How much does the business trust your IT department? When answering, think about how often you're invited to business meetings where IT should play a part, or how receptive business managers are to your proposals. Do employees always turn to your IT support desk with issues or try to fix them on their own? Do they call you with requests for new services or is shadow IT proliferating in your company?
The chances are that there's more you can do to build trust between the IT department and the business. Here are five ways to reset the bar and build stronger relationships.
Start with a soft audit
When people think of IT audits, they usually imagine technical ones, like checking system security or system controls. If you're embarking on a trust building exercise, consider a softer, more informal kind of audit that focuses on business attitudes to the technology department.
Unless you're a brand new organisation, business managers will have a history with IT, and it might not be good. Meet with them to get an understanding of that history. What interactions have they had in the past? What complains do they have? How have they been under-served? Until you understand their grievances, you can't fix them.
At the very least, the act of listening to managers on the business side will show that you're eager to instil cultural change. Many of them may feel unheard and will find it refreshing that IT is asking their opinion.
Listening to business managers properly is the first step in building a more business-focused IT shop. Approach them as a partner rather than as a gatekeeper. All too often, businesses view IT as the 'department of no', denying requests by default. Rethink that relationship and treat each business department as a client with mutual goals.
In an ideal scenario, this could include building the kinds of systems that make everyday IT line of business-facing operations smoother, such as self-service portals and enhanced ticket and IT support systems. If this isn't your forte or you don't have the in-house resources, consider outsourcing these to an expert third party who will give business departments better service. Brokering services for better business outcomes will increase your standing in the organisation.
Just as in any personal relationship, trust comes from integrity. Repeatedly doing what you promised builds a reputation for reliability. At a fundamental level, this means delivering what you promised, on time and on budget, every time.
This consistency is the minimum requirement, but a smart IT executive will go beyond this to focus on value. Don't focus just on building business cases for IT projects to win funding. Follow it up by communicating project status to business sponsors. As the project roll out, show clear, quantifiable returns. If those returns don't match projections, explain why and lay out plans to get results over the line.
This raises another important property for IT: realism. Part of being a good partner is being honest and not sugar-coating the truth. While you don't want to be the department of no, you don't want to promise what you can't deliver either. Counter requests for the impossible with realistic compromises that will satisfy at least part of what the business needs.
Drive internal cultural change
The best management intentions can easily come off the rails without grass roots support. Driving cultural change outside the IT department won't work if you don't reflect those changes among your own employees. Get IT workers on board to support your service-based culture.
This will take more than a pep talk. The technique that you use with external business departments, listening to concerns for a better relationship, will help make tech staff feel heard. They might have their own suggestions for the support and resources that they need if they're to serve the business better.
These are broad strategic goals that will take time and effort to put in place. Trust takes time to develop and can be easily lost, but regular small actions will build and burnish it more quickly than you might think.