The world of IT, perhaps more than any other, has the tendency to attract "gadget junkies," according to a recent TechRepublic article on managing these employees. And to maintain the straight and narrow when it comes to business goals, IT executives have to find a way to curb IT pros' desire to creatively tinker with new IT toys.
Shannon Kalvar, author of the article, wrote, "In fields where repeatability, alignment with business needs, rapid delivery of services, and coherent responses are necessary, we sometimes have to rein in our inner geeks. More importantly, we have to balance the need to accomplish objectives in a rapid fashion against the need of our employees to be creative."
But how do you do this and how much creativity do you rein in?
Member AlexFilkin led a small development team that enjoyed a mix of operational and development tasks in their jobs. A problem arose when his staff became so willing to resolve tricky development problems that they would neglect operational issues. And then when they were "forced into more operational tasks they would want to resolve problems themselves without asking for help because it satisfied their creative needs," he said.
"They became a great team when I got them to establish a balance between operational and development tasks. They excelled and it produced a positive working environment. Making sure they communicated problems through the team meant a more collaborative approach as well."
Member James Connolly says the trick is to make sure that those who enjoy operations and those who enjoy "consulting" aren't forced to overlap their interests too much.
"For example, once an e-mail system is up and running, its maintenance should be modular enough that task-oriented staff can monitor and maintain it. The development people are then given the fun task of sporadically analyzing logs or helpdesk queries to see if there's an overall design problem that can be fixed by another module and that won't affect the production service," he said. He explained that the tinkering can only happen outside of production and the workaround or solutions to a problem must fit in the current modules.
Member TheHayMaker thinks that there's nothing wrong with letting developers be creative. "The problem is that developers usually want to code the way they know of or the way they want to learn/put on a resume. Managers have to use the needs of the business to define the technical direction that developers can go and play with," he said.
That way, he explained, you don't end up with 20 applications that do the same basic thing but are built with incompatible technologies and redundant costs. So what's the solution? "When a developer says that one direction won't work, the manager can't just accept that assessment—he or she has to dig deeper." The real problem, he concedes, is that managers own the decision regarding technical direction but often cede authority to the developers, who don't have enough information to make those decisions.
Bbeasley said that managers have to get a feel for how trustworthy a developer is at being creative and growing professionally but keeping things in check. "Change for change's sake is absolutely wrong, but if you never work with a technology, how do you know if you can or can't use it in your business?"
Member dwyermj believes the issue is defunct in today's tight economic environment. "Trying to get new technology to 'play with' is usually next to impossible, and to use it as an enhancement to a production system is unheard of." He also believes that change for change's sake is most unusual. "Customer requests and troubleshooting are so constant that a techie rarely has time to initiate changes on his own. When this does occur, it is probably the result of boredom because the employee is not assigned to active and interesting projects, or management is too shortsighted to understand the direction of technological process," he said.
DocWade believes that it depends on the size of the organization. "I've found that the deeper the pockets, the greater the opportunity for the techies. Some organizations spend millions of dollars per year in cultural renewal exercises that do nothing more than confuse the employees." The degree to which this happens ultimately depends on the vision of the high-level executives. So creativity has its place, but it's the CIO who has to decide which "gadgets" promote the company goals and then enforce that vision.
Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.