4 Questions to Help Craft Effective IT Communications
Information technology (IT) leaders and their staff talk about applications, network components, databases, storage, and servers every day. It is their job and often, their passion. It’s no surprise that many leaders in this field have a blind spot when it comes to communicating about the work that is occurring.
They often communicate about the technology rather than the results the technology is going to support or deliver. It is an easy trap to fall into and it is difficult for leaders and staff to recognize. It can be challenging for IT leaders and their staff to fully acknowledge that their customers don’t really care about technology. This is not a statement about IT’s value to the company. Without technology, everyone in the company can pack up and go home. IT’s value is immense. It is just a reality that people want to use technology to accomplish a task. It should be easy. They just need to do their job. They don’t even think about the technology until there is a problem. They shouldn’t have to think about it.
Many times, “tech speak” is the organizational norm. Business cases, presentations, reports, and project documents will all contain more information about the technology than the results it supports. This situation is quite challenging when the organization is attempting to introduce a new or changed service to the community it serves. To solve the problem, IT organizations began hiring organizational change management (OCM) professionals but it didn’t quite resolve the problem.
IT is still too focused on the technology and the OCM staff were often relegated to merely communicating what they were told. IT leaders are excited about technology and it is difficult to get the necessary buy in to change the overall focus of the message. The OCM staff didn’t have the technical background to serve as a translator which left them crafting messages that considered the end user but they were still technology focused.
Answering Four Questions will Significantly Improve Communications
1) What results will this initiative deliver to the company? The answer to this question is key. Put the business case aside. The communications don’t need to include the return on investment or net present value information. Using simple language, answer the question by considering how the company will benefit. Does the technology lay the foundation for new products and services? How does the technology enable the company to achieve the strategic goals? Every communication should talk about the linkage to the broader organization achieving results.
2) What is the benefit for the company or department staff? This is basically “what’s in it for me?” but when answering consider how the technology is going to fulfill a need for the staff member. Is it going to automate a complex process? Will it reduce the time they spend on specific tasks? Remember, people don’t care about the technology. They care about how it helps them. If you adhere to this basic idea, the answer to the question won’t include any technical information.
3) What happens if we aren’t successful with delivering this technology? Asking this question might seem counterintuitive as IT is planning to deliver. Every initiative experiences obstacles. The answer to this question is meant to motivate staff members to work together and achieve the goal. Normally, the answer to this question is incorporated into initial communications regarding the initiative as well as communications relating to some sort of challenge such as a schedule or budget change. Be careful when incorporating the information into communications as it should be a motivating factor. The answer shouldn’t spark fear or paint a picture that is all doom and gloom. It should focus on the business challenges that may occur and engage the staff in being part of the solution.
4) Where does someone go if they have questions or ideas relating to the initiative? The answer to this question should include specific people. Distribution lists are great but they do not encourage strong, meaningful dialogue. People need the option of contacting an individual rather than emailing a faceless distribution list that may never reply. Notice that having both questions and ideas are a part of this question. Encouraging the sharing of ideas may help to lay the groundwork for a stronger solution. Ensure the people noted in the communication are prepared to address both questions and new ideas and that they understand the importance of a timely response to anyone that contacts them. Even if they don’t have an answer, they should reply to let people know how they are handling the inquiry.
Communicating about technology won’t garner the support that is needed for IT related changes. It may have the exact opposite affect by instilling fear into the hearts of the end user as they are unable to understand what is happening or how they will do their job once the new technology is implemented. Fear often manifests as resistance to change which actually makes IT’s job more difficult. Focus communications on results, benefits, and business challenges to maximize the opportunity for success.
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