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the website. Please state if your answer is not for publication.
John Dillon is EMEA marketing director at WebMethods
This was first published in February 2004