How to get The Board on-board with your IT Strategy
Skillfully communicating IT Strategy is just as important for the business as describing any other plan.
IT has a cost and an anticipated return, it requires research, development and change and the impact of the money you spend can be measured with a relatively high degree of accuracy, compared to some investments an organisation makes.
So, after you’ve taken the time to consider the role of IT in delivering on the business plan and you have your IT Roadmap prepared, how do you communicate your strategy to the organisation?
First, know who you’re talking to, and why
There are multiple levels of stakeholder in any organisation. Some need exposure to every part of the strategy – how it was derived, what it will cost and how it will be measured. And some need just the basics – a description of the changes they can expect to see in the next few months.
Start by identifying all the different types of audience you need to appeal to.
Here’s a quick guide:
Decision-makers – The Board, a CFO or CEO
This kind of decision-maker wants to understand that you have done all the background research to ground your strategy in reality, that you have weighed different options for achieving the organisation’s corporate goals and that your assessment of the likelihood of achieving the required outcomes is high.
They want to see that your overall strategy has some well-defined tactics that are costed and timebound, with reliable start and finish dates for projects and assigned resources for BAU activities.
Endorsers – Middle Management
You need these people to understand why their staff shouldn’t cut corners or form a shadow IT operation that impedes delivery of the strategy, and to take action to correct the adoption of poor IT practices.
Implementers – The IT Team
Your team needs to understand why you have made your particular decisions and what you require from them to deliver. It’s important that they be given an opportunity to challenge the assumptions and tactics of your strategy.
The Majority – End Users
These are the people with whom you’ll have the least day-to-day communication during implementation but who will also play the greatest collective role in your strategy’s successful execution.
They need to know what changes are coming and when. They’ll need support and guidance to adopt the changes you need to achieve a successful delivery.
How should you communicate?
Obviously, the decision-makers come first – you need endorsement before you can communicate with other team members.
Board-level presentations take many forms, but the key elements are:
- Link your strategy to the achievement of organisational goals. The senior leadership of the organisation will previously have communicated a strategy and you’re being asked to deliver on it. But without some explicit guidance as to how an investment in, say, a cloud-based email security solution helps the businesses achieve a lower overall cost of IT you will find your audience gets lots easily, and that makes it hard to get all the funding you want.
- Demonstrate that you have found the most cost-effective way forward. Boards and other senior decision-makers are resistant to the “just trust me” line. The board wants to see evidence that you have not taken the gold-plated approach and if you don’t demonstrate that you considered comparable alternatives, they won’t be able to fully endorse your strategy.
- Make it timebound and measurable. By quantifying things like the cost of security incidents, infrastructure savings over forward projections for cloud solutions, and the ability to delay recruiting new staff because of an efficiency project you’re proposing, you will find your strategy is not only easier to sell to the board, but that your model for strategic presentations becomes the go-to model in the company.
Once you have the board on-board (pardon the pun), you can expand on the communication of your strategy.
Start with your team. It will demonstrate trust and give you an important final sense-check of what you’re just about to announce to the rest of the organisation.
You’ll want to communicate the projects, the anticipated gains for the organisation and how the department will be measured against the strategy. Provide an explanation of the strategy’s implementation framework and how/when the IT team will measure and discuss progress and obstacles to implementation. It’s important to do this even if you have well-defined meetings where you already talk about BAU activities.
Then, if time affords it, gather middle management and explain the strategy to them. Linking the IT strategy to individual department goals will help you immeasurably as you recruit each manager to be your endorser to their team members. If you can demonstrate how helping you helps them, you’ll be almost all the way to a successful communication.
Then there’s just the End Users.
You need the vast majority of the employees on board with any strategy that requires them to change and adapt. Whether it’s a new operating environment, new policies regarding social media use, or a whole new ERP that you’re going to be delivering, when people are connected to the reasons why the change is happening, they are much more likely to endorse it to themselves and their peers. You need that acceptance and endorsement for the greatest success.
Here’s our suggestion for communicating to them. Note that the same principles apply to any kind of strategy, and even if your strategy is not terribly divergent from last year’s plan, this is an important communication habit to develop.
Call an all-company meeting (or video conference)
It’s worth noting, before you go too much further, that IT Managers are sometimes, shall we say, a little reserved when it comes to public communications. We encourage you to have a go anyway – you will do yourself a favour when you recruit end-users to your plan.
In the all-company meeting, you want to create a sense of comfort around any changes that you think are going to have an impact on end-users.
Put yourself in their shoes for a few minutes and think about the potential impacts of all your proposed measures. You will be able to see all the positives easily, but what about the potential negatives?
People are often wary of any change because it requires mental effort to adapt their neurons. Anticipate the negatives and address them.
Use Visual Aids
The amount of thought behind your strategy is immense. The End-users don’t need to know all the reasons why you arrived at your particular strategy. So keep it simple and use visual aids to explain the positives, negatives and counterbalancing measures you’ve put in place to make any transition as painless as possible. Explain the timeline that the IT department will stick to.
Connect them to the plan
Describe how this plan benefits them. Forget the corporate drivers that you used to connect your plan to the board’s goals – the employees and contractors of the company want to know how it relates to them, what it means, what you’ll require of them and what’s in it for them when it’s successful.
Explain how your detailed research at the coalface alongside them (you did that, didn’t you?) informed the creation of the plan and helped you see how to work with them to make the operation of the company (and the work they perform) better.
Explain how you’ll alleviate some or all of their pains and increase the pleasures of the work environment when the strategy is fully implemented.
Point out what barriers may arise that could potentially prevent your organisation from achieving the successful implementation of the plan. Ask for their help in recognising those barriers as they arise and playing a role in overcoming them.
Remember that all employees have different levels of understanding, so make sure that you not only describe the features of the plan but also what the terms mean.
Allow them to ask you questions
You will already have the answers to most questions. Some will require a follow-up. Those are great opportunities to be seen to be responsive and committed to open communication with end-users.
And after the meeting…
Commit to continual communication
Here are some starting ideas.
- Provide a monthly (or, at most, a quarterly) report card showing how the IT department is performing against the plan. If you can find a way to deliver this to end-users in a face-to-face or video conference, all the better
- Provide employee reviews for your IT team that are directly connected to the strategic plan. People pay more attention to the work and behaviours that they are measured on.
- Consider tying remuneration to the success of plan initiatives. It’s controversial, but it’s also a great way to lock in commitment from people who are, in part, motivated by financial gain.
- If your company publishes an internal newsletter, take the opportunity to contribute news about the implementation of the plan. Don’t be afraid to discuss challenges publicly. It will make the plan more real and accessible, and increase the chances of successful implementation.
- In the same reporting vein, put up a kind of measurement graphic that can connect everyone back to the plan
- If your company uses monitors that report daily KPI’s to staff, consider outputting your measurement graphic there. Putting your strategy on constant display is a great way to show how integral IT is to the organisation and creates a certain internal pressure to deliver on time amongst your IT team.
In the end, there’s no one right way to communicate your IT strategy. But if you use some or all of these steps to communicate yours, you will reduce resistance and increase the likelihood of achieving buy-in at all levels of the organisation.