Do your internal customers view you as a long-term partner? It's an important question because your ability to gain their trust, and build a good rapport and partnership with people may decide your success as an IT professional.
Think about it for a moment: if you have a major decision to make in your life --personal or professional -- what are the characteristics that you would like to see in the person you engage with for advice or guidance?
Of course, you want them to have the expertise required, but don't you also need someone who takes the time to understand your wishes, concerns, goals, and desired outcomes?
This is what a true consultant does; they employ the skills necessary to build trusted partner relationships.
In fact, everyone in the IT organisation from the CIO down to entry-level staff can expand their level of influence by operating as a consultant. When defining a consultant, I mean someone who has no direct authority or power over the people he or she works with but who instead uses influence to guide their decisions and actions.
People want to see consultants who are enthusiastic, accessible, responsive, and have confidence in their own abilities without being arrogant. They also need to have knowledge of their customer's business and a willingness to learn more.
When looking at these characteristics how would you score yourself and your team? If I asked your customers, how would they score you and your team? Would the scores match?
A business exec at one of my organisation's major clients announced to a new group of employees: "I get really nervous when someone from IT comes in and says, 'I have a great idea' because I get the feeling they're probably excited about some new technology advancement.
"But when they come in and say they have an idea on how we can accomplish some business goal or objective, I'm all ears. I need people who are committed to helping me drive the business goals, not the latest and greatest technology."
So how do you develop these characteristics? Here's my top ten tips for evolving into the role of a consultant.
10. Stop making assumptions
Consultants take the time to truly listen, without jumping to conclusions. Pay attention to what the client has to say before you assume you know what is going on. Ensure the client feels heard and understood.
9. If you call a meeting, make it a good one
Have a clear communicated purpose, agenda and intention. Unproductive meetings are motivation and morale killers.
8. Bring enthusiasm
Don't wait for others to be enthusiastic; you bring the enthusiasm and it will become contagious.
7. Ask good questions
Ask questions to uncover the issue; don't rush in with a fix too soon.
6. Be diplomatic
Learn to be respectful even if you disagree. No one likes to be made to feel wrong.
5. Target your message to your audience
Speak to their level of expertise and in their language. Avoid appearing arrogant and condescending.
4. Talk about what you can do
People want assistance in solving problems; they don't want reasons, justifications or excuses. Focus on finding solutions to problems and stop talking about what you can't do. This is a sure-fire way to close down a conversation.
3. Build trust
When their making technology decisions, your customers need to work with someone they trust -- a partner who will help them reach their desired outcomes. It takes time to build and can be lost in a moment. If trust breaks down, don't ignore it. Ask the client what they need to rebuild it.
Lead through teaching. Educate your clients to be better consumers. The more you teach them, the more their confidence in you will increase.
1. Get in their world first
Avoid taking the position of "being right"; understand their perspective first.
Like a good financial planner, doctor or contractor, the IT professional needs to become that kind of partner -- someone with the required expertise and also the ability to apply it in a way that makes them an invaluable asset to the business.
IT is such a large part of what makes modern organisations tick, so you really have no other choice but to develop the business acumen and human interaction skills that will make you a trusted partner.
Lou Markstrom is the co-author of "Unleashing The Power of IT: Bringing People, Business, and Technology Together", published by Wiley as part of its CIO series. He is also a professional development specialist at DDLS.