Customer relationship management (CRM) solutions are hot these days, and becominig hotter. Newer versions combine with data-mining capabilities that analyse the data to identify new ways to enhance the relationship through such things as loyalty or customization programs and various cross-marketing opportunities.
All this got me to thinking about your customers, the business managers in your organization. Maybe some of the business smarts behind CRM can be leveraged to address a problem common to all IT-dependent organizations, including yours.
Let's be candid here. Not every manager in your organization is at the same point on the IT maturity curve. A couple are probably up in the stratosphere and probably too many (often senior managers close to retirement) are still bottom feeders. The rest are scattered in between.
Trouble is, the price of this sort of diversity can be very high indeed, especially when it comes to trying to exploit new enterprise-wide IT-based business opportunities or to leveraging the smarts developed in one division across the rest of the organization. And don't even talk about e-business.
Maybe what's needed is an approach that seeks to analyse the IT-maturity requirements of your business managers and to offer them some customized assistance in getting them, and the organization as a whole, up to speed.
So here's the plan. Take the HR managers to lunch and make a pitch that goes something like this....
We need to work out a common standard of competence for our managers in this IT-dependent company. We aren't trying to turn general managers into technology managers here. We're tyring to set a baseline on the management smarts you need to manage an IT-dependent business on a day-to-day basis and to execute the rapid integration of new technology-based business opportunities into the organization.
Nothing behind the curtain here. Senior management has to push this or it dies. The baseline gets developed through customer interviews and surveys and a review of common managerial requirements.
Once the IT-maturity baseline has been set, dossiers on each of the business managers can be opened and an assessment of their individual strengths and weaknesses against the baseline can be determined through a private interview with them.
Your shop adds value by working with HR to create a customized reality-based curriculum for each of the managers. Forget the two-day workshops or three weeks in an expensive university executive program. The curriculum will consist of an increasingly sophisticated set of management challenges in IT-based business operations and strategy in the manager's own area of responsibility.
And remember, this is management training. She may want to brush up her e-mail skills but she can do that during recess. The course work must maintain a management focus. How does she intend to exercise effective management oversight of the 15 major IT projects currently in play? How well can she negotiate a service level agreement with a vendor? And so on.
If you're sufficiently diplomatic and positive, you can have a great deal of influence here. Offer to have your team serve as consiglieri to managers with whom they can establish a relationship of mutual respect. They know as well as you do who got taken to the cleaners on the last outsourcing contract or what sort of smarts you need to know to oversee a major reengineering project.
Such a baseline would not remain static, of course, but could be tuned up as the water level of competence gradually rose in the company. An early advantage of setting an initial baseline would be realized on the recruitment side. The hiring of IT-immature managers would stop immediately so you wouldn't be perpetuating the problem you've set out to address.
Give it a shot. You've got nothing to lose but IT-immature managers.
Chuck Belford is president of Management Smarts Inc., a Nepean, Ont.-based management consulting and training company. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.