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How to make sure the C-suite knows your IT department is cool

So much of what an IT department does is invisible, especially when everything is working as it should. But CIOs and other IT leaders need to make sure that the C-suite values and rewards IT, whether the tech accomplishments are behind the scenes or in the cloud.

IT would be practically invisible to the rest of the organization if it weren’t for occasional rants at the help desk and the annual budget planning pleas. As long as everything is working as designed, the business side has no need to notice what your staff is up to—IT just fades into the background. That's even more true as IT services move to the cloud and automation and machine learning provision user applications without a hitch, and with self-service all the rage and data increasingly democratized.

Throughout this transformation, IT doesn't get credit for its knowledge and hard work. So how do you show the boss you know your stuff and that your leadership is making a difference? Braggadocio is a certain turn off, but so is excessive humility. You can’t crow too loudly, but demurring may mean an important message is lost. (That is: We’re doing great work. Applaud and reward us.)

There are better tactics. These techniques work because they use the only language that matters: the language of business.

Know your leaders' goals and speak to that

Each of these suggestions finishes with a “What this means to you is…” statement. Effective IT executives are masters at making the connection between what the technical staff do and how that contributed to the company’s performance. A business leader does not care that a developer worked extra hard on building those CloudFormation templates.

However, the C-suite does recognize that the new customer self-service portal was launched two months early and that it increased customer satisfaction.

Further, company executives are people too. Like everyone else, they’re keenly interested in meeting their own job requirements to stay employed or earn their next bonus. Find out what the leaders are trying to accomplish for their personal gain and speak to that goal. You’ll soon be viewed as an important ally.

“Everyone you work for has their own pressures and goals, so making sure that the people that ‘sign your paycheck’ believe that you and your team are their indispensable champions is paramount,” says Jeff Driscoll, director of operations at Marketing Mojo, a digital marketing services provider.

Perhaps it can boost your confidence to recognize that the invisibility cloak shrouding your work is an industrywide problem, even within companies where the company’s core product is software or IT-related. It is not due to something you did wrong.

“There's something called 'feature work' or feature code, which is the primary product, and then there is support code that doesn't ship but is a fundamental requirement for ensuring the product being sold ships without issues,” explains Ajeet Dhaliwal, a software engineer who formerly worked in the video games industry and is founder of Tesults, which analyzes automated test results data. This support work can include things like automated testing, build infrastructure, and DevOps, Dhaliwal says.

And that support code gets short shrift. The C-suite can be unaware of the criticality of this work. Those IT tasks ensure the company has high-quality product to sell. “The departments doing this work are often the unsung heroes of the product development process,” Dhaliwal adds.

It's certainly time to change that dynamic. Here are several ways to make sure leadership sees you and your team as shining stars.

Reframe reports and meetings

The secret to success begins with the reframing of every status report, routine communique, and meeting. Sure, these already highlight your IT department’s significant accomplishments. However, finish that thought for your targeted audience. End every point you make with a quantitative or otherwise meaningful “What this means to you is…” statement.

“Things like cost savings are always beneficial,” says Driscoll. “But showing that the IT department is in tune with the overall business strategy, looking out for the company instead of themselves, and thinking ahead contribute much more.”

He adds, “The ideal is that when it comes time to cut back, the C-suite says, ‘Anything but IT. We need them.’”

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That doesn’t mean you should pad reports. If you want to score even bigger kudos, “be brief” but “find ways to make their job easier,” advises Mario DiMarcantonio, owner of Progressive IT Solutions.

Score more from senior leadership signoffs

You might think the fewer instances where you need executive signoff, the better. But getting an exec involved is an opportunity to increase the team’s visibility and its importance to the company.

“Reward your staff members when they do an excellent job. It could be a bonus, a gift, or a company award, such as Employee of the Month. Many times a reward requires your manager to sign off on it,” advises Mickey Mounarath, a software development manager in San Diego. “It can then spark a conversation about what the staff member did to deserve the reward.”

Prominently share performance visualizations

Visualization tools are common in IT, most often for its own tracking, including maintaining and monitoring build systems, automated testing, general DevOps, and database administration, to name but a few. But there’s no good reason to keep that information quiet when the results show outstanding work.

For example, Dhaliwal worked on teams that used visualization tools to clearly represent the team’s performance. They had a reporting tool with dashboards showing test results, key screen captures, logs, testing frequency, and crash data. The dashboard was updated daily as the product team made changes. The tools were developed primarily for the IT team.

However, you can use them to paint a picture for the C-suite. “It was clear that our automation efforts were performing hundreds of hours of work through parallel jobs in a single day,” Dhaliwal says. Without tracking those tasks, the result would be delayed product releases or requirements for a far larger development team.

Why not make it clear to the C-suite what the team is accomplishing? “We displayed the dashboards prominently on office TVs and monitors, and reported results by email or Slack notifications,” explains Dhaliwal. “When leaders saw these boards, they got a sense—sometimes for the first time—of how critical the checks and support we were providing were.” Some of the execs were amazed at the level of detail the product testing required; until then, they didn’t know there could be hundreds of test cases. “Without visualization, it was all invisible,” he adds.

Talk like an outside consultant

Turn meetings with decision-makers into collaborative sessions in strategy development just as outside consultants do. Review what’s been accomplished since the last meeting, where the issues that were discussed now stand, and the projections looking forward.

“It’s imperative to have items for which you need prioritization. Present competing budgets of money or time so that the decision-maker has items to engage with,” advises Driscoll. “It helps to illustrate that there isn’t enough time and money to do it all; invest the decision-maker with your tasks and goals, and that should give them items to brag about when speaking with their peers.”

But don’t drag on and on about it. Time is money, after all. Act like your time and the executive’s time is expensive and precious.

It’s critical for you to present this in a summary form, preferably a single page and bullet-pointed. “The C-suite is busy, and needs direct, succinct communications with you. If you waste their time, they will know it, and they will be less favorably inclined,” warns Driscoll.

Wrapping it all up

In the end, you’re pitching your and the department’s value at every opportunity.

“Making a CEO or other executives respect and acknowledge the value of an IT department isn’t much different in a larger business or in-house IT team than it is for external consultants or support services," says Driscoll. "Ultimately, it’s about communication."

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.