IT Employment

Two ways people cause problems in their organizations


You've heard the expression "taking the bulls by the horns"? Are you or someone you work with scared to take the bull by the horns, i.e., afraid to get an issue taken care of simply by taking some kind of action? If you say no, you're lying. I would venture to say most problems and delays in organizations result from two things:

1. Not incompetence, but competence coupled with the fear of being wrong.

2. The inability to go from the words "I'll take care of that" to actually, well, taking care of that.

The fear of being wrong

Let's address point 1 first. I have known of people who absolutely have the wherewithal to know a solution to a problem, but will not, under any circumstances, actually pitch the solution to anyone. The excuses range from "Nobody would listen anyway" to "If it doesn't work, that means I fail." RE the first excuse: Bull. By suggesting a possible solution, you have nothing to lose but a few minutes of your time. If no one listens, then at least you'll know you tried.

RE the second excuse: Yes, the suggestion may fail. What's the worst that could happen though? I'm fairly sure the building around you won't spontaneously combust as a result, and the CEO and his executive board thugs won't take you out in the parking lot and break some of your ribs. (Unless you're a net admin for the mob, I guess.)

The lack of follow-through

If I had the clout, I would address this one somewhere in the commandments. Right between the one about not bearing false witness and coveting one's neighbor's house, I would add "Thou shalt follow through on commitments."

People who don't follow through, even on the supposedly small things, cause a burden on their co-workers. Here's the scenario: Your co-worker, Bernie, offers to get some information for you and get back to you. You don't get the information quickly so you rearrange some of your own duties that don't depend on that information. After a few days, you still don't get the information. Now, you have to e-mail Bernie and sheepishly remind him of his promise. You may have to do this several times. Bernie's "help" then becomes a bottleneck. Bernie has saved you no time at all. In fact, you now want to kill Bernie.

So the lessons are 1) Step up and take the bull by the horns, and (2) Once you have the bull by the horns, do what you said you're were going to do.

About

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.

13 comments
metalpro2005
metalpro2005

I was triggered to join the discussion on the comparisment being made between IT work and the mob: "and the CEO and his executive board thugs won???t take you out in the parking lot and break some of your ribs. (Unless you???re a net admin for the mob, I guess.) " There is an alternative scenario: It might be that if you put forward this suggestion, the complete problem's ownership is shifted from the current problem owner (mostly the godfather/boss) to you. So it is actually not the fear of being wrong, but the fear of being right ! And if you are 'lured' into taking the ownership and this is perceived as being 'i take care of it' you become the person in scenario 2. In my experience the greatest problem solvers come with the character-set which enables others to take advantage of them. I see the behavior scenarios you put forward merely as a defensive mechanism. (a strategy which in most cases will put personal growth in a standstill !)

cd003284
cd003284

Thanks, Toni, for another useful article. I've seen plenty of both, and have been guilty of both. I completely agree with item 2, but item 1 should be separated into two categories: when there's nothing to fear, and when there IS something to fear. The politics, policies, and practices of some organizations DO unfairly, dishonestly, and illegally punish people for being wrong. So if it's a wholly unfounded and irrational fear, sure I agree; but if there's a history of people getting badly burned for getting things wrong, then the problem is an organizational pathology, not reasonable responses to it. I guess I'll conclude by observing that all advice predicated upon a healthy organization should come with the obvious caveat: This may not apply to your situation.

dennisk
dennisk

I think the sneaks who report to management that other employees are asking too many questions, when they are the sole repository of data is the worst.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

If I remember correctly from my Organizational Management and Leadership course, Bernie fits the bill of being a gatekeeper. He's the only source of the information or service you need within the organization. You either need to butter him up to cough up what you need if it's an out of the ordinary request, or provide continuous feedback to him that you're still lacking what he's supposed to regularly send you. One little point in defense of the Bernie's of the world. You may think you have a recurring standard request for him to produce you something; but if you are changing/tweaking/modifying what your request is, then it changes from a recurring standard request to a recurring adhoc one. Bernie may not be sitting on it, but waiting for YOU to provide the latest set of changes before producing the product. YOU'VE conditioned him to expect changes everytime. (By the way, I'm Bernie in that scenario, and those sorts of requests drive me nuts - if I could charge you for it, I would.)

