As CIOs we are often asked to put technology in place to solve a problem. We all know that technology on its own is an empty promise without the proper business processes and practices, adequate human resources, and buy-in from the community. Yet, we see its demand and assumption present itself over and over again.
Traditionally, the process involves 1. Defining the problem, 2. Fleshing out the system requirements,
3. Identifying vendors, 4. Sending out requests for proposals, 5. Evaluating the requests, 6. Selecting a vendor, 7. Acquiring the system, 8. Installing and/or configuring it, and 9. Getting the solution ratified by the customer. Most CIOs have gone through this rote process and tried to sell the solution to their clients in the end only to find that the specs have changed. It’s an unending loop of lather, rinse and repeat.
In a world where virtually everyone uses and has some knowledge of IT, we have to change the way we implement solutions.
That’s why this process no longer works. In a world where virtually everyone uses and has some knowledge of IT, we have to change the way we implement solutions. In fact, the last step in our traditional methodology has to move up in the process. We need to get customer buy-in before an acquisition. What’s missing is the collaboration with the people in the organization. IT is now as much about the people as it is about the technology solution.
Whether we are being asked to add or change a technology (or worse – take a technology away) or to make a large organizational change, we must involve all the stakeholders.
Within organizations, there are often warring factions, even when we work for the same company, university, or institution. One can usually find discord between various teams – between engineers and developers, between security and customer service, or between HR and management. So, how do we go about building stakeholder buy-in under these circumstances? How do we break down the walls? How do we get beyond ‘us versus them’ to a much more powerful and productive “we”?
First and foremost, one must work diligently to build relationships. Relationships that span the entire organization, and that can bring about unity. But before we build these relationships we need to identify all the stakeholders who are important to reach out to. Then gather a plan to build these relationships with the proper cohorts. Much can be accomplished when you become more than just someone who wrote an email, or the person sitting in the corner office, or the connection to a big budget. Relationships around the entire organization are necessary to let people know that you understand, that you and your organization are here to help, and that you value their opinions and recommendations.
Listen Closely and Intently
The best way to build relationships is to listen. Really listen, and remember what you heard. One may ask, “CIOs are leaders, aren’t we supposed to impart wisdom?” Yes, but the best way to obtain wisdom is to listen. Jim Bruce, CIO Emeritus from MIT, often says, “The answer is in the room.” You don’t have to come up with the answer, you just have to get the brainpower together to conceive the answer.
“None of us is as smart as all of us.” – Ken Blanchard.
It is also important to remember what you have heard. Tuck it away. If you later run across information that might be of interest, follow-up with the person with whom you were talking. Or if you simply see someone returning from their vacation, ask if they enjoyed the time away. People appreciate the smallest acknowledgment that you remembered something important to them.
“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” – Dalai Lama XIV
Always Keep Your Word
It’s easy. Just do what you say you are going to do, or don’t commit. It’s simple.
“Be impeccable with your word.” – Miguel Ruiz
It helps to act swiftly on any action when building relationships. If the other party sees you follow-up quickly, they will know that you took this seriously, and completed the follow-up. This is the germination of trust, and trust is the architecture for all successful relationships. It might be for the simplest of actions – scheduling a meeting, sending a reference article, forwarding a report, etc. Responsiveness and relationship building are conversely proportional. The faster actions are resolved for any reason, the greater the relationship will form.
Set the Common Vision, Make it Realistic
To get buy-in, we often have to paint the picture of the collective future for our stakeholders. We must describe the benefits of such a future. We must come up with a budget and an ROI. These are not exactly rocket science. Sometimes we don’t know the actual outcome, or cost, or return. But, the closer we are to the end, and the more often we are close, the greater the stakeholder buy-in. If the stakeholders can envision the shared advantages, they will be more likely to concur.
To build relationships does not mean we will always agree with each other. Disagreements can lead to better solutions unless it results in a personal attack. Contending, when done professionally and respectfully, can result in growth on both sides. Remember Newton’s Third Law? Every action causes an equal and opposite reaction. This law is not limited to physics. It also applies to human interaction.
“There is no I in Team”
“There is no ‘I’ in team but there is in win.” – Michael Jordan.
I think we all want to win. Enough said.
It’s all about Trust
What all of this comes down to is trust. Every one of the previous categories will only work when there is trust between the people and between organizations. Trust is not a constant. Trust, once earned, is not the same forever. Trust is re-earned, or depletes, every day, with every interaction. In order to both create and maintain trust, we must be intentional in all of our actions.
“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” -Henry Ford
So how do we get beyond “us versus them”, and achieve “we”? Build and care for the relationships needed to support your decisions and actions to the point of trust, and then maintain that trust each and every day.