One of our biggest challenges as IT leaders is educating our colleagues about what technology can do, and what its limitations are. This can be especially challenging when you have technology vendors skirting IT and selling directly to the business, all while making their solutions sound so easy to implement. The consumerization of IT also can make education a challenge because it gives some users the perception that everything is as easy as going to the app store and downloading it.
On the bright side, chances are your business peers are whip smart and just need someone to take the time to help them understand what’s going on under the hood. Here are some simple, surefire ways to help the business understand what IT is talking about when you have to get technical.
1. Share small bits of information and watch body language
Feed any technical information in small enough pieces that they can digest it before moving to the next bit. Then watch for body language. I wasn’t a fan of psychology in school, but now I understand why they taught it. Simply keeping your eyes peeled for any negative body language, such as crossed arms or leaning away, can help you determine whether the person you’re speaking to is feeling frustrated or tuning out. If you spot body language that isn’t receptive, use it as an opportunity to reassess what you’re saying and see if you can take a different approach.
2. Just say no to acronyms and technobabble
There’s an old saying that applies here: “You buy in your own language and you sell in your customer’s language.” If you must use an acronym, make sure it’s one used by the person you’re speaking to and not an acronym from IT. When I talk to somebody in hotel operations, I don’t talk in bits and bytes, I talk to them in room occupation rates – ADRs for Average Daily Rate – so they know I can speak their language. This has the the added benefit of building credibility, because I’m demonstrating I understand the business. Avoid technospeak. If you can’t explain it to your significant other, assuming your better half isn’t a geek as well, then you shouldn’t be trying to explain it to any of your customers.
3. Speak in a supportive, non-threatening way
Given your technical background, it may seem obvious why something can’t be done. But that doesn’t mean you should scoff when the business comes to you with an idea that’s not technically feasible. Instead, use it as an opportunity to educate and enlighten. By being approachable, you’re building opportunities for the business to come to you with questions instead of working around you and pursuing shadow IT.
4. Help them understand what they’re trying to achieve
A persistent challenge facing IT leaders and the business is one of definitions. You have to be very specific and descriptive with computers, whereas people are happy with levels of abstraction and ambiguity. So when the business comes to IT with a problem, chances are they’re going to request something more than they really want or need. Help them break down the definition of what they’re seeking to get to the root of the problem. It may help you save a lot of time and money, and could result in you solving the problem in a way that’s even better than the business imagined.
What are some ways you can help your business peers better understand the capabilities of your IT organization?
Cliff Tamplin is a consultant and former vice president of Technology Support & Risk Management at Hyatt Hotels Corporation. Tamplin has held a variety of roles with major global corporations including Barclays, M&M Mars, Diageo, Northwest Airlines and Hyatt Hotels & Resorts. These roles have spanned application design and development; infrastructure architecture and operations; and information security.
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