wrlang
wrlang

The "two ways" are an over simplification of real problems in most organizations. The solutions are idealistic. It assumes there are reasonable people everywhere, especially in positions of authority. That somehow organizations are a form of democracy where everyone has the right and responsibility to participate. Few people actually have a fear of being wrong when they know, or strongly suspect, they are right. It just doesn't follow. I don't know anyone that has a fear of being wrong in the manner described. I know some people that use similar excuses to cover up what they are really feeling - they have a poor relationship with management and/or co-workers for various reasons so they don't participate. You don't have to work for the mob to get your ribs broken if you realize that a poor manager can disable your career because of a suggestion you make that doesn't flow with their desires. Or when a technical person everyone trusts says no to a new technology they know nothing about to save face and have their solution implemented instead. In 30+ years I've never worked for an organization where there hasn't been a lack of follow through. Project management is all about forcing follow through. Working in an after thought area like disaster recovery, the number one activity is ensuring follow through. If someone never follows through, they eventually get fired because they aren't doing their job. I would posit that the number one cause of problems and delays in all organizations is hubris.

helpdeskdude
helpdeskdude

Hey, I wish I was "RIGHT" just once in a while, that'd be fun! Wonder how many time Thomas Edison failed at making the light bulb?

william.bryant2.ctr
william.bryant2.ctr

I think one of the biggest problems is that some people do not listen. Or the ability to articulate a possible solution clearly. Some organization have their minds made up but go through the protocol just give an appearance and that's wrong.

jpb
jpb

I charge for every quarter hour that it takes for me to make a change in something that was previously "set in stone". Scope creep is one of the deadly enemies of project management. If a person is creating a problem in this area, s/he needs to be trained to find a way around their particular problem. For example, on a website that is needed in a couple of weeks, I tell the person (/people) to take a day or two and then come back to me with anything "more" they think of that they'd like to see on the site. In the meantime I am laying out the skeleton of the site (or more often adapting one from another site). If you can't manage this situation, I would advise learning how, or looking for another career because you are on a steady course for a breakdown.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

?We now know a thousand ways not to build a light bulb?

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

I find some CEO, CIO ETC that have already made up their minds and appear to listen but are never swayed by another view point. Some will schedule meetings and then not show up, claiming more important business and has no interest in what others think. some managers micro-manage and have already convinced others that their approach is the only way, this results in meetings with no alternate veiw points and as a result make the meetings meaningless.

Big Ole Jack
Big Ole Jack

I've seen it time and time again when some new manager, director, CTO, etc comes into and organization and within a few days, decided to competely rip out the existing network infrastructure in place of something that he thinks is better simply because "Gartner Group" says so. Such morons are usually MBAs' with absolutely little to no technical experience and whose decisions are based on biased articles, hearsay, and what their other MBA "friends" are saying. I've been in such situations earlier on in my career and I've seen it all to often. Why are some managers so hell bent on completely turning the IT department upside down on its head? Whatever happened to "if it aint broke...don't fix it"? Yes, one may not like running Unix, Linux, or even Novell Netware, but if it suits the organization's business functinos and works fine, why rip it out to replace it with something else? Are these guys getting kickbacks from software and hardware vendors that we don't know about?

divekeys
divekeys

I'd like to add to your thought. Its not just new managers with MBAs, there are plenty at all education levels who think they need to make a 'big splash' to put themselves on the corporate map. So they read a tech magazine article or a best practice which worked well for a specific comapny and suddenly they are all knowing. They would do their employees, themselves and their companies a huge favor by consulting with the people who have been doing the job for years. I guess this does go back to listening, which ultimately ties back to good old communication.