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The Business of IT: 7 Steps to Improving the IT Professional Image

Feeling underappreciated? Not understood? Follow these seven simple steps to give your image a much-needed makeover.

Romi Mahajan

The last decade has been a hard one for ambitious IT professionals. From paradigm shifts in computing to economic travails, the last several years have seen challenges that require fortitude and creativity to surmount. Popular perception of the modern IT guy can range anywhere from unknown back-office “grunt” to “local hero.” Celebrity status is often reserved for the business side of the house. 

This is all the more ironic because most of the blockbuster businesses that started in this decade of tumult are IT-driven. Also, competitive advantage is now directly linked to the ability IT has to nurture and sustain innovation. This irony is easily understood. And if the finger of blame is to be pointed, it should be directed every bit as much at our own community as at our detractors.

We have ceded the ground to others. We’ve let others tell our story. That needs to change. The following list of “to-dos” will help IT regain lost ground, become celebrities in their own right and dust off that antiquated image of the modern IT professional:

1. Befriend Marketing

IT professionals and marketers not only have a lot in common, they also can learn from each other. Common circumstances include being roundly lambasted as “cost centers,” criticized for their culture, being seen by many as irrelevant, and for being the “bad twin.” In the case of IT, these false perceptions emanate partly from the lack of clear, buoyant communications from IT professionals about their own value. Who better to learn this form of communication from than marketing? 

IT Action Item: Market yourself better.

2. Learn to Read a Balance Sheet

We decry not being treated as an integral part of the business, but we don’t do enough to show that we “get the business.” Learn your company’s economics and how it makes money. Learn what your CEO thinks about every day. Roleplay as your CEO. What would you do in her shoes? The more IT shows that it understands business as well as technology, the more integrated it’ll be in the company’s glory. 

IT Action Item: Spend 10 percent of your day knowing the business you’re in by reading reports from Sales, Marketing, Engineering, Legal and Operations.

3. Get on Facebook

For the modern IT professional to succeed, he has to demonstrate he understands the shifting demographics and patterns of today’s workforce and populace. The rise and stunning popularity of Facebook, Twitter and other social media are testament to these changes. To better understand today’s consumer and to support today’s worker, IT needs to embrace the fact that these changes are here to stay. 

IT Action Item: Learn about social media and how to support socially mediated technology by embracing—not rejecting—it. 

4. Regularly Attend a Non-IT Colleague’s Team Meetings

For us to show we can be great leaders, we have to simultaneously show that we are eclectic in our knowledge, behaviors and leadership attributes. The single best way to do this is to circulate and to find areas outside your own zone in which you can invest time and emotion. Instead of being a “virtual” team member, IT should find places to integrate deeply across the enterprise.

IT Action Item: E-mail four colleagues to find out if you can regularly attend their meetings. Don’t just ask for an invitation, though—offer ways to help them and their teams.

5. Read More

For us to gain our rightful place, we have to display a broad range of knowledge and analysis. We have to be clear with our interlocutors so that we aren’t pigeonholed as narrowly focused. The best way to do this is to read broadly across business, politics, science, psychology and history. This not only enhances our mental faculties but “rounds us out.” 

IT Action Item: Read a book every two weeks on a rotating subject. Don’t start with a technology book.

6. Naysay Less

IT professionals have a reputation for saying no. This is partially because, at times, the job calls for lockdown, governance or some security-related denial of access. It also stems from the perception of cultural differences between technology people and business people wherein the technology folks are considered narrower, less adventurous and therefore more “negative.” While there’s often value in skepticism, there’s also rhetorical value in positivity. 

IT Action Item: The next time you have to say no, turn the situation around. Explain to your interlocutor the consequences of saying “yes,” but do so in an empathetic fashion.

7. Go on a Sales Call

It behooves us to take empathy to the next level by forming a deep understanding of “the other side of the house.” Dialogue internal to the enterprise pales in value when compared to dialogue with customers. As IT professionals behold the complexities of sales and are introduced to the art of handling objections (good sales people are masterful at this), the process of communion and respect-building commences. From there, a true partnership can emerge. 

IT Action Item: Call a sales leader in your organization tomorrow and express interest in his craft. Ask to go on a series of sales calls in order to learn.

Noticeable in these rules is that they span business, technology, culture and communications. This is an important thing to emphasize because the notion of “core competency” is too narrow in the modern world. The modern IT professionals are technologists, managers, business people, enablers, cultural makers and community leaders. The ambitious IT manager is a multivalent professional. It’s high time the rest of the world recognizes this. 

Romi Mahajan
Romi Mahajan (romi.mahajan@ascentium.com) is president of KKM Group. Prior to joining KKM, Mahajan was chief marketing officer of Ascentium Corp. A well-known speaker on the technology and media circuit, he serves on a variety of advisory boards and speaks at more than a dozen industry events per year.

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