Saturday, July 21, 2012

All that divides us….

My good friend David O'Malley has been a faithful and supportive reader and asked if he could share some of his "views" from the bridge. He submitted the following column for your consideration and enjoyment.  He writes well and makes a lot of sense. 

On the face of it, what would a Farmer living in rural Poland have in common with an IT Manager from Connecticut? I mean, I can’t think of two professions that are further apart - One is entirely physical, commodity based, less a profession than a way of life. The other is virtual, “thought” based, the work of desk jockey’s. Personally, I’m a city person - America is far away from Poland, not just geographically, but culturally, and on top of that, we don’t even speak the same language. The divisions appear insurmountable.

Well, let me introduce you to Andrew Szczur, my wife’s Uncle who is, indeed, that Farmer in rural Poland and as it turns out, we actually have a lot in common.

To start, Andrew and I are about the same age, are married and we both have two young daughters. You’ll be glad to know that the constant ferrying of kids to extra-curricular activities is just as prevalent in Central Europe as it is here in America!

Andrew is very active as a volunteer Fire Fighter in his town – a specialized position that requires regular training and, as in America, a constant fight for funds to maintain and upgrade equipment. Although retired for a few years now, I spent 7 years as a volunteer EMT in Connecticut, so we could understand our respective protocols easily enough.

Throw in a general love of sport and some good old-fashioned BBQ’s and once we took the time to understand each other we found that our interests, goals and motivations in life, were pretty similar.

When it came down to it, the only thing that really divides us, is Language.

So how is this story relevant to you? Joe dedicated this blog to the idea that we in the IT industry have to get out of the “engine room” of our industries, and get into the Captains Bridge. As Joe would point out, we’re perfectly placed to do so – I mean, all of our companies complex business rules come to IT professionals for formalization, right? We even have career paths dedicated to teasing out the intricacies and nuances of these rules.

Understanding processes is one thing, understanding people is a whole different kettle of fish. If we want to get out of the engine room, we have to find commonalities with those who populate the Bridge of the ship. The motivations, fears, hopes, goals.

It starts with speaking a common language.

Do you know what EBITDA is, and why it’s important? If your company is public, can you read and fully understand the 10k? Which parts of that document relate most heavily to your company’s current growth strategy? How does that strategy affect the various stakeholders in your company that currently occupy the Bridge? More importantly, where do you fit into that strategy?

At the company cocktail hour, when a Senior Stakeholder asks you that innocuous, but oft loaded, question “So, David, what are you working on these days?” Can you answer in a language that the Stakeholder will understand, or does someone need to translate your answer for you?

Now make no mistake, it’s not easy, you have to work hard at it. With Andrew and I, it was a two way street – finding different ways to say the same thing, using the vocabulary of a four-year-old, and neutralizing accents. But it usually takes one person to make the first jump, put themselves out there and get the conversation rolling. Yes, it’s difficult.

The payoff, however, is unity. Or, as we call it in Corporate America, “Alignment”. Maybe, even, an eventual seat at the helm?

Z jedności jest siła.

David

Captain Joe

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