IT Policies

Combatting the IT versus management mentality

Patrick suggests some things that IT can do to combat the us versus them mentality.

My last article caused some interesting comments, many centering around the supposition that many IT functions, like the dysfunctional help desk I mentioned, were due to poor management. In essence, IT is not given the resources it requires and therefore is unable to deliver a product of the quality that many IT personnel wish they could provide.

There's some obvious truth and comfort in this statement. Presumably a help desk, or any other internal function, would be exceptional with an unlimited budget, proper staffing levels, and all the best training and facilities. Comfort can be found in this assumption, since it takes the onus for excellence out of our hands. If an inadequate budget is the root of all of IT's problems, and setting the budget is out of our hands, then we can easily tolerate any shortcomings since it's "their" fault rather than our own.

I have yet to meet anyone in a modern corporation who laments an overabundance of time, money, and staff. In short, every corporate function, especially those that are internally focused, is competing for scarce resources and will likely never receive what it perceives as an appropriate budget. This problem is compounded by the fact that IT costs are far more transparent than they used to be. In the early decades of corporate IT, costs were perceived at the executive level as a "necessary evil," with the "right" budget being a bit mercurial. Now the CFO merely needs to mention that he or she is considering outsourcing some IT-related function, and a line of vendors with detailed cost proposals appears outside the door. So how can IT combat this "us versus them" mentality? I'd suggest the following:

Assume the best

Many people assume bad intent when it comes to their direct management, and even worse when regarding upper management. A budget cut is a personal slight, and layoffs clearly the fault of "clueless jerks" sitting in the corner office. This attitude again makes one the victim; if unseen nefarious forces exist to derail your efforts at every turn, why bother doing anything more than showing up and clocking time until retirement. Simply shifting your view may change how you perceive management and its actions. Rather than immediately assuming the worst, assume your direct and upper management are fallible human beings, tasked with wisely managing and allocating scarce resources.

While this may seem like a perceptual game and waste of time, it can provide concrete leverage, whether you're reporting to the CEO or line management. When a decision is made by a bad actor hell-bent on derailing your career, you have little choice but to grumble and accept the decision. If that same decision is made by someone struggling to achieve a difficult balance in allocating scarce resources, you can make a compelling case that there are different ways to achieve that objective that might provide more direct benefit than another decision. In short, assuming the best empowers you.

Look for business benefit in every decision

The other weapon for IT against budget cuts and supposedly misguided management decisions is couching technical and process-related alternatives in terms of business benefit. As I mentioned in my previous column, a company I was considering doing business with set up their homepage so it would not load on Internet Explorer. While there might be technical reasons for this decision, many pointed out the obvious flaw from a business-benefit perspective, mainly turning away potential customers before we could even read about the company's offering. Similarly, if your help desk is understaffed, requesting additional resources clearly spells out the cost side of the equation (hiring and salary expense for new staff) without clearly delineating the benefit. The same thing routinely happens when IT engages in heartrending debates about technical alternatives without considering the inherent business benefit.

When you combine a consideration for business benefit with assuming the best in corporate management, IT becomes a compelling investment of scarce resources. Similarly, management becomes an entity that can be convinced, persuaded, and collaborated with, sometimes with your preferred result, and sometimes not, but in both cases a very human and rational entity, rather than a nefarious and insurmountable entity that beats IT into victimhood.

About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

18 comments
Odipides
Odipides

"Many people assume bad intent when it comes to their direct management" I try not to attribute maliciousness to things which can also be explained by stupidity. Also, it takes at least two to collaborate. I've been through more than my fair share of companies with the view that IT should simply do as it's told even if the people doing the work know it's the wrong approach. Unfortunately, the old saw "I've made up my mind, don't confuse me with the facts" is still pertinent in IT management. If it wasn't, Dilbert strips wouldn't resonate with so many IT professionals.

blarman
blarman

I heard a little saying in high school that has stuck with me: "When you ASSUME you make an ASS of U and ME." NEVER, EVER ASSUME ANYTHING. Miscommunications are a product of assumptions. Missed project deadlines are a product of assumptions. Scope creep is a product of assumptions. Assumptions should be the bane of management and IT alike. Instead of making assumptions, let's do the sensible thing: meet and talk things over. IT is logical to a fault - explain things to us in black and white and we'll understand. We may not _like_ the fact that the economy sucks and the whole company is being forced to find ways to cut back, but at least noone assumes that IT is getting hit just because they're IT. If the company wants to outsource a project, explain that to the IT group so they know what they need to work on - don't just ignore them. Business managers should make the effort to explain things to IT - IT shouldn't have to play the game from a religious standpoint of having faith in management decisions. That's ludicrous.

fhrivers
fhrivers

Every time I see the word "excellence" in an article I stop reading. It's the most over-used and vacuous "management-speak" word I've ever seen. What the hell does it even mean?

OldHenry
OldHenry

Most companies run IT as a cost center. What if they ran it like a profit center? It would radically change the way IT is run and the way it is viewed.

glenncon
glenncon

your article merely points out how disconnected management and employees are from each other. the globalization of IT has driven employee wages ino the toilet. People are getting ot of IT in droves and now management is complaining about a talent shortage. this is not an academic issue and management has no intention of partnering with employees on any level...wake up buddy!

GTGeek88
GTGeek88

This guy, who works for mgt. at large companies according to his bio, seems to be acting like an apologist for mgt. It's never their fault, really, they're just human beings trying to do their best. Well, I can tell you I've run into quite a number of bad, idiotic managers. Not that they're aren't good ones, too, but sometimes - too often, really - it's about bad mgt. Like one of my clients now who is replacing a mission critical application that's been working well for them for 11 years with an off-the-shelf package with fewer features that costs five times much, not including yearly maintenance. And he's taking a profitable custom shop and moving it straight into the commodity end of the market so that they can be hammered on pricing every day. Many automated functions will go back to manual processes. The decision is not about efficiency where the rubber meets the road, it's being driven solely by the bean couners who just want integration with their accounting system. When the IT mgr raises objections the answer is "my way or the highway." The outside consultant that praised the existing system was replaced. Sure, you shouldn't just have an automatic "mgt is the enemy" response, but there are plenty of times where mgt is clueless and idiotic.

brian.moneymaker
brian.moneymaker

I concede we can assume the best in Corporate Mgt as a nebulous entity, but direct people mgt will fail us unless we act as servant leaders who set our teams up for success. Though we???d like to think so, overtaxed resources and under-funded projects aren???t a function of attitude. They are real life challenges. Changes occur when we become servant leaders who set teams up for success through intelligence and caring that overshadows our personal goals for self preservation and acceptance. Pushing back is an option.

l.kobiernicki
l.kobiernicki

.. SysAdmