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What Does Your IT Department Have in Common with Starbucks?

A brand. The question is, what does your department’s brand say about its reputation within the company?

What do you want your IT team to be known for? The cold, harsh reality is that most IT shops already have their “known-for’s” because, intended or not, every IT team has a reputation.

When a business colleague mentions bringing IT into the conversation, do others in the conversation roll their eyes? Would someone else gently grab the person by the arm and suggest waiting till the last minute to bring in IT because IT “doesn’t get it?” Is IT known as the place where great ideas go to die?

Another harsh reality for IT leaders is that if they don’t manage their brand, they get the default brand for IT shops. These days, that brand is battered. Words such as “slow,” “expensive,” “unreliable,” and “rigid” come to mind.

Successful companies spend significant time and resources managing their brands. In fact, some marketing researchers have concluded that brands are one of the most valuable assets a company has.1

But those are businesses, and businesses live or die by their brands. Brands are tied to customer perceptions of quality and value. Those perceptions drive sales, and sales drive everything. What’s at risk by managing (or mismanaging) the IT department’s brand? Surely it’s not all that important. Right?

It matters plenty, and business leaders who have not thought about it in a while are losing valuable time. They are holding back their teams, and possibly hurting their businesses. The business value of having a great technology brand is significant. Benefits to a technology organization with a good brand include:

  • Improved culture, employee morale, recruitment, engagement, and retention because IT is not just a back-office function, and people are proud to work for the organization;
  • Reduced “Shadow IT” — the act of business units circumventing their technology organization to purchase technology products and services — as business units come to understand that the best place to go for quality technology solutions that work like they should and integrate with the rest of the business is their very own IT team;
  • Increased technology adoption, because business users trust that the change will improve their experience and productivity.

These benefits, while hard to quantify to the dollar, are very real and certainly worth pursuing.

Managing the technology “known-for’s” starts with the understanding that the technology team has a brand to be managed and that the CIO is responsible for managing it.

Next, IT leadership must become keenly aware of what its team is known for now, what it would rather be known for, and for closing the gap. This is not just idle banter over a cup of coffee or in a weekly staff meeting. It requires dedicated time and attention. Once the CIO and IT leadership choose the brand messages, they must get IT employees thinking about those messages all the time. They should be revisited regularly to discuss and evaluate progress.

If we look at the IT department of American Tire Distributors (a Jabian partner) as an example, the CIO has taken action to manage his team’s brand. He and his leadership team have chosen three brand messages:

  • Great People
  • Business Partners
  • Innovators

Simply choosing a brand message does not make it so. If only it were that easy. Choosing brand messages without backing them up with actions can have the reverse effect. In lieu of an advertising budget to reinforce the brand, every member of the IT team needs to understand how their actions can exemplify the team’s brand messages.

Great people have keen business minds, engage in business problems and opportunities, and are ambassadors for the IT team as well as the company. Great people are never content with mediocrity.

Business partners want to be active participants in all key business meetings. They show an appropriate sense of urgency when business problems arise.

Innovators never stop thinking about how they can use technology to make the business more successful. Innovators love to solve problems.

Behaviors and beliefs are easier to drive if you take control of your brand. It is no different, and no less important, than a business taking ownership of its brand. The CIO has to lead this effort from the top and must embody the brand messages every day. The IT leadership team can accelerate acceptance of the brand messages by making sure team members who demonstrate the brand messages get recognized and promoted. Over time, the brand reputation of the team will move toward the desired “known-for’s.” It is inevitable if the entire team is behind it.

Brand management skills are not generally part of the CIO’s job description. But technology leaders must be aware that the accomplishments of their team will go unnoticed if they are not shared, and the brand will suffer. CIOs are often preoccupied with keeping the factory running and do not take a step back to think about the businesses they are running.2 Technology leaders have to wear many hats to be successful, but the Technology Brand Manager is one that is often overlooked and can transform the perception of technology from just a necessary cost center to a valuable business partner.

Sources

  1. Neumeier, Marty (2006). The Brand Gap: How to Bridge the Distance Between Business Strategy and Design, Berkeley, CA: New Riders Publishing.
  2. “Running IT Like a Business,” Jabian Journal, spring 2013.
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