BlogDriving Business Strategy with IT Cost Optimization Part 7: Embracing the Role of IT Servant Leadership

Driving Business Strategy with IT Cost Optimization Part 7: Embracing the Role of IT Servant Leadership

August 9, 2018, Expense Management

Welcome to the final edition of our blog series on IT cost optimization. If you haven’t already, make sure to read parts one, two, three, four, five and six. In this blog, I will expand upon the last principle from Gartner’s recent white paper “IT Cost Optimization Principles,”

IT organizations that are aligned to stakeholders realize that IT does not conduct projects in a vacuum. Instead, IT organizations operate as authorized practitioners that work on behalf of business objectives.

IT leadership is more critical to business success now than it has ever been. Modern business success is underpinned by an organization’s ability to exploit the capabilities of technology in a timely manner. How IT is perceived in an organization is derived from its ability to consistently help the organization efficiently run and grow the business in a cost-effective and sustainable manner.

Yet, the ways that ability is measured are often not complete. It’s important to remember that the successful adoption of technology is predicated on the ability of IT to understand how their client users measure success.

Embrace a New Management Paradigm

The traditional IT management report card often emphasizes two factors: the tactical achievements such as installations, upgrades, and uptime, and a statistical review of service desk activities such as mean time to activate (MTTA) and mean time to repair (MTTR). However, it fails to measure the value impact to client users. IT managers are often very proud of the level of precision they can substantiate by using animated, high-fidelity graphical presentations. Ironically, the universal challenge plaguing IT departments is to overcome the perception that they are not just necessary overhead operating without regard to end users, but rather, strategic enablers that can help the organization achieve breakthrough success.

Becoming an IT Servant Leader

The traditional IT authoritarian style of leadership centers on clearly defined tasks and monitoring their execution and results. The decision-making responsibility typically resides with the most senior IT executive, bearing the title Chief Information Officer (CIO). Unfortunately, the definition of success is often measured completely independently of the consumer and instead focused on sustaining the systems where data resides.

In Robert Greenleaf’s book Servant Leadership, he states that “every achievement starts with a goal.” This goal can’t be exclusive to IT but rather defined in collaboration with the client stakeholders. This is key to transforming from tactically operating in the traditional “IT vacuum” to becoming recognized as the trusted strategic enabler working on behalf of the client’s business objectives.

An IT servant leader leads by serving others. In other words, the IT servant leader places the interests and needs of their clients above their own self-interests and needs. Their value is measured by the continual development of their clients, building their user communities, acting authentically and collaborating with stakeholders. Their strategic KPIs are measured from the perspective of the impact on clients’ business operations and not myopically around the statistical average uptime performance of systems and throughput of service support.

Characteristics of an IT Servant Leader

Every person holding a management position in every IT organization needs to embrace the concept of IT Servant Leadership in order to institutionalize the culture. The typical characteristics of an IT Servant Leader include:

Active Listening – They continually solicit input and provide feedback to their client stakeholders to make sure both parties share a mutual understanding of the measurements of success.

Empathy – They can detect and understand the emotions of their client stakeholders and appreciate the ramifications of systems that can adversely impact their ability to achieve and sustain success.

Awareness – They have an acute appreciation of their stakeholder’s operating environments including deadlines, competitive challenges and budget constraints.

Persuasion – They can influence client stakeholders through collaborative persuasion rather than exercising authoritative mandates or coercion.

Foresight – They have the ability to foresee consequences of events or actions that may adversely impact their clients.

Conceptualization – They can conceptualize the vision and goals into strategies and SMART objectives that strategically enable the entire organization.

Stewardship – They personify the value of their position relative to the fiduciary responsibilities of serving the clients.

Commitment to Growth – They are personally committed to the personal and professional growth of their clients.

The words of famous Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu encapsulate the intended outcomes of a successful IT Servant Leader:

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. 

Thank you for joining us for this blog series on IT cost optimization. We hope it helped you understand more about the changing nature of IT leadership and what IT organizations need to maximize their technology investments and become key drivers of business strategy.