What’s up with the Information Technology (IT) department in most companies?
Even though they provide a valuable service, they often face challenges in getting the appropriate recognition and respect for their efforts and contributions, in the past or in the present.
To understand this better – and to do something about it – it helps to focus on 3 significant factors that underpin this lack of respect and acknowledgement. They are:
- The Historical Genesis of IT
- IT’s Understanding of What their Role Really Is
- The Evolution of the Knowledge Worker
1. Historical Genesis
IT intimidates a lot of employees.
Workers rely on computers and technology. They are often helpless when something goes wrong and, because it is a new and changing technology, they don’t really know how to fix things themselves.
This can be intimidating.
Prior to IT, there were always two departments that intimidated most people inside a company: Legal and Finance.
The main reason that people are intimidated by these two departments is because whenever someone interacts with either one, it’s rarely good news.
That’s because the interaction usually involves being told that something is “wrong” – that something has made the company legally vulnerable or that something financial has been missed or was not done accurately or correctly enough.
And, because the “wrong” is usually framed with language, expertise, and rules that are specific to each of the two departments, it has the effect of making those who don’t have the necessary qualifications, skills, or formal dictionary of terms feel like outsiders – because they don’t always understand what is being said or presented.
To many, this can be intimidating.
Now, it is never the intent of either Legal or Finance to be inappropriate. They are just trying to do their jobs at the highest level of professionalism.
And, the same holds true for the third department now added to this list, the “new” arena of Information Technology (IT), which also has a specialized language, skill set, and book of “rules”.
As a result, when most people have to deal with any of these 3 departments, they are not comfortable – either before, during, or after the interactions. In fact, if they are honest with themselves, a lot of people will say they dread it.
Along with the jargon and position power, the other not so subtle factor in all three departments is sometimes the size of the egos involved.
Egos play a big role in undermining the feeling of support, trust and equality from the “internal customers” who are served by these 3 departments.
It is not uncommon that when people have interacted with any of these 3 departments, they come away with the aftertaste of patronization, superciliousness, superiority and judgment.
Once again it is not the intent of anyone in these departments to make people feel this way. But it happens a lot.
2. IT’s Understanding of What Their Role Really Is
The second factor exacerbating the IT department’s challenge in getting respect and recognition is a lack of clarity about their actual role with both the employees and internal constituents they serve.
That’s because IT is only ever a service function. Nothing more.
Unfortunately, service functions within organizations rarely get the same amount of respect, attention or status as the functions which provide something that a customer or client actually pays money for – such as a product and/or service.
This makes it even harder on IT professionals.
That’s because they are recruited based on their technical skills, education and experience. They aren’t recruited specifically for the “people skills” that are so critical in all functions, especially “service”. These skills are taken for granted.
The first training any IT person gets when they join a company is even more technical training. Then, within their departments, they are rewarded, acknowledged, promoted and bonused by their managers, based on “technical” results.
Unfortunately, this “technical” focus is only 50% of their job.
The other 50% is the people skills – interacting with others, building relationships and maintaining them.
And, this is where both the employer and the employed IT professionals often fall short.
That’s because, most of the time, the company assumes that IT personnel have well developed, conscious “people skills”, simply because they are people.
The disconnect between this assumption and what really happens can lead to misunderstanding and misinterpreted intent.
That’s because the biggest ongoing challenge that IT professionals face (and need to come to terms with) is the fact that the internal customers they serve within the company don’t really care about their technical skills at all.
They only care about what those IT skills can do for them. They don’t care about the jargon or the years of experience necessary to get them.
They only care about whether their problem is solved and about how they feel after interacting with the IT person who is solving it.
And, this is not always easy for large egos to deal with, especially if they have spent years honing their technical skills.
Unfortunately, most IT professionals, with rare exceptions, are historically not that good at the people skills/communication part of their jobs.
And, it’s one of the reasons they are labeled with the derogatory term “nerd”, often used to describe them in business society.
3. Evolution of The Knowledge Worker
The last major factor adding to the IT professional’s challenge is the evolution of the knowledge worker.
Management guru, Peter Drucker, coined the term over 50 years ago, to describe the shift from factory worker (where the “knowledge” was in the machines) to a world where “knowledge” is in the head of the worker.
Knowledge workers are the most mobile workers in the history of our overall business culture. They are paid for their knowledge.
This means that it doesn’t really matter where the knowledge worker actually lives as long as they have access to the Internet or a phone so they can be of service and get paid for their expertise. This is especially important in the world of IT.
Many companies are outsourcing their IT needs to countries where knowledge workers have the same or better technical skills than local workers while costing a fraction of local professional fees and salaries.
This means that IT “technical” services and skills are more available than ever.
The consequence is that the promise of always having a guaranteed job is diminishing daily if you’re an IT professional.
However, these outsourced IT jobs (most often outsourced by IT professionals) also face the same “blind spot” about “people skills” because they are also focused on “technical” expertise, often at the expense of people skills, which can again lead to a great deal of frustration and misinterpreted intent with customers when dealing with these outsourced resources.
That’s why “people skills” are becoming more important than ever for IT technical people.
It’s why the enlightened few – who head up IT departments and understand the historic and ongoing evolution of the Information Technology arena – focus on how to train their teams to unfailingly serve their defined “internal customers/clients” and meet their ongoing needs.
They do this by making sure that their services are transparent and easy to understand (no egos).
They do this by using simple language with no buzzwords, technical jargon, or acronyms.
And, they strive to have the “internal customer/client” walk away from every interaction feeling that they have been listened to, heard, understood, served, cared for, valued, supported and, above all, treated as important and as an equal.
To achieve this ongoing success, these “enlightened” IT professionals provide specific and regular “people skills” training to their teams which is given the same importance, support, encouragement and value as the IT person’s technical skills.
In the IT departments of some companies, the necessary people skills are given even more importance than technical skills.
That’s because the “enlightened few” have figured out that for IT to be successful and to get the respect and recognition it so rightfully deserves, it’s essential to recognize that it’s really all about “people skills”.