Jason Dimaio learned an invaluable lesson this year when a new CEO replaced his former boss. A lot of executives were ousted, and those remaining were nervous.
“I forgot about how to ask the questions,” says Dimaio, the company’s director of IT. “I wasn’t listening. I was proposing all these ideas to make the business better, to improve the foundation of the business for growth for the next three to five years.” When the company was purchased by a venture capitalist, there wasn’t any interest in long-term growth; they wanted to strip it and flip it.
“When I didn’t understand the strategy, I kept offering solutions that were not aligned to the business,” he says. “The business decided I was not of value to them.”
Dimaio, a consultant at Dimaio Associates and former director of IT for White Energy, shared this story at SpiceWorld Austin last month, in a session on turning IT know-how into strategic business value. He says IT leaders can provide more strategic value to their organization than they currently do — but it requires a different approach.
“I’m a recovering solutionist,” says Dimaio. “I really like to fix problems. It gets me into a lot of trouble, though.” The problem is, you might be solving the wrong problem — even if it’s best from a technology point of view.
“A solution in and of itself has no intrinsic value,” he says.
In a recent survey, The Standish Group found that 19 per cent of IT projects in small businesses were cancelled before completion. The No. 1 reason? Twenty-nine per cent of respondents said executives failed to buy in to the project. In other words, the failure had nothing to do with technology.
“Sometimes you have support, but what you really need is commitment,” says Dimaio. “If a project is sponsored by IT, you’ve got a pretty small chance of having it implemented successfully or finished to completion.”
IT pros need to move away from the “solution” and try to clarify the problem they’re trying to solve. If your CEO wants more security, you need to clarify what exactly that means — after all, security is a pretty generic term and means different things to different people.
You want to pivot the conversation, says Dimaio, and find out what security means to the CEO. “More security” might mean ensuring sensitive data doesn’t leave the company.
“A solution in and of itself has no intrinsic value,” says Dimaio. It’s something that IT pros often get stuck on, since the thought process behind a business decision isn’t always clear to IT. Dimaio remembers a former boss who didn’t want to replace the company’s aging phone system, even though employees were complaining about it. He felt that if someone really needed to make a call, they’d use their personal mobile phone.
While Dimaio didn’t agree with that, he also realized that business leaders aren’t always looking at a problem from the same perspective as IT.
Oftentimes, the CEO doesn’t come to you. But if you get to know the people around you, says Dimaio, you’ll start to see how you can add value to the business.
Dimaio recalls an employee contacting him because she couldn’t receive faxes. While he was surprised the company actually had a fax machine, he took the time to ask questions, understand her workflow and understand the value of the data she was working with. Rather than simply fixing the fax machine, he helped to improve and automate her workflow — saving about 30 hours a week and boosting operational efficiency by about 13 per cent.
Someone once told Dimaio that people buy the visionary before they ever buy the vision. You need passion. You need to believe in what you’re doing. And when you build up credibility, “that’s a currency that’s invaluable.”
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net