If CIOs are to become valued as business partners, they must speak in a language that their colleagues can actually understand. Although there are relatively few Rough Guides to Talking Business, a few simple principles can help IT executives to integrate into other parts of the organization and position technology as a force for innovation, not just a means of cutting costs.
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” So said Albert Einstein, a man not short of a complex idea or two. This adage is worth bearing in mind when you are interacting with other parts of the business. A CIO who spouts technical jargon is likely to be ignored.
Worse still, colleagues may suspect that he or she has no grasp of the real business issues. Remember that staff in sales and marketing, or finance, are not usually interested in what underpins a new piece of software. But they would love to know how it can help them close a transaction or generate a forecast.
Take people with you
In short, any IT-related discussions need to be clearly and carefully signposted, to ensure that others follow clearly. This is no different to when you’re travelling in a foreign country, and trying to negotiate with a street vendor to buy some goods. To overcome the language barrier, you’re sure to use all means to ensure effective communication — such as pointing things out carefully, or asking a bilingual local to help bridge the gap. The same applies when it comes to bridging the language barrier that often divides IT from the rest of the business.
Learn to listen
It is also important to become a skilled listener, who can respond effectively to concerns raised by colleagues outside IT. Too often in the past, CIOs have allowed their departments to operate in isolation, exacerbating the frustration felt across other parts of the business when IT systems fail. And while technology has transformed the business world in countless ways, IT receives little mention when businesses talk about innovation. CIOs have the opportunity to change perceptions by making IT more accessible. To do so, think about the following principles:
- Learn from Einstein. With the right approach, experts in any field can make the most complex ideas understandable to a novice. As a rule of thumb, when you are talking or presenting to colleagues outside IT, avoid acronyms and jargon. They lead only to confusion and boredom. Challenge yourself to find creative ways to explain things in plain and simple terms. You’ll find that your audience engages more as a result, especially if you tailor the complexity of the message to the audience you’re addressing.
- Focus on the outcomes. Too often, CIOs get caught up in the excitement of what technology can deliver in IT terms, rather than what it would mean for the business. Instead, ask yourself what any new system or deployment will deliver from a stakeholder perspective. For example, what would the CEO, CFO, or relevant business unit leaders most want to know about this innovation? Can you express it in specific revenue or cost terms, or another relevant metric? If the wider business landscape remains unfamiliar, consider ways to build your knowledge.— You can read up on the subject, seek a mentor, or go all out and get a business degree or MBA, as this blogger recommends.
- Be positive. Overhauling outdated IT systems is a recognized way of cutting costs. But what else can IT contribute? Educate colleagues about the productivity gains and revenue opportunities associated with IT investments and your stock will rise considerably. By emphasizing the role played by the IT department in driving innovation, you can transform the entire relationship between IT and the rest of the business.
- Learn to listen. CIOs need to remind themselves that communication is a two-way process. They must make sure that they ask relevant questions and evaluate the answers carefully – both in terms of what was said and what was left unsaid. The reality is that others may well be struggling to understand your IT language, just as you might struggle to explain things in their business language.
- Network, network, network. As many recent posts have highlighted, endeavor to make yourself and your department as visible as possible. Exploit a variety of formal and informal communications channels. Present IT as a service function that can oil the wheels of the business and coach other members of the IT function to do the same.
Do you have any examples of tech jargon issues in your business? Please share them below in the comments.