How to be More Relevant to the Business

Over the years, I have written a lot on the topic of credibility (see sidebar). Over and above delivering great results, building your credibility is necessary to enhance both your effectiveness and survivability as a CIO. It helps you avoid stupid questions, re-work, and endlessly defending your honor (and your budget). After credibility, relevance is perhaps the next most important consideration. Credibility is about what you are capable of, relevance gets at the “What have you done for me lately?” question.

For example, CIO’s with the best of intentions of aligning with their business counterparts often get frustrated because they get stiff-armed from the line of business managers. They can’t get meetings, or the meetings are always canceled at the last minute. You have all these great ideas about how IT can fuel their business growth, but you never even get to express them. If this happens to you, it is because you are not relevant.

So, how do you stand out and be seen as more central and critical to the business? If you want to increase your relevance there are a few key realities to consider. These are true for anyone in any function, not just IT.

No one cares what you do. The sooner you accept that reality, the faster you can be more relevant. Relevance is about being relevant to that which others already care about, not making others care about you.

Everybody is fighting dragons. If you are finding that no one is embracing whatever it is you are talking about (which is you fighting your dragons), step back and consider what dragons they are fighting. You need to either help them fight their dragons first, or show them why they can stop for a minute without getting killed.

Say you want to introduce a standardized CRM system into a new region. You go to a team to propose this―a change you feel is much better for their business. No one listens to you. The reason is they are already working hard to deliver on existing commitments (their own dragons). They simply can’t care about your dragons while they are currently engaged in battle with theirs.

You need to do something to either pause the battle, call off the dragons, or help them with their fight. If they are worried about orders, revenue, and cost your pitch needs to start with, “I want to talk to you about increasing your ability to get more orders and convert those orders into revenue more quickly at a reduce cost.” You can’t be relevant unless they think it’s important. And to make them think it’s important you are much better off to start with something they already think is important. Only then you educate them on something new.

Don’t try to educate people about your function. They don’t care. By definition, if you need to education someone about what you do, you are not relevant. For example, if you are trying to educate a business unit about a data center investment or network upgrade, remember they only really care about their business unit.

Trying to educate them about the value of what you are doing in your IT terms will waste time and annoy both of you. Instead learn about their business and translate everything you say about what you do into their language―the specific benefits for them. Your “data center” and “network upgrade” investments become relevant if they are presented as “improving customer service”.