Let’s be honest. A lot of buzzwords are thrown around in nearly every company. The biggest offenders?
Definitions of these words are inconsistent at best. They often don’t align with each other; the strategy doesn’t strongly support the mission, the mission doesn’t strongly support the vision - you get what I’m saying. The C-suite (or comparable senior leadership role) must have clarity and be aligned on all. The IT team, with their vast understanding of business objectives and organizational support can tie it all together. However, this resource is widely overlooked and underutilized.
Enabling the Teams that Enable Success
If you find that your IT organization is costing you a lot of money, and you're not clear about the value they're providing aside from keeping the lights on and people's laptops working, this guide is for you. All too often, G&A organizations like IT are segregated from business success and relegated to the sidelines as a reluctant cost center. If you're not getting maximum value from your G&A organizations, a lack of clarity about the company's vision, mission, and strategies could be a significant contributing factor. In this piece, I’ll introduce a framework on how you can align your IT strategy & be seen as a valuable resource to enable the company in achieving business goals that support the VMS.
The Importance of Vision
A vision is a company's aspirational statement about why they exist. Without it, it can be difficult to understand why a company does what it does…meaning it can be difficult for each department and organization, IT, for example, to understand how what they do supports the company as a whole.
Tying in the Mission
If the vision is an aspirational statement about why the company exists, the mission is the aspirational statement about how they plan to accomplish their vision. Before we build the how, we need to understand the why.
Strategizing to Achieve Success
With vision (the why) and mission (the how) we have what we need to start identifying strategies (the what) to succeed. With these strategies in hand, they will inform us and allow us to evaluate every decision we make to ensure we remain focused on our mission and vision.
Values: Important but Different
Values are a cultural statement, a set of principles that guide how we act and behave, often defining an organizational personality per se. The values often precede the vision and are tied closely to a company’s culture.
Why This Matters to Your Exec Team
It's important to recognize that vision, mission, and strategy (shortened to “VMS” moving forward for brevity) are all top down. This means it must come from the highest levels in the organization - usually the CEO. This is an all-encompassing statement of why the business exists, how the business hopes to achieve it, and what the business proposes it will do to deliver. A clear and well understood VMS will drive the decision making process and enable the success for the entire company. On the other hand, an ambiguous, misaligned, or contradictory VMS can create confusion, conflict, and failure to achieve company goals.
A company’s VMS is typically found within one or more of the following areas:
- Company’s annual report
- Chairman’s letter to shareholders
- Investor Relations website
- Careers Page or About Us Page
- Internal Onboarding documentation
What Does All of This Mean for IT?
Information Technology is an often-forgotten business partner and force multiplier.
Technology is the norm in today’s world. Due to its rapid pace of innovation and proliferation, it’s easy to forget that generally available technologies like the personal computer, cell phones, the internet, video conferencing, and now AI, hardly existed a generation ago.
Back in the day, people in IT were the “wizards” behind the curtain, making all manner of things work with their technological magic. Few even had access to these resources, and many were completely unaware of their existence and potential.
Fast forward to today and technology is everywhere, democratized to the masses with little thought or concern about how they work or who manages them. Technology sales efforts now focus on the end users of these technologies, rather than the experts (IT) that used to procure and manage them, causing a disconnect between technical resources and technical expertise.
Still, the technology experts are there, keeping the lights on and the machines of business running efficiently as possible. Sadly, these experts are often relegated to pure operational roles, not because they lack value but because they’re seen as a simple cost of doing business and are often unable to demonstrate their strategic value to the enterprise.
This is a huge problem that has been setting companies back for decades (at least). Leveraging IT’s understanding of business objectives and organizational support with an alignment of the company’s VMS is beyond powerful. Getting this right can propel your company forward where your competitors are falling behind. Here’s how.
Framework: How IT Can Create Strategy Based on the Company’s VMS
It may sound like a no-brainer, but so many IT teams ignore this important action:
CREATE AN IT VISION AND MISSION STATEMENT
Leveraging the company’s VMS as a guide, creating an IT VMS is a critical step in ensuring strategies formed in IT are in lock-step with the company’s vision, mission, and strategy.
I’ll make it easy for you - just remember the three C’s: Create, Calibrate, Communicate.
1. Create an IT Vision and Mission Statement: This should communicate the purpose and direction of your IT organization! Having your own VMS helps ensure the IT strategy aligns with the business goals of the company while also motivating the IT team. The IT vision is forward-facing and describes what the IT team is looking to achieve. While it inspires and is ambitious, it should also be realistic and effectively answer the question, “What direction is our IT department heading toward?”
The IT mission statement should be specific, clear, and outlines the ‘how’ and ‘why’ behind what your IT organization does. An effective IT mission should be both actionable and measurable and support the company’s overall mission. Make sure they are aspirational but also reasonable. If you can't fathom how you would accomplish them, or at least make progress toward accomplishing them, it's likely they will fail to inspire and guide people.
2. Calibrate the IT and Company Vision and Mission Statements: Gather all stakeholders together - the IT VMS nor the company VMS should be created as a silo. Collaboration with business stakeholders is key. When creating the IT VMS, refer to the company VMS constantly so that each step of the way you can make sure the IT VMS enables objectives, priorities, and goals of the overall business. Your mission and vision and strategies should be distinct. If they all sound like the same thing just reworded then they are likely to fail. Consider them targets to be achieved; be clear and concise. You can't do “all the things”.
