What IT teams can learn from Prince Harry and Meghan

Has your IT shop taken on the trappings of a royal family? If so, perhaps it’s time to mingle with the commoners.

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I’ve never been much of a follower of the British monarchy and personally find it to be a bit of an anachronism, but the recent announcement of Prince Harry and his wife Meghan’s desire to step back from royal duties is interesting. I don’t have the time or inclination to understand all the nuances of the decision, but the underlying question of whether you swap the Faustian bargain of trading your privacy for a charmed life of taxpayer-funded largess, for being a working stiff like the rest of us, is an intriguing proposition.

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Ways your IT shop might be similar to the British monarchy

Many IT shops, particularly larger ones, have several similarities to the British monarchy. Their funding is often perceived as a tax, with some percentage of the revenue generated by other business units skimmed to fund an often opaque IT budgeting process. While decisions made by this type of IT shop are in the best interests of the company, they’re often rather conservative, and the process behind the decision-making is not exactly transparent. Like the royal family, to outsiders and minor royals it might seem like IT operates in its own world–its existence unquestioned, while providing enough value to keep skeptics relatively quiet, but with a degree of secrecy that unsettles even its fans.

Perhaps you’ve unknowingly created what amounts to a royal IT organization, in which you diligently manage a portfolio of safe IT investments, take your funding for granted as what amounts to a patronage, and assume that this arrangement is more birthright than something that must be earned on a daily basis. Whether you find yourself working for royal IT, or perhaps inadvertently have created a minor fiefdom within your organization, it may be time to shake things up before a workplace revolution of sorts upsets the status quo.

Strive for transparency with the people

Monarchies are generally not known for their transparency, with opaque funding and decision-making. While you may be making the right decisions, keeping the lights on, and executing relevant projects, if the organizations that fund and support IT don’t understand how these initiatives are prioritized and executed, they may question the value you’re creating.

You’ll never please everyone all the time, but if your peers perceive that IT funds are allocated in a thoughtful manner and input from across the organization is solicited in making key decisions, you’ll avoid the perception that IT operates by fiat. In many cases, you may be doing all the right things, but by doing them behind closed doors and informally, and not articulating how IT determines its strategy, the perception will be that you’re working to a hidden agenda rather than in the best interests of the organization.

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You don’t necessarily need to account for every farthing your spend, but most IT organizations fail to provide even basic transparency into how they manage their funds, demonstrating what portion of IT spend goes to basic operations, projects, and innovation. If your investment advisor showed a single-color pie chart rather than showing the risk profile of your investments, you’d likely question his or her competence, just as your colleagues might question yours without this basic level of transparency.

Consider reforms and alliances

With centuries of tradition and its existence potentially at stake, it’s no wonder that most of the world’s remaining monarchs engage in largely symbolic duties or serve as mediators rather than leading from the front. This may work wonderfully if you’re a centuries-old family preserving its hereditary position, but this may not work as well for IT leaders who need to prove their value to the rest of the organization.

Part of proving that value is occasionally pushing the organizational envelope and coming to the table with new initiatives and ways of working. As technology leaders, like it or not, we’re often regarded as a potential source of innovation–we should embrace this role rather than fight it. If colleagues are constantly asking you about emerging trends, it might be time to seek them out and bring potential innovation initiatives to the table that push the envelope rather than keep the lights on.

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Try to demonstrate that the “tax” that funds IT is not merely for trimmings and trappings, but brings relevant innovation to the table. That could be as simple as doing some internal marketing that explains recent IT efforts, or as complex as launching new projects that were conceived and executed by IT, but have direct impact on the success of one or more business units outside of IT.

You need not do anything as dramatic as packing up your shop and heading to another country (or company) to exit IT royalty, and conversely it might not be as obvious that you’re perceived by your peers as royalty as there’s likely not a castle and moat surrounding your office. In any case, take a break from Harry and Meghan’s tribulations and examine your own organization. It should be a House of Innovation rather than a largely ceremonial burden on the rest of the organization.

You need not have paparazzi covering every tiny move you make, but a little transparency and tooting your own horn can be more effective than assuming your efforts are recognized and understood by your peers.

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