Blowing up the IT department

It’s not every day you get the opportunity to blow up your organization. Metaphorically anyway.

At an offsite strategy meeting a few years ago, I was given such an opportunity. The opportunity didn’t come out of the blue. It was a long time in the making. But everyone in the room knew it had to happen.

We’d spent the better part of the year imagining great and wondrous things that we wanted to do, we set some lofty objectives, and we knew the things that needed to happen in order for us to accomplish them. But one thing was very clear: IT needed to change. And this didn’t upset me in the least– in fact, I was thrilled. It’s one thing to be told you need to change (every married man out there knows what that feels like), but it’s quite another to have support for a major change in service offering.

Now there’s a difference in knowing you need to make major change in your skills mix, and getting support from the organization to do so. In our case, our skill set in IT was matched to services and systems that had been appropriate in the past, but things had evolved. Our systems became more complex and our user community needed a different level of support. They were both increasingly dependent on technology and had much higher expectations for the things they could do in the classroom.

The support model we built was having trouble delivering an exceptional level of service. That’s not a bad thing, unless we ignored it and didn’t change, but that would mean we wouldn’t be comfortable. Change never is. Would it be challenging? Absolutely. Did I have a crew of great people very suspicious as to what that change would look like? You bet I did.

For me, this is the juncture of leadership, future proofing, and compassion. I needed every leadership skill I possessed to lead my team through this. I needed every bit of wisdom I possessed to lead the organization through the changes in IT offerings. And I needed to always remind myself to not let my excitement overtake the fact that these are decisions that affect people’s lives for a very long time.

The new IT model meant new skills, new objectives, new learning, and new challenges for the IT team. It meant THEIR WORLD was changing. If they wanted predictable, comfortable jobs, then IT is not necessarily a good career choice. As a leader, you do not make these decisions lightly. But you do have to make them. The outcome is far worse than if you don’t. If it helps, don’t think of this as “blowing up” your IT Department, call it “re-imagining IT”. It has a much kinder, gentler feel (but the outcome has to be the same).

As a result, we ended up with a team with greater skills, greater empowerment, and tremendous results. We did enhance our skill set with new people, but many of my original team had their roles modified to take on our new direction, and they rose to the challenge. This is the team now recognized by organizations such as Microsoft as ‘innovative’, and the tools and services they deliver are now a model for other schools. I do have to say I’m very proud of them.

As for me… I’m busy re-imagining what my team needs to be for the next ‘big thing’. If there is one thing that is constant in IT, it is change.

How about you? What do you need to change in your IT team? What skills mix will you have when you are done?

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Kevin Pashuk
Kevin Pashuk
Kevin Pashuk blogs regularly about his life as a Chief Information Officer in the educational sector. His writings cover educational technology, IT leadership, and whatever else might be on his mind. Some people even agree with him.

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