I was sitting with the leadership team of a business unit of a larger organization, planning for their leadership retreat. In reviewing its business plan, the issue of collaboration kept coming up, as it during the many interviews I’d already completed with the organization.
“We just don’t collaborate effectively,” said one of the C-suite participants.
I was already aware that the organization is fully licensed for SharePoint. I asked about collaboration tools. One of the leaders piped up.
“We should use that thing—What’s it called? Oh, yes, Basecamp,” she said, suddenly inspired. “Remember that time we used Basecamp?” Several of the others lit up.
So, I asked, “Why are you not using your SharePoint intranet for collaboration?” They stared at each other.
“Well,” started the team lead, “corporate IT just won’t let us do what we need to do with it. We can’t get the help or approval we need.”
So the business unit doesn't even try anymore. Millions of dollars of investment, and the team doesn't even use the most basic collaboration tools in its SharePoint intranet.
Why We Stop Trying
Based on my now nearly two decades in consulting (I can’t believe I’m saying that), I’ve noted several important barriers to success:
- Failed communication: Sometimes the teams responsible just fail to communicate effectively about needs, services, capacity and available tools; some of this is also about a failure to articulate or listen to requirements.
- An IT organization that dictates versus consults: The technology department should operate in service to the needs of the business; it should never wag the dog.
- A culture of patchwork/Lack of user-centric direction: These go hand-in-hand. This is the tendency to be easily sold on new, hot products, rather than learning how to fully leverage what you already have, which results in a sort of technology patchwork. This mindset is often enabled by an utter lack of user focus.
What is especially interesting is that these three barriers repeat themselves in many different industries. I’ve seen these three issues in heavy industry, mining, technology, logistics, healthcare and others.
IT never sets out to purposely ignore user needs or the desires of revenue-generating teams. Rarely do IT managers want to make decisions in a vacuum. They are just busy on misaligned goals.
The enlightened CIO makes listening and research the hallmark of his or her team’s approach. Team members shadow those who face the consumer. They ask myriad questions to uncover true needs. They doggedly question the misaligned executive request, seeking a connection to business strategy.
And while they don’t take no for answer, they do deploy solutions that respond to what they’ve heard. They even include users through the entire planning and implementation experience--even beyond, into the enhancement and improvement of tools in which the company has invested.
When the IT department has done all this, it communicates to the rest of the organization what it has done. That’s right, IT managers and staff remind users that they asked, they heard, and they delivered.
As for users, the enlightened reach out, ask for direction and help, seek out ways to collaborate with others, and avoid using workarounds to get what they want. They are intentional and proactive.
IT Dictates vs. Consults
Much emphasis was put on IT being a decision-making discipline in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. The Y2K hysteria reinforced IT as a leading, decision-making authority. It’s not. It operates strictly in service to organizational success. Yes, it enables, as does the talent or human resources function.
IT organizations began the slow transformation more than 10 years ago to a consultative and enablement function. Some industries lag behind. For example, all my healthcare clients admit that, in terms of technology, they lag behind. It is not uncommon to find the dictatorial mindset in the IT function of healthcare organizations.
It is not just IT people who like shiny objects. I’ve seen plenty of executives respond to some new software solution in the same glassy-eyed manner. “Snap out of it!” as Cher said in the 1987 movie Moonstruck.
Every leader in the organization has an obligation to fully leverage tools already available before deploying something new. Users don’t want change for the sake of change. They want consistency, integration and standardization. Their lives are already too complex. Give them four different wiki tools to go to for collaboration, and their heads will pop off.
Actually, no--they’ll just quit paying attention. They won’t use, they won’t collaborate, and they won’t learn from others.
What Technology Are You Using?
Look at the technology you are using, or at least are licensed for. Is your organization getting the most from those tools? What can you do to draw out more value? Communication, consulting and a user-centric focus--these will help you realize the value of your investments.