Reconfiguring Your Relationship Managers

The concept of relationship management is sound. Assigning a person full-time to a particular business unit or function, accountable for the success of all IT-related activities in the business unit, is a highly effective way for IT to build strong relationships with those units.

For some 30 years, IT has made various attempts to do this, but in general, they have been unsuccessful. Why haven t IT organizations been able to reap the benefits that relationship management provides? Times have changed: Stop thinking of relationship management as overhead, and look at it as the new core business of IT. Parts of IT may still produce code and run the infrastructure, but its true purpose is to deliver value through information technology. When IT is viewed in this manner, relationship managers can provide three things that either have not been done by IT organizations or have been done poorly: build strong relationships, deliver business value, and market the delivered results. Where relationship management works, you get an amazing array of benefits, including IT people with an in-depth knowledge of the business, people who can proactively suggest ways IT can improve the business unit, more-successful project solutions, a stronger chance of getting projects accomplished, and a greater opportunity to market the IS organization. Why, then, has the concept been such a failure within most IT organizations? There s no one wrong reason. Right role, wrong people. Many people put into the role of relationship manager don t have the basic makeup and the interpersonal skills to be at various times consultant, diplomat, technologist, marketer, and strategist. This requires a very senior person with excellent communication skills. The most successful relationship managers are at either the director or VP level. Inadequate preparation. Getting this right involves training, expectation setting, appropriate metrics, and the buy-in of the whole IT organization. In addition, it requires the support of top-level IS management and, more important, the support of top-level business unit management. Inadequate or diffuse job description. Problems occur when roles and responsibilities are not clearly spelled out or when people are assigned to a particular business unit as part of another job, such as development or project management. Relationship management is a full-time job requiring singular dedication to the tasks at hand. Focus on the hole, not the doughnut. Frequently relationship managers have focused on technology, not on the contribution of technology to the business. Inappropriate reporting structure. Relationship managers must report at the highest level of the business unit?ideally to the general managers themselves. This gives the relationship managers access to the high-level business deliberations that subsequently get converted into opportunities for IT. At the same time, other employees of the business unit see the relationship managers as belonging to IT, not the business unit. In reality, the RM should report to both. The test of success is when people in the business unit forget that the relationship managers are also part of the IT organization. Sometimes, too, the relationship managers forget that they re part of IT and favor their unit in situations where they need to keep the greater good of IT in mind.- What, then, should IT organizations do about relationship management? Some suggestions: Create a relationship management function, and put some of your best people into it. They should be senior people with excellent communication and consulting skills. The role is also an excellent training ground for a CIO position. Train the relationship managers on the job to be done, and train the rest of IT about their role, its importance to IT s success, and how everyone needs to work together to make it successful. As always, be sure you have the support of business unit management. This will require selling of the benefits to the business unit. It s also important to remember that relationship management is everyone s job within IT. Everyone is responsible for building strong relationships. But social psychological research has shown us convincingly that when everyone is responsible for something, nobody does it. The most effective relationship management program corrects this tendency and puts in place a mechanism for substantially elevating both the perception and contribution of IT organizations. Source: www.optimizemag.coma>