I play basketball, and my philosophy is that there is one thing I can work on by myself in the limited time I give to the sport to improve my game - shooting. I see no good reason why I should not make every one of my shots. Naturally, I will not achieve this. If it were possible, maybe I could be the first former database administrator to get the call on NBA draft day. However, it is a worthy goal, and if I take the approach that every shot needs to go in, more will go in than otherwise! At least, that’s my philosophy.

Likewise, in our professions, I believe any improvement in a particular thing will advance the cause of information management within corporations today. If there is one item that epitomizes this possibility, it is leadership. A tremendous amount of leadership exists within the ranks of information management. Let me state that now. This is definitely true with the various clients that I have under my advisory at this time. However, all would agree that more leadership would help.

More demonstrated leadership would help secure funding, leverage vendors and establish partnerships with the business that would uncover true business requirements. It would increase the confidence of information management personnel in leadership positions to make organizational suggestions for improvement, to bring in new technologies and processes and, importantly, to gain a greater depth of vision with which to provide ROI to the business. Leadership gives more leash to information management undertakings, allowing for some limited deferral for business gains. The switchover from noncredible, lights-on tactical information management to a credible source of potential business ROI happens with the maturity and success of the business, but it does not happen without demonstrated leadership.

As a matter of fact, from working in dozens of corporate information management cultures, I’d say that in the present economy of 2008, leadership in various IT roles must be clearly demonstrated, or people in those roles may be at risk for replacement. Before fretting, I am convinced that anyone who has reached said position can engender the leadership necessary to survive and thrive. All it takes is some focus and determination.

Practical Advice for Leaders

Becoming this leader does not necessitate radical changes. Actually, the advice I give is distinctly nonglamorous. The first step is awareness that management is not leadership, and changes may be necessary. The second step is a total immersion in the business of your business - how it makes money, where it spends money, what the strategic objectives are, etc.

The change necessary usually comes from both cost-effectively supporting the business drivers as well as influencing what those drivers should be. The danger in complete focus on the former category is that you can be viewed as a commodity and your cost can be pitted against the cost of an outsourced (or offshored) service. Unless a spin-off into an information management consultancy is what you’re gunning for, you must establish a serious competitive advantage for your services based on your proximity and unique insight into the business. I really hate to call it a service because it belies the nature of the integration required, but providing service is part of it.

We want to increase the leadership, influence and footprint of information management in the organization for one reason only - because it’s good for the business. Your goals should never be about increasing a domain for any other reason. But take heart - information management done properly can positively influence any and all strategic objectives of the business. It’s not snake oil. Go for it by following these pointers:

  1. Develop a personal vision of how your organization should be utilizing information. Do not let the current limited environment influence this vision. Your newfound business knowledge will factor heavily into this vision.
  2. Build your governance. Whatever changes you make now, though hopefully guided by the business, will not be enough. Furthermore, you will not have the cycles to continually engage the business uniquely every time it’s needed. Changes need to be systemic, and they must be a shared vision and a partnership. Information management needs organized governance for sustained success. (For more information on this topic, see my May column.)
  3. Dashboard information management’s performance. Change must be burdened into the confines of quarterly deliverables to be effective. Practically nobody outside the inner circle of information management has tolerance for conversation about a year-plus deliverable. It’s more like, “What are you going to do for me tomorrow to help me make my quarterly bonus?” Nothing demonstrates an understanding of and adherence to this mentality like a dashboard reflecting progress toward these near-term deliverables. As long as you’re meeting those, you can put your year-plus goals up there, too. Just remember, if you’re not meeting the shorter-term ones, business eyes will not look past that fact and onto future goals.

Once you deliver the longer-term changes, they can be appreciated. This is the hallmark of leadership - delivering on the short- and long-term at once. Happy balancing act! Just be sure to keep both balls in the air.

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