There is something to be said about first impressions. Often, they make all the difference in the world.
Would you read this article, if the headline did not grab your attention?
I am a firm believer in first impressions. I know, almost instantaneously, when someone walks into the office or calls me, if I will do business with them or not. Don’t get me wrong, I have been proven wrong on many occasions when I completely missed something on first impression. However, wouldn’t that same thing – whether a job candidate or their resume or cover letter, business proposal or article or phone call - have had more value, if it had a terrific first impression as well? More importantly, was the risk of not making it past the “first glance”, worth the lack of effort getting it right?
First impressions are important in all aspect of the business world. Deals are done and signed, often, based on the first impression the parties have of each other. People, who pay attention to this fact, win and those who don’t, well, wax eloquent on why not to judge a book by its cover.
So what does all this have to do with IT Strategy?
It turns out that IT Projects, including IT Strategy, are not immune to this phenomenon. They succeed or fail, often, on first impressions as well. By first impression in this case, I am referring to the “kick off” communication.
A “kick off” communication is not a letter or email informing people about the great work you are about to undertake. It is the foundation on which that great monument you are about to build will stand – or fall as it may.
A “kick off” communication is your opportunity to get off to a roaring start and never look back or get stuck at the gate in an excruciating ordeal that goes on for months but lives on for the rest of your tenure at the organization.
I am often left more perplexed than disappointed seeing a botched communications strategy at an IT Organization. CIOs treat communications as a necessary evil rather than an instrument of success. Where is the most glaring mistake made? More often than not, the initial communication on a major IT Project might as well be on color paper written with crayons. Coincidentally, this is also the place where this mistake costs the most!
Why do some of the smartest people in the world make this amateurish mistake?
Nothing I am about to say, you do not already know. For sure, nothing in this article is rocket science. But having it said and organized is worth the read.
How to make a killer first impression in IT Strategy?
The purpose of the “kick off’ communication is to get key business leaders engaged in the process. It is not sufficient to get them information or to get their support and cooperation – they must sign up for the adventure.
The desired outcome is to have the business leader take some action. Whether it is to pick up the phone and call you to provide guidance or reply back to you offering one of their lieutenants as a team member, the “kick off” communication is not successful without an action being taken. If it just elicited a “nod” or “shaking of the head”, it has probably failed – you just don’t know it yet!
With this focus in mind, a “kick off” letter or email should be short and sweet – pithy, if I may. I have yet to see a reason why it should span more than a page.
It should address the following questions:
- Objective: Why are you writing this letter?
- Imperative: Why must this activity be performed? Why now?
- Responsibility: How will you assess success or failure? Who will get fired if it fails?
- Engagement: What do you want from me? When? How frequently?
- Road Ahead: When will I hear from you next? Why?
Each of these must be answered for the business leader to get engaged:
- Full engagement comes from ownership
- Ownership makes the difference between success and failure
- There is a simple rule of ownership: people own assets. If they do not see the value in something then it is not an asset to them
- If you want this “sale”, then “show me the money”!
Now that we have that out of the way, let us look at each of the questions and see how best to answer them in the letter.
About the Author:
Sourabh Hajela is a management consultant and trainer with over 20 years of experience creating shareholder value for his Fortune 50 clients. His consulting practice is focused on IT strategy, alignment and ROI. For more information, please visit www.StartSmartS.com. Or feel free to contact Sourabh at Sourabh.Hajela@StartSmartS.com.