Satisfying Stakeholders in a Distributed Technology Environment

Bill Corwin

Vice President of IT, Motion Recruitment Partners

A senior IT leader, Bill Corwin has 25+ years of proven leadership and a strong track record in executive leadership, program management, and operational excellence in complex global IT environments. As part of Motion Recruitment Partners’ executive team, he provides strategic direction for technology operations and investments, including end user services, application development, compliance, infrastructure, and security.

Sometimes I think back fondly on the days when the role of a technologist consisted simply of knowing technology and how to apply it. Now, navigating the demands of diverse corporate stakeholders as a broker has become a more essential skill than being an expert in bits and bytes.

Serving as a broker—between the C-suite, the business, procurement, vendors, you name it—becomes inherently more difficult in distributed or fast growth environments. Staffing firms constantly seek out expansion, whether through new geographies, acquisitions, or delivery models. Often, these opportunities unfold with little advance warning, and the shared services team must scramble to respond.

So what’s a technology executive to do? How do you respond when you find yourself serving multiple masters?

Competing priorities.

Anytime you have numerous stakeholders, you’ll encounter contrasting goals, priorities, and budgets. You’ll likely be forced to react before any of these discrepancies can be adequately analyzed, much less resolved. I call this scenario “Building for ?

A technology roadmap is only truly solid for a quarter or two ahead. In theory, I would love to create and follow a three to five year plan, but even when you look ahead six to nine months, you’re planning for what you don’t know (the “question mark”). Long-term plans are aspirational. But, just the process of betting on the unknown gives you a higher yield than constraining your decisions to the immediate term.

When the plan is interrupted—as it will be—by a new player, an unforeseen event, or even specific client demands—you need a plan in place to move quickly.

Becoming a specialized generalist.

By necessity, most organizations take the “lowest common denominator” approach to manage a distributed environment. They put in an 80% solution that hits the deadlines and the core needs, a “build one/fill many” model. As an example, at Motion Recruitment Partners, we’ve developed an Office in a Box approach.

Standardization is the goal. We’ve got a template to scale operations ready to go at any time. Sure, we may have to adjust our VOIP and standard desktop deployment if we’re navigating shipping guidelines for Hong Kong, but the basic blueprint is ready to overlay on any location, acquisition, or business expansion.

Consistent application of the standard.

Someone will always argue why their situation is different; no one wants to hear about limited resources. But, you have to give me a darn good reason to NOT deploy the standard.

There’s a temptation to cut costs where you can, but integrating diversity into your ecosystem will cost more over the long haul than factoring in the standard expenses from day one.

However, you must be alert to the dangers of a one-size-fits-all approach. It can be easy to lose track of the 20% gap that falls outside of the standard. What if it’s that 20% of the business that could deliver transformative value?

That’s why there’s no substitute for being on the ground. No data gives you the reality of being on the battlefield with the people in your organization who are using the technology day in and day out. Yes, it takes time; you have to travel, you have to stay in the office longer and expand your horizons. But technology leaders must carve that time out.

Be honest but be collaborative.

You’re going to face friction. The reality is, change is going to be painful. Even as I’m making the plan to introduce a possibly imperfect solution, I’m working hard to involve the wary stakeholders in every decision possible. Every time they raise their hand to vote for a particular approach, that’s going to increase joint ownership. It becomes “our project,” not just IT’s project.

I’ve also seen technology leaders fall into the trap of putting new technology out there without showing people how it will positively impact their work experience. Because you’re lined up for the next thing and the next, there’s a tendency to disappear after the deployment. That’s when it’s helpful to lean on your business partners. Your vendors will augment and enhance your ability to deliver better solutions, if you’ll let them.

Expectations are high.

Move fast, but keep costs down. Bring new businesses online seamlessly. Don’t interrupt the revenue stream. You’re never going to satisfy every stakeholder, but a flexible blueprint can help bring order to chaos. Expecting the unexpected can help you accelerate change and boost efficiency—and make you and your business look good in the process.