3 Ways for IT Leaders to Communicate with Internal Audiences

October 12, 2017



Guest Post by George Breeden, CAE, Executive IT Advisor, Hartman Executive Advisors

Over the years, business technology has evolved from a back-office function to a strategic resource for organizational success. Chief information officers (CIOs), now in crucial leadership roles, must not only deliver IT solutions to business problems
but effectively communicate the value of IT to other leaders and departments across the entire organization.

Communicating clearly is key in any profession, but it’s especially important when it comes to technology. CIOs and other IT professionals have an in-depth understanding of the technology they support, but they often have to communicate the need for complex systems and processes with other leaders and departments that lack that same knowledge. They can also encounter a range of external barriers to effective communication and message delivery, such as audience perceptions, attitudes
and culture, in addition to confusion created by an ever-growing flood of “advertorials” from technology vendors.

As a business leader, how can you help your CIO and IT team to best communicate their priorities throughout the organization in a way that resonates with all internal stakeholders? Here are three of the most effective ways we’ve found for IT professionals to validate technical comprehension with non-technical audiences.

1.      Solicit active feedback from internal audiences. When implementing a change, IT leaders need to ask questions of their audience that go beyond, “do you understand?” Rather, they should focus on questions that can’t be answered with a simple “yes or “no.” It’s more important to ask straightforward, open-ended questions that provide data and details, such as:

  • What are some ways that this new product/service will help you?
  • What are you most looking forward to about this change?
  • What are your concerns about this change, and how can we address them?
  • How do you think this change will affect your department? What can we do to help you reassure your staff about the changes and risks?
  • What training do you think would help you and your department adjust to this change?

2.      Track responses to calls to action. How well do internal audiences respond to the IT departments’ requests? For example, if the team is performing a system upgrade, and sends an email reminding users to log out before they head home, remind them to track the action taken on that request. A quick review will uncover how many followed the instructions. If that number is lower than expected, consider the request. Was the message clear? Was the process explained and expectations communicated in a way that would resonate with them and cause them to take action? What could be changed next time? Or, is this an indication that a significant percentage of the organization simply isn’t reading the messages?

3.      Evaluate the character of the questions that you get. Whenever there’s discussion of a rollout or implementation of a new service, you’ll get questions. Some will be transactional, pain-oriented questions, and it’s critical that IT leaders answer these with the necessary technical details. However, to understand the effectiveness and level of comprehension of the message, IT leaders should listen for robust, qualitative questions that show their audiences understand and value the need for the change. A few examples:

  • What will this change allow me to do differently?
  • How will this change affect my team’s ability to do their job?
  • What kind of ROI can our department expect from this change, and how soon?

IT leaders can increase chances for success by talking to internal audiences in layman’s terms and eliminating acronyms, jargon and buzzwords. This could mean explaining a technology change or need using common business terms and focusing on outcomes in terms that are important to the audience, like system downtime, data loss and loss of customers and dollars.

Strong communication skills are critical for all IT professionals, and without these skills, distrust can grow between IT and the rest of the business. What is the relationship between IT and other departments in your organization? Do you feel there is an opportunity for improvement? At Hartman, our associates help internal IT leaders improve communications to aid company-wide understanding of new technology and meet the goals of the organization.

George Breeden, CAE, leads the Nonprofit & Association Practice at Hartman Executive Advisors, an independent technology advisory firm. Throughout his career, he has worked with over 100 nonprofits of every type, mission size and structure.