Raising Your IT Staff's Business Smarts

It is essential to focus on people in order to get value from consolidation. At Eisai, our divisions functioned as separate companies, with the mind-set to match. When we brought together all of the U.S. organizations, I quickly discovered gaps.

In particular, while my new IT infrastructure staff were all very skilled in technology and project management, there was little focus on business outcomes at any level.

I couldn't afford to let that situation stand if the shared services organizations I created were to become a strategic-minded resource for the company, rather than just being the group keeping the systems running. I gathered the heads of the organizations and proposed a challenge: They were each to write up a contract-like document outlining what they did, how they did it and how it could be measured. The point, I emphasized to them, was that if they couldn't define and articulate those basic aspects of their value, then there was no reason that someone else-internal or external-couldn't do the job instead of them.

This was the kick my leaders needed. But the bigger challenge I faced was building the sense of urgency among a group of people who had very different levels experience with thinking about IT's role in business value. While some were further along than others, there had been no emphasis on value from the top. I had to get everyone's goals to shift from putting out fires to catching the arsonist; they were very good at being technical experts who can fix anything that breaks, but they were not as good at thinking about the root cause, or the impact on the business processes that technology enables.

I am drilling in the basic idea that downtime of systems and servers is the wrong metric, and impact on the sales force is the right one. The goal, I tell them, is for them to consider themselves employees of a global pharmaceutical company, not IT workers.

Making this change happen is a daily activity on my part, and on the part of my entire management team. I start off our quarterly town-hall meetings with the same set of slides about the need to think about their impact on business effectiveness. And I will preface the slides with, "I know you've seen these before; you're going to see them again, because we have to keep talking about this." My direct reports also repeat this message in all their interactions.

It is essential to follow up this group communication with more personal interactions. I hold skip-level meetings throughout the year with everyone in IT, just as more and more CIOs are now doing. As the leader in these informal conversations, I listen for trends. This is where my people have the chance to talk about how they view their role and our company, and I have to be able to draw the larger picture out of those individual perspectives in order to act on them. In fact, I schedule time to think through what I get out of those meetings-it's that important.

Above all, you must be clear with all of your people about what you expect from them. To this end, we have partnered with our HR and development groups, and they sit in on all our senior staff meetings to help us keep our expectations realistic as we focus the IT group on its new role.

Joel Dobbs is senior VP of IT at Eisai and a member of the CIO Executive Council, a global peer advisory service and professional association of more than 500 CIOs, founded by CIO's publisher. To learn more, visit council.cio.com.

Read more about cio role in CIO's CIO Role Drilldown.

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