Perception is crucial for internal IT organizations. While CIOs understand the value their teams bring, this is not always apparent to stakeholders and clients. IT leaders must communicate the accomplishments of IT in a way that resonates with people, similar to marketing efforts. The inability to effectively communicate the value of IT contributes to frustrations within technology organizations, such as not being involved in strategic decision-making processes and lack of financial support for key initiatives.
A study by the Info-Tech Research Group found a direct correlation between overall satisfaction with IT and satisfaction with IT communications. Technology is now inseparable from business, according to Kirk Ball, EVP and CIO of Giant Eagle. However, transforming long-held perceptions and making the value proposition of IT tangible for business partners requires effort.
In a recent virtual roundtable discussion, IT leaders shared strategies for marketing their IT organization’s value and developing a marketing mindset and skillset across their teams. One key aspect highlighted was the importance of messaging. Every conversation leaves an impression, and in a world saturated with messages, every word matters. Technical jargon and acronyms that may not hold meaning for business partners only add to the noise. To gain buy-in and establish credibility, IT leaders must articulate the benefits of their initiatives and the business problems they solve in a relatable way.
Adapting language to the audience is crucial. Marykay Wells, CIO of Pearson, points out that adjusting communication style and vocabulary is necessary to prevent losing interest within 30 seconds. Anna Reuhl, Senior Director of Enterprise Architecture for Performance Materials and Coatings IT at Dow, emphasizes the use of language familiar to the majority of the company. Simple changes in phrasing can significantly impact perceptions, as Claus T. Jensen, Chief Innovation Officer of Teledoc Health, explains with the example of “integrated” versus “aligned.”
The power of storytelling is another valuable tool for IT leaders. Storytelling allows leaders to communicate a compelling vision and engage their teams. Andy Bird, former CEO of Walt Disney International, demonstrated the effectiveness of storytelling in communicating his vision. Providing frameworks and guidance to help team members tell stories effectively is crucial, as many struggle with this skill. Mapping out objectives, intended audience response, and content on a whiteboard can be an effective approach, as described by Reuhl.
Jensen emphasizes the importance of purpose in storytelling, ensuring that the message aligns with intended objectives. How the story is delivered also matters. Giant Eagle’s leadership academy, for example, trains participants to use visuals, data, and metaphors from the audience’s context to help explain how technology can support their goals. Stories can be employed in everyday interactions with clients, stakeholders, and partners, contributing to what Jensen calls “hallway marketing.”
However, adapting a marketing mindset and building storytelling and communication skills across IT teams can be challenging. Jensen outlines a three-stage process: changing actions to alter the narrative, changing thinking to embody the new approach, and changing influence to effectively communicate the value of IT. Jensen sponsors a storytelling program as part of a broader learning journey in his organization. It emphasizes that leadership is not limited to executives and encourages individuals to step up as leaders in the technology field.
To summarize, perception plays a vital role in internal IT organizations. IT leaders must communicate the value of IT in a way that resonates with stakeholders and clients. By adopting marketing strategies, focusing on messaging, and leveraging storytelling, IT leaders can transform perceptions and effectively communicate the value proposition of their organizations. Building a marketing mindset and skillset across IT teams is essential for long-term success.