Listen to Your Customers

You know that carefully executed vision that serves as the foundation for your information technology department? The one the entire IT team brainstormed on until it was perfect? The one that will address all of your agency’s concerns and bring about success? Throw it away.

IT leaders spend a lot of time crafting visions: Where are we now? Where do we want to go? How will we get there? But when they talk about “we,” they often leave out the most important component — their customers.

Effective leaders don’t waste time on pie-in-the-sky visions. Instead, they work backward from the needs of their customers. They constantly solicit customers’ ideas and use their input to form the agency’s strategies.

What do they need? What is their vision for success? Only after you have answered those questions can you begin to ask, “What are the opportunities for my agency’s success?”

Unfortunately, many chief information officers don’t spend enough time talking to their users. They speak in an arcane language. They are so focused on state-of-the-art technology that they forget to ask what issues the new technology will address.

Looking Outside In

To be an outstanding leader, keep tasks simple. Ask agency employees what challenges they face on their jobs. Poll visitors to your Web site about what services they would like to see added or improved. Then figure out the top three or four issues. A strong leader knows how to simplify the complex and get the important work done.

Once you have figured out what your priorities are, the next trick is to make them happen. In many cases, IT leaders devise strategies that are too complicated. That’s a recipe for inaction. Plans need to be broken down to actions, and those actions need to be linked to the agency’s annual budget. That’s when things get done.

What if legacy processes bind you? How can you spark innovation and move your agency forward?

Don’t make the process of innovation complicated. The world is constantly changing, and change requires leaders to use imagination and take action. Because the needs of the customers are always changing, figure out how to solicit their input on an ongoing basis, and they will constantly supply you with new ideas.

Don’t forget your suppliers as you build your strategies. Their jobs are to create innovation. Armed with your top few priorities that were fed by your customers’ needs, look to your suppliers for ideas and build and execute a strategy to achieve them.

Above all, put aside your vision and try to look at the situation through your customers’ eyes.

Hire Success

With scarce budgets, state and local agencies often turn to cost-cutting initiatives. But to move successfully into the future, these agencies need to grow organically.

If you can boost productivity and efficiency, your agency can more effectively operate within its budget. Productivity requires creativity — the ability to do a better job in the future using new ideas and new technology. The challenge is finding the right IT team to forge that new path.

Spend less time cutting the budget and more time finding the right fit between talent and job requirements. The better the fit, the higher the energy, and the higher the satisfaction.

Jul 03 2007