The Undiagnosed Disease Plaguing IT Corporate Alignment, Part I

Alignment. Collaboration. Relationship Building. Emotional IQ. Customer Focus. All buzzwords used regularly as the key to overcoming a malaise that seems to permeate IT organizations and create barriers to alignment. Increasingly CIOs are hired for their communication and management skills rather than their deep technology expertise. Yet alignment and satisfaction with IT doesn’t seem to be getting any better.

In my previous columns we’ve shared many tactics CIOs are taking to improve IT alignment, vendor relations and increase overall satisfaction with IT (both inside and outside of the organization). While they all certainly help, they don’t address the root of the problem.

At my company, AZtech Strategies, we’ve spent the last year trying to find the root cause. We’ve been frustrated by the lack of substantive progress toward what is beginning to feel like the Holy Grail of IT and corporate alignment. In over 300 conversations with CIO’s this past year, the pervasive theme has been, “It just shouldn’t be this difficult. It’s not like we’re trying to achieve world peace.”

After reading Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind , I believe we may be treating the symptoms, not the disease. The book postulates we are on the verge of a transition from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. The Conceptual Age, Pink states, will be marked by a more artistic and holistic approach to every aspect of life. In order to differentiate ourselves and prosper in this new age, we will need to develop our softer, right brain oriented skills to enable us to connect with each other at a deeper level.

Putting aside the inaccuracies inherent in the oversimplified term “right brain,” Pink’s theory got us thinking. Could it be that the fundamental challenge is that IT organizations are right-brain phobic?

IT organizations aren’t exactly filled with right-brain thinkers. In fact, the softer “touchy feely” right-brain skills are traditionally considered a liability in an IT organization. That attitude made sense when technology was nascent and spoke its own code-driven language. But as technology becomes increasingly user friendly and integrated into our daily lives, the skills required are changing.

The challenge we face, particularly in technology related industries and job functions, is that in our commitment to analytical thinking we not only fail to develop the softer more intuitive skills, we dismiss them as unimportant, and see them as weaknesses that could threaten our career.

We’ve defined right-brain phobia as an exaggerated, inexplicable and illogical fear of the emotional and creative side of our talents; a fear of applying creativity, empathy, intuition and humor talents to work tasks.

In our over 300 interviews with CIOs we identified the symptoms of right-brain phobia in corporate America. The most interesting finding is that the organizations themselves, in addition to the people within them, exhibit the symptoms.

Since IT cannot heal itself in a vacuum, let’s take a look a few of at the corporate symptoms:

  • Internally focused meetings and tasks taking priority over customer focused and sales enabling activities.
  • Customers continually complain your IT capabilities (or lack there of) are hurting their businesses.
  • Restructuring or re-organization within 18 months of the last restructure and re-organization.
  • Cross functional initiatives designed to improve corporate alignment fail to meet their objectives or consistently miss milestones.
  • An endless parade of consultants down the executive corridor.
  • Etc, etc.

    It’s almost guaranteed your organization is right-brain phobic. For most of the last century, we’ve neglected the right brain in favor of hard science and analytics. Our amazing growth and prosperity came from logic-oriented technology advancements. With progress, comes social change. It is that social change we find ourselves in the midst of that is creating the tension.

    Certain organizational functions tend to evolve in sync with society, others, due to their internal focus, are slow to change. The resulting tension is often a catalyst for positive change. However, we found eight-out-of-10 corporations actually fight the change external functions like sales and marketing try to champion. Right-brain phobia created a mind-set that looked for consistency and certainty. An alarming number of global corporations are still looking for a magic pill that will fix all of their ills.

    For IT it is even more critical to recognize the existence of right-brain phobia. Increasingly, technology’s mandate is to enable creativity, social networks, collaboration and personal growth. As a people, the desire to connect in spite of (or perhaps because of) the separation technology enables is stronger than ever. business is morphing into an enabler of broader and deeper connections. if the IT function of must become the lifeblood of this new charter, then, in order to do that well, IT must develop its creative, empathetic and intuitive talents.

    In next month’s column we’ll explore individual and corporate treatments for right-brain phobia.

    Anne Zink is founder of AZtech Strategies and go-to-market strategy consultant for the high tech industry. AZtech is dedicated to developing multi-channel strategies based on customer expectations, channel input, and industry expertise. AZtech specializes in bringing emerging technologies and services to market.