Are you allowing your business to cut IT investment and miss out on the real benefits of your team's expertise?

The ongoing recession has led business leaders to continue to cut areas that aren't adding value. IT remains one of the areas under threat in many organisations, as commercial managers struggle to understand the true value of the department.

At the same time, CEOs continue to invest in the services of professional service firms. Rather than becoming cynical about these investments, I think that there are five key lessons for many IT departments to learn from these organisations.

1 Become client-focused. McKinsey and other professional service firms are able to develop client-focused solutions because, in some ways, they get to know their clients and prospects better than their clients know themselves. You and your team need a similar focus. This doesn't mean that you do anything your colleagues ask, but it does mean that your team's starting point should be focused on understanding their needs, what makes them tick and what they are trying to achieve.


2 Develop peer-level relationships. Your ability to get anything done is directly related to the quality of relationships you have with your key partners and stakeholders. Professional service firms recognise this, and that is why they put so much effort into developing and managing these relationships. Critically, though, a peer-level relationship is not simply saying "yes" when being told what to do, but is about genuinely seeking to understand the needs and objectives of your clients, offering new ideas and insights, and pushing back when you genuinely disagree. Peers are partners, not subordinates, and that is how you, and your team, should act.

3 Become thought leaders. The McKinsey Quarterly has become one of the leading business periodicals for senior executives, helping build demand for the firm's services. McKinsey managers and partners also speak at events, and write books and articles for other publications. What new ideas and insights have you and your team developed and how do you share them across your organisation?

4 Constantly propose new ideas and solutions. After several meetings with a prospect I asked him what it would take for us to work together. "Stuart" he replied, "Look at Goldmans and the investment banks. They are always bringing new ideas to me. I know 90 per cent of the ideas won't work, but it's worth seeing them for the 10 per cent chance that they'll be onto something. If you want us to work together, offer me some specific ideas and reasons to do so." It's the same for you. What new ideas and solutions are your putting forward to your clients and partners?

5 Build your talent pool. The CTO of a major plc was complaining to me about the lack of progress his team were making in delivering his department's strategy. It became clear that the key barrier was the team itself. Most of the team were technically excellent, but many simply have the business understanding or the interpersonal skills required to deliver complex cross-functional projects or influence commercial stakeholders. As with professional service firms, you must recruit talented people who demonstrate a mix of technical and interpersonal capabilities. How well do your managers and teams stack up?