10 Ways to Manage the Expectations of Colleagues without IT Backgrounds

Posted by  Erick Bos

The disconnect between Information Technology and end users is as old as the discipline itself, and it remains a crucial obstacle for your ability to be effective within your organization. Indeed, closing the "expectation gap" is likely to become a question of your department's very existence in the not-so-distant future.

More than 80 percent of CEOs and board members expect their IT departments to pivot towards a revenue-generation mission, while only 62 percent of IT managers expect the same. Worse, company leaders are split on the very need for a dedicated IT department in tomorrow's corporate structure, with 41 percent saying they expect IT duties to be decentralized throughout the organization.

These larger signs point to the need to improve your core functions immediately, as you may not have the chance to do so tomorrow. Here are 10 ways to get started.

Adjust Your Perspective towards Service

The IT sector has a long history of viewing itself as one of computer scientists and technicians first and foremost. However, your organization probably has a different viewpoint -- one that holds you to the standards of a service provider, with all the customer-centric philosophy that entails.

While the argument can be made from both angles, at the end of the day the external perceptions of your role are often more important than internal perceptions. Accordingly, it's usually best to adopt a service-oriented mindset that views your organization as customers who must be satisfied.

Schedule Tactically

Neuroscience says that the most important factor in setting the expectations of your peers and colleagues comes at the very start of a new project. Far from being "preliminary," the earliest schedules drawn up during a project's inception will set the cognitive baseline from which all your subsequent work will be perceived. When your work doesn't conform to that baseline, research indicates that your colleagues often experience literal cognitive dissonance and will attempt to resolve it by reverting to the earliest expectations they had for your performance.

For your sake -- and your work's -- it's best to craft a schedule from the start that's conservatively realistic, rather than aspirational or diversionary.

Don't Be an Island in the Organization

It's often all too easy to view your department as a stable island in the sea of business, but doing so puts you at risk of being viewed poorly by others. Technology such as the cloud have led to a business environment with fewer silos. A collaborative approach is encouraged between departments, rather than everyone focusing on their own needs.

To make the case for your own capabilities and requirements, you need to establish lines of reciprocal communication throughout the organization. Doing otherwise means that you often won't be brought into a discussion until it's already focused on "what went wrong," instead of "how can we do better?"

Actively Cultivate Top-Level Stakeholders

It's important to make IT's mission a core component of the entire organization's mission, and that requires champions at the very top of the organizational chart. Cultivating relationships with top-tier stakeholders ensures that your department will always have a voice in the board room, and these relationships can give you crucial insight into how the organization at large is perceiving your work. Many companies live and die based on the strategic technology decisions made, and you don’t want your organization missing out on the benefits associated with the cloud and other innovative solutions.

Form Partnerships with Enforcers outside IT

Beyond top-level allies, you also need to form partnerships in other departments at every organizational tier. Strive to create relationships that allow you to communicate your working parameters to "enforcers" outside of IT, who can remind their own peers of your capabilities and restrictions on their own. This structure is also beneficial to guide departments who use Software as a Service applications for their daily operations, as the enforcers can direct user inquiries to the cloud vendor directly when applicable.

Recognize the Limitations of the Waterfall

"The Waterfall" and other hierarchical models of development are increasingly irrelevant in today's world. While the waterfall expects your "client" to request a job, then disappear until you're ready to deliver, today's users want to have input throughout every stage of the development cycle, and your mindset must adjust accordingly.

Create and Communicate Micro-Objectives…

Embrace the death of the waterfall by reworking your development cycle into one that focuses on a series of small objectives, rather than one or two large ones. Beyond accommodating your colleagues' desire to actively participate in development, micro-objectives allow you to consistently chalk up smaller wins that can boost outside perceptions of your performance.

…But Don't Neglect the Primary Goals

While micro-objectives are better suited to modern expectations, it's still your responsibility to monitor whether the big picture is being attended to. Work to ensure that the primary objective isn't getting bogged down in the details, and communicate openly with your colleagues when their expectations conflict with that purpose.

Adopt a Strategic Mindset for Your Industry

Instead of operating with a reactive perspective, it's time to pivot towards a forward-thinking strategic mindset. IT is not a one-size-fits-all discipline, and that means you need to have a deep understanding of your organization's industry, especially where near-future developments are concerned. In a world where your CEO may not even expect your department to exist in a few years, it's vital that you understand your organization's strategic goals and how you can become a partner in achieving them.

Build Expectations into the Development Model

Above all else, it's vital to remember that outside expectations of your performance are just as important as your own. From inception to delivery, you need to work aggressively and actively to incorporate those expectations into your development model. Communicating openly and realistically about how -- and whether -- your colleagues' desires can be accommodated in the development cycle will often snuff out disappointment before it has a chance to grow.

By making your department a full partner in the organization and communicating proactively with key players at every level, you can ensure that IT is viewed as a critical component of your organization's strategic objectives.

Erick Bos

Director Cloud Excellence at Unit4