Confront the stereotype, get streetwise

IT professionals must learn not to fear company politics, says Cranfield School of Management's Dr Robina Chatham. Ross Bentley...

IT professionals must learn not to fear company politics, says Cranfield School of Management's Dr Robina Chatham. Ross Bentley reports

Business managers are becoming more technically literate as many swap secretary for lap-top. Yet IT directors are failing to become correspondingly streetwise in the ways of the business, says Dr Robina Chatham, lecturer in management information systems at Cranfield School of Management.

This issue is now the subject of a series of white papers being written by Chatham. She believes that one key factor in the under-exploitation of IT in business lies in the relationship (at a personal rather than a structural level) between business managers and internal providers of IT services.

Having spoken to 70 senior managers from outside their respective IT departments, Chatham is convinced that the traditional stereotyping of IT professionals has imposed barriers between IT and the business.

As you would expect, this stereotyping goes along the lines that IT people lack business awareness, are unimaginative, like things to be black and white, lack interpersonal skills and avoid conflict.

Whether true or not, Chatham points out that in an organisation "perception is reality".

But how should ITers confront this stereotype? For the past two years Chatham has led a course entitled "Organisational Politics and IT Management" and this experience has allowed her to identify some practical solutions to the problem.

Among her many suggestions, Chatham believes ITers must acknowledge the stereotype and its impact on them and recognise their own shortcomings - especially where these reinforce the stereotype.

Chatham also urges ITers to become more "streetwise" and develop a greater willingness to enter the fray of company politics. Politics and conflict are a part of working life, she says, and should not be avoided.

Of course, Chatham does not advise IT professionals to lie, cheat or otherwise get one over on their colleagues. Long-term success in organisational politics, she says, does not equate to underhand behaviour.

But by speaking to the business, and in the language of the business, and by being prepared to impose your will, you should find your impact upon the bottom line increasing.

More than 70 people have completed the course, with Chatham boasting a high ratio of success stories.

While admitting that confronting the stereotype with improved political skills will not in itself bridge the gap between business and IT, it seems to have been a vital missing link for some.

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