What Would You Say You Do Here?

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“I deal with the … customers so the engineers don’t have to! I have people skills!”

That famous Office Space quote from Tom Smykowski cracks me up every single time.

I know Toms. I’ve been Tom. Change the quote to say, “IT Team” instead of “engineers,” and there’s a Tom involved in every technology implementation I’ve ever seen.

If you’ve been Tom, then you know it isn’t always easy, but one of the more frustrating parts of that role is not being able to easily answer, “What would you say you do here?”

No, most people will never have “the Bobs,” ask them that question, but it is something that is asked in some form or fashion by friends and strangers alike. When you can’t easily describe your job, it’s often hard to tie your work back to a common purpose. Frankly, it’s frustrating, and for many people, it’s reason enough to leave their companies.

While you may be able to recite your company’s purpose statement, do you talk about it? Refer to it? Hear others mention it? When was the last time you talked about how your work directly impacts the success of the organization, your customers, and the world?

If it’s been a while since you’ve focused on purpose, don’t make the mistake of dismissing employee frustration as simply “a case of the Mondays.” Now, more than ever, it’s critical that each-and-every person working in your organization — ESPECIALLY your IT organization — knows how their day-to-day efforts make an impact.

How to do this:

It begins with your company’s mission, vision, and purpose and ends with every member of your organization able to say how their work supports the company’s purpose. If you haven’t already, start by defining the purpose of your technology organization, which you can craft by asking these simple questions:  

  • What is the purpose of our organization?  
  • How does our organization enable the company’s success? 
  • What do we do that is strategic and unique to our organization? 
  • What are we doing, or plan to do, to achieve the company’s goals?

Next, ask each leader in your organization to define how they and their team support the organization’s purpose. Have those leaders work with their individual team members to define their own purpose and how their work supports the greater team’s purpose. Pretty soon, each and every team member should see exactly how their work directly aligns to the company’s purpose. 

Now what?

Use your new purpose statement to:

  • Help your employees rethink their calendars — everyone should ask themselves, “Do the meetings I attend support my purpose and the overall purpose of the organization and company?” If not, take the time back!
  • Determine which projects should be prioritized and ensure that everyone understands that the project is a priority and how it supports the organization — this will help reduce competing priorities and resources
  • Supplement your interview process — incorporate your purpose into all job descriptions, and during interviews, ask applicants to explain what it means to them
  • Drive individual’s performance goals

All the “pieces of flair” in the world can’t make up for a misaligned IT organization, and with staffing shortages and the “great resignation” underfoot, can you afford to not get this right? By investing in your team’s understanding of where they are, the work that they do, and how it all fits into the bigger picture, you might be able to retain the talent that you have and create a more unified working environment for everyone, including “Tom.”

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