It’s Easy to Blame IT

Sitting in a marketing offsite meeting earlier this week, someone complained about IT not providing users with the latest computer. While I understood his sentiment, I was annoyed with the easy, uninformed jab. I interjected that it was financial not an IT issue, but this fell on biased ears. It is not the first nor last time I will hear a comment like this. Heck, I made the same comments before I joined IT.

Let’s face it – IT is easy to blame. Our environments are old, complex and challenging to maintain. We sacrifice user experience to incorporate governance and security. We introduce changes that impact our users for better (and occasionally worse). We scale back and offshore our help desks to save money. We don’t invest enough to provide innovative, user-savvy experiences. And, frankly, our IT communications usually don’t help our cause.

While some of this is out of our control, our users’ negative perception has compounded for years. However, here are a few ways to start turning this around.

Be transparent. No need to go into great detail, but providing some context about why we are doing something will help. For instance, cite a change in policy or business decision that is driving a change. That said, it’s not about placing blame – we are business partners and enablers, so be reasonable.

Communicate clearly. Provide fewer, more meaningful communications. I’m sure we’ve all received cryptic emails, outage messages, and ticket updates that are riddled with IT jargon or devoid of any helpful information. We can definitely make this easier for our users.

Arm your support teams. They are on the front lines with users, so make sure your support and help desk teams are knowledgeable, personable and reliable. And, provide them with the information and incentives needed to not only answer questions, but to offer helpful advice.

Empower ITers to be advocates. We interact with users every day, so make sure ITers are your first and best users and advocates for new services. That way, if there in a meeting in another part of the company, they can answer a question, provide a helpful tip or even correct a misunderstanding.

Most importantly, be patient. It took years to earn this reputation, so it will take time and dedication to enhance it. While we may not win them over entirely, they may be less inclined to complain about something and more apt give us the benefit of the doubt.

Hiring An IT Communications Pro

When I told a colleague I was leaving the public relations team at a Fortune 500 company to lead IT communications within the company, I got a sarcastic, “who wouldn’t leave PR for the glamorous world of IT?” I can’t blame him because I was also hesitant about the role until I met with the CIO and his chief of staff.

That said, this is a unique position for an IT organization, so here are a few traits to look for when hiring someone:

A communications background. This goes beyond some basic email writing and PowerPoint skills. You need a writer capable of turning complex products, technical information and, of course, IT-speak into concise and consumable information for your users.

PR sensibilities. You don’t need a PR person, but your communicator needs to be able to assess and determine the best way to approach or message a situation to users while enhancing or protecting the overall IT brand.

Multitasking. Given the hectic nature of IT, your communicator will be bombarded with requests to help with emails, slides, events and numerous other activities. He or she must manage the incoming and execute (or decline) accordingly.

Managing up. As this is a newer role in IT organizations, it’s safe to say people will want to default to how they have traditionally communicated and will pushback on some new approaches. Your communicator needs to be confident in his or her recommendations and comfortable pushing back and managing up when it makes sense.

Outside perspective. Not only will this help with capturing a true view of the user experience to enhance a communications, but your communicator can play devil’s advocate to ensure an approach is in the users’ and IT’s best interest.

I’m sure there are more traits. What did I miss?