Ticky Marks – a Reflection of Your Organization’s Value

Chances are you can easily remember times your home internet service connectivity went out, leaving you feeling inconvenienced and grumpy. Or you distinctly remember the times you lost power to your house, literally leaving you in the dark. But without a lot of prompting, you’ll likely have trouble remembering any specific events when your home utility service providers did something you want to applaud them for. Is this imbalance because these service providers only screw up and never do anything good? Of course not! It’s human nature to always remember bad things and have to be reminded of good things.

This holds true for how people think of your IT organization. People will just naturally, and without solicitation, add ticky marks into the negative experience column and rarely add unprompted ticky marks into the positive column. It’s up to us, as IT professionals, to make sure that we’re doing things that warrant a ticky mark in the good column. And it’s equally important for us to communicate what we’re doing in a way that encourages our constituents to balance their perception of our work.

Tony’s Ticky Mark Theory

IT organizations feel that their work will speak for itself. “We’re doing a good job. We don’t need to spend any time communicating about, let alone, marketing what we’re doing.” Yet IT staff are likely the worst communicators on the planet. And this poor communication with constituents and business partners has real repercussions. If the only time constituents are hearing from IT or about IT is when there’s bad news, their overall perception of the IT organization isn’t going to be very positive.

How do you get your constituents to think about your organization in a positive light? Find opportunities to highlight and share all the good stuff your organization is doing. Your organization is likely doing a lot of great stuff. But if folks don’t know about it, it’s like it doesn’t exist. In a vacuum, people in other departments will just naturally assume that if they don’t hear good news from you, there is no good news. 

But don’t just publish a list of stuff you’re doing. Remember, your constituents don’t care about IT projects and goals the way you do. They aren’t excited about new technology advances, improved maintainability, etc. What they care about is doing their jobs: increasing sales, improving product development efficiencies, streamlining hiring and purchasing processes, or conducting research and teaching students. What they care about is how what your IT organization is doing will improve their lives.

So talk to them that way. Explain the positive business impacts of what you’re doing and periodically remind them of what you’ve done to support them.

Changing the nature of how you communicate will go a long way towards improving and strengthening your relationship with constituents. For example, in the Stanford University Libraries, our IT group had been digitizing books, medieval manuscripts, maps, and other important cultural archive materials for years. But our fellow library colleagues perceived the IT group as a big black hole. No one knew what we were doing. We started publishing a monthly note to the entire library organization that described all the cool stuff we’d digitized that month, and how librarians, researchers, faculty, and students were planning to use those materials. Lots of people got very excited about the digitization program, they got a sense of the huge volume of materials we were digitizing each month, and our credibility went way up.

The trick, once you start to communicate this information, is to be sure that IT is actually providing value to the business!

These are my latest ephemeral thoughts on the business of managing IT. I’d love to hear your perspective. Leave a comment or share a thought.  

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