Marc My Words: How I Learned to Love IT (So Can You)

Those who know me know that I am not a techie, far from it. In fact, it’s a wonder that I can keep my five-year old laptop running.

Truth be told, early in my career, I didn’t much talk to many Information Technology (IT) folks. Why? Predominately because the training organizations I worked for had their own IT people (sort of; some were more training folks who had a “thing” for technology). Because of this estrangement, I really had not learned how to love IT.

And it was also true that training didn’t really use much tech, outside of producing gobs of slides and reams of paper learning materials. Okay, maybe we also dabbled in video and that new-fangled “Computer Based Training (CBT),” but we were really just “boys (or girls) with toys;” it didn’t mean much. Some people were always working in a back room somewhere on some kind of complex authoring tool (rapid eLearning was still a pipe dream), so I didn’t have to think about that either, which was fine with me.

The clash

Then things started to change. In some organizations, HR started to take over some of training’s technology responsibilities; in others, it went to the business units. But the real change came with the introduction of new learning management systems (LMSs). This was training’s first enterprise software, so, like it or not, we had to talk to IT. The onrush of eLearning only served to increase the sense of urgency. Our technology needs were under the radar no more.

The first thing we heard from IT was, “you want to put what (being honest, sometimes the “what” was articulated as “that junk,” or worse) on our network?” Then came the kicker, “we’ll study this and get back to you soon.” Of course, “soon” meant different things to different people, but it certainly didn’t mean “quickly.”

It seemed that the priorities of IT and the priorities of trainers were completely different. IT staff are overly careful, love stability, compliance, and network reliability, and are obsessed with system testing and data security. We trainers, on the other hand, had a reputation (deservedly) for jumping on every technology bandwagon, and then abandoning it when the next shiny object came along. Compliance, system testing, and data security weren’t really important to us; we just had to “get it out there.” Yesterday wasn’t fast enough.

A culture clash, to put it mildly. Bad relationships with IT often result in delays, finger pointing, system crashes, and sub-standard performance. Not surprising, since they didn’t “get” us and we didn’t “get” them.

Meeting of the minds

It’s taken a long time to build rapport between training and IT; in some organizations, it’s still a slog. But over the past couple of years, many training and IT organizations have made it work. How did they do it?

  • Both teams were jointly accountable for project results. They both had a stake in the total success of the project.
  • Both teams learned the goals, culture, and mission of each other’s organization. Trainers learned how IT works and what their critical requirements were. IT learned more about how training works. This included learning each other’s jargon.
  • Training learned to value the importance that the IT group brings to the table. And IT learned the same from training.
  • Both teams worked on communication, early and often: what employees need to be able to do, what technology is needed to be successful, who are the key stakeholders, how success will be measured, and how the benefits will be reported.
  • Training and IT pitched their plans and progress to upper management together. They also shared the credit (or the blame).
  • Both teams worked on end-user training and help desk requirements as a joint project.
  • Both teams agreed on a governance process and learned how to cooperate throughout the project.
  • Most importantly, both teams realized that they needed each other.

What helped me better understand the absolute necessity of teamwork between training and IT was this. Think of IT as builders of highways and think of training as builders of cars. If you have a great superhighway system but no cars, there’s no point in having the roads. On the other hand, if you have lots of cars but no roads (or poor roads), the cars have little value. Only when highway builders (i.e., IT) understand how many, and what types of cars (learning programs) they have to accommodate, and when car owners (i.e., training) understand how much capacity the highway can sustain, will the investment on both sides be worth it. Unfortunately, if you’re a commuter, this analogy works better for the training/IT relationship than it does for most real transportation issues, but you get the idea.

Baby steps

If you have a great relationship with IT, terrific! Work at making it even better. If you’re still struggling, pay them a visit, learn what they do, and help them understand your needs. Embed someone from your staff into theirs for a while and invite them to do the same. Take the lead. You need them for your success, but they also need you to add value to their very expensive infrastructure. Then, buy them lunch and talk more.

My relationship with IT was born out of necessity and a little crisis. It was hard work in the beginning, and it still is. I still don’t know much more about technology than I did way back then. Just as soon as I “get it,” it all changes. But I trusted that IT did, and I worked to cultivate mutual respect and a shared vision. They taught me a lot. It feels good and I became better for it. It can be that way for you, and it will be one less hill you’ll have to climb.

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