Don’t forget customers or external partners! While the IT VMS is primarily for the IT organization, it's certainly beneficial for your customers to know what you stand for and how you're going to get there. The IT VMS is a great resource to refer folks to that ties together their needs and helps to manage expectations. The IT value prop and how the IT org will support business success should be clear.
3. Communicate the IT VMS Widely: Similar to the company VMS, the IT VMS should be shared company-wide. Get sign-off from the IT team and stakeholders so you can make sure it is understood and accepted. As you move forward in scoping out priorities and projects moving forward, the IT VMS should be consulted for both planning and execution.
Your vision and mission need to be simple and clear. Ideally, each should be a singular statement that conveys the entire concept intended. The simplest words with the most clear definitions always work best to provide clarity, allow for flexibility, and ensure the lightest audience understands them. Consider this a living, breathing document - consistently review and update as company priorities and goals evolve.
When IT Strategy is NOT Aligned to the Company’s VMS (like a record scratching)
If the issue of vision/mission/strategy ignorance is pervasive, as I believe it often is, it’s quite possible that many IT teams and individuals are unable to align their strategic efforts and demonstrate (articulate) value. When this happens, their realized value (ROI) diminishes and they become the exact thing they’re perceived to be: an unfortunate cost of doing business. This creates a downward cycle of low performance, reduced opportunities, reduced resourcing (staffing, compensation, training, etc.), increased turnover, and ultimately unrealized vision, mission, and strategy.
I recall one time the IT organization at a company I was working with was tasked to reduce our operational expenses by a significant amount. This seemed like a reasonable request given the circumstances and I knew from my experience and observation that we had a lot of duplicative and underutilized software. We immediately set out to catalog our current tech stack, identify various stakeholders and owners, and start the culling process period. Within a short period of time we found ourselves incredibly successful at reducing costs, more than doubling the target for annualized savings within about a month. We celebrated our wins and patted each other on the back for a job well done.
Unfortunately, there were certain groups around the organization that weren't quite in the celebratory mood around the issue. Various teams cried foul about how their specific software made it onto the chopping block, and how they were now forced to use software that “didn't meet their specific needs”, resulting in reduced efficiency and/or capabilities. Constant infighting between organizations about who was “right” eroded relationships that were once highly productive. As a result, morale dropped and confidence in leadership went with it.
This is a good example of both misaligned priorities, and poorly communicated strategies. While operational teams were directed to reduce costs and consolidate tools, other teams were operating off of a different set of priorities and strategies completely unaware of the efforts that would soon impact them because each organization's perception of the company's vision and mission were different. Exacerbating this issue was the fact that the company's vision was quite unclear, making it very difficult to align day-to-day activities, priorities, and strategies.
When IT Strategy IS Aligned With the Company’s VMS (a beautiful symphony)
When IT is aligned with the company’s VMS, they become enablers rather than a cost center. For example, the IT organization can support Sales by proactively engaging them to better understand their requirements regarding reporting, geographic regions, and how tax systems and various sales pipeline systems need to be integrated. The IT team can also bring thought leadership with new technologies, integrations, and approaches that align with the stated VMS for both the Sales org and the company overall. With this understanding, the IT teams use their technical expertise and resources to support and augment sales strategies. This frees up the sales organization to focus on their most important task: selling.
Let’s look at another company vertical and how IT can positively enable the business when aligned with the company’s VMS: human resources. The IT organization will be equally supportive: identifying which systems and configurations will best serve the Talent Acquisition, HR, and Benefits teams. With their clear understanding of VMS, they can proactively research, propose, and deliver novel solutions, integrations, and automations to support their strategies. IT will leverage its architectural understanding and technical expertise to deliver services that empower and enable their customer’s success.
There's a hidden benefit here too: by leveraging the IT organization rather than individuals within each department the businesses can achieve economies of scale and build more efficient solutions that deliver much higher levels of ROI. IT is uniquely situated to understand various business requirements (and how they apply and align to VMS), which enables them to ensure that systems are integrated properly and requirements are clearly defined and met through implementation. We’ve all seen systems implemented that leverage only a small portion of their functionality, don’t integrate with other existing systems, and thus deliver abysmal ROI. We’ve also seen tech sprawl proliferate in the enterprise, further increasing costs, reducing efficiency, and siloing both information and teams. Fortunately, there are tools for that… (Lumos, anyone?)
I've used IT as an example throughout this story but by no means is this an IT-centric or IT-specific concept. Having a strong vision, mission, and strategy can elevate your business to the next level by providing clarity to the people tasked with delivering success. While companies can certainly benefit when their customers know and understand their vision, mission, and strategies, what's most important is that the company and employees themselves know and understand them.
Now, assuming that you've got a rock solid IT VMS in place, you must effectively and continuously communicate and act on them. Words have meaning but you have to turn meaning into action. Failure to do this will not only make success unlikely, it increases the risk of discouraging and demoralizing employees. A well-crafted vision doesn't make any difference if you can't get people to buy into and act on it.
For your IT org, imagine how meaningful it would be for a CEO or other executive to acknowledge their work that aligned to the company's VMS. Repeat your IT VMS, over and over, as frequently as possible. Leverage every opportunity to describe your IT VMS in the context of each organization. Use them in your acknowledgement and appreciation to departments, teams, and individuals. Not only will this help people to better understand the IT VMS, they’ll better understand how they contribute to it and derive a sense of purpose from it.