The IT director who is not a team player is easy to spot
IT directors are struggling to be treated as an equal by their executive colleagues because they talk and act like suppliers.
If you behave like a supplier people will treat you like one. It does not matter whether you are a senior executive or a project manager, this rule holds true. On the other hand, if you behave like "one of us" - ie a fully paid-up member of the core business management team - people will treat you accordingly.
Many executives are not sure whether their IT director wants to be one of the business team or one of the suppliers. According to my company's own research, most IT directors are not sure either. A whopping 90% of IT directors see themselves both as a business expert in creating value from IT and a supplier of IT systems and services.
If IT directors are not sure whether they are primarily on the business side or the supply side, no wonder others are unsure as well. All executives have an element of both to manage, but they usually know they are primarily the company's business expert in creating value to their organisation - whether that be increasing profits, cutting costs or spotting new business opportunities and whether their area of expertise be, for example, marketing, finance or customer services. They regard as the secondary responsibility for the internal supply of services.
In practice, executive colleagues will make their own judgements about an IT director based on a range of signals.
These include language (referring to other executives as customers, clients or "the business"), sourcing (appearing to regard external suppliers as competitors), or accountability (taking no personal stake in how much value is created from IT).
If you project these signals, this is the primary reason you find yourself outside the "inner circle" of executives, even if you have a seat on the board.
I work with IT directors who are already treated as equals by their executive colleagues, or are determined to be so. They each have their own strategies for success, but common tactics include referring to other executives as colleagues, reporting how well the company is exploiting IT, and being flexible about whether IT is supplied internally or externally, provided the company strikes the best balance between value, cost and risk
A critical factor is whether as an IT director your colleagues believe you are a genuine member of the team, or just a supplier in disguise. This ultimately comes down to consistent behaviour over time, and establishing a level of trust in each individual relationship.
Chris Potts is a director at ITconsultancy Dominic Barrow