I had a conversation the other day about the IT Department. He is the head of a division manufacturing rubber products for other products. He was saying how frustrating it is to communicate with IT people. They really do not speak in a language you can understand and as a manager you feel you are at the mercy of these people that you cannot communicate with.
He said it is equivalent to his chemist who is really important in his business. He creates the recipe for new products and often says he can do things in two weeks and does not deliver. Apparently this chemist does not report to this fellow but he meets with him every week. When the chemist boss, the head of operations wants to know what the chemist is doing he asks my friend. My friend has found it very frustrating but by these regular meetings he is starting to understand how this guy thinks. Most managers will not spend that much time with the IT people.
So now imagine a senior management person who prides himself on being able to control things and now is at the mercy of a person whom he knows is important to his success but he cannot control. The fellow gives explanations that make no sense to the manager. That is not a marriage made in heaven.
I think we need to take an example from my friend and meet regularly with key customers just to open up the communication lines. Another thing is try to learn the customers language and issues. When you do not know something, do not use baffle-gab and technical terms. If you cannot express it simply or you do not know, tell him. Reach out to these people and try to give them a greater sense of control.
Stephen talks a lot about readiness. People are always ready to talk about their problems and want to have a sense of control. You can deliver on both those issues with some effort.
As you read this, do not think what someone else can do, think about what you might do to make things better. Approach your biggest critic and open up communication lines.
For a drastic translation approach that is in line with the increasing pressure to align business and IT (aka foster substantive dialogue) swap a key business and a key IT resource. With the right individuals this can be a great tool for opening up those “communication lines”.