RESEARCH & RESOURCES

Marketing the IT Department In-House: The Powerful Position of a Servant

The dynamics of professional servanthood put the IT department in a position of increased effectiveness.

By Max T. Russell, Max and Max Communications

Serving, service, servanthood -- whichever term you prefer -- can be done from a position of real strength. Don't confuse it with slavery. Servants can exercise powerful influence. They can lead.

In fact, servanthood is the path to an IT department's best work. Everybody needs an IT staff that puts the enterprise's daily business first. The BI servant is not the one who drops everything to respond to the snap of another's fingers. In this article, I will explain three dynamics of business servanthood -- influence, power, and leadership -- and how these help IT be successful.

First, I want to make sure we appreciate the concept of serving, because it seems to scare or elude many (if not most) IT directors.

Server and Servant are Good Words

All the IT experts I know want to be a vital part of the organization that hired them. Nevertheless, some are hard-headed and power-hungry. I think they become this way from a lack of business sense and because they don't understand how to command respect for their work without becoming the users' slaves. They're scared to death of being seen as a servant. It makes them feel weak.

Ironically, "server" is a common term in the IT department. A good server is a highly respected, indispensable piece of equipment.

"Public servant" is another familiar concept. We expect politicians and other government officials to serve the people. The best of them are known for their leadership and are respected all the more for using their power to serve.

Similarly, the IT department can be a respected, invaluable "public servant" to its enterprise.

Three Dynamics of Servanthood

Assuming your customers are reasonable, being a business servant can increase your ability to succeed where so many other IT professionals have failed. Consider these three dynamics:

Influence. What kind of influence should the expert IT department use to best serve its customers? Some directors think their job is to control. That is a weak position if you want to do your best work. Do you want to be seen as expert, as an approachable in-house consultant? Users will have an easier time listening to your ideas when they see that you are preoccupied with helping them.

Power. Do you want to be a strong department that effects change? Users will have an easier time submitting to your influence when they see that you use your power to distribute benefits to them. Influence gives you power.

Leadership. Once you have influence and power, you are in position to spend them wisely on BI efforts. The next logical step for you is to lead. Users will have an easier time following you when they see that your priority is to rely on their cooperation in determining solutions to their business needs.

Selfless service puts the IT department in a position of increased effectiveness. That is the reward appropriate to anyone who is given the responsibility of providing business solutions. Big responsibilities require big advantages that managers dream about -- loyalty, insightful cooperation, and respect from users.

Real BI Based on Servanthood

No IT staff can do its best work without these advantages. BI adoption is often hindered because these advantages have not been established.

BI works best when the proper relationship is established. In many situations, it would be natural for that relationship to blossom during the BI process. In any case, business-like servanthood leads to pleasant work experiences.

A Southern educational service center wasn't properly servicing its biggest school district, which had a critical data problem in a subpopulation student group. A BI consultant hired by the service center for another problem paid a visit to the school district.

Acting as an attentive servant, he led the district superintendent and IT director to an unexpected fact that solved the problem: a student had undergone a sex change, throwing the student into another subpopulation. That discovery process established the consultant's credibility.

Thereafter, the superintendent called on the consultant for business solutions. His technical expertise and servanthood replaced the service center's IT support. The consultant was working with influence, power, and leadership. He had earned everything he needed for doing everything he wanted to do -- and all he wanted to do was to solve problems.

Keeping Users Comfortable

Finally, use your power to keep users comfortable. They have work to do. If a want is in conflict with a need -- such as when a user wants to stay "on the old system" but the new one is inevitable -- IT has a precious chance to help the user understand exactly why the change is necessary and how it will help the organization.

A college's IT department recently replaced the school's printers and software without giving the students any explanation in advance. The students had to figure out on their own, one by one, how to find the printers in the software. For all the stress and agitation the change caused, IT never even explained the benefits of the new system, yet I'm sure it was needed.

Remember the foundational principle of marketing -- get inside the customer's head. Users don't fear servant experts. Have great reasons for changes that must come, and users will be all the more inclined to impart influence, power, and leadership to you.

Gladly and skillfully serving in-house customers should give IT the envious ability to assemble the kind of plans and cooperation that lead to uncommon results -- the kind BI is made for.

Max T. Russell is the owner of Max and Max Communications. He works behind the scenes to promote individuals and projects in a variety of industries. He and his identical twin, Max S., have been discussing and dissecting the challenges of IT in the workplace for the past 18 years. You can reach him at maxt@maxtrussell.com.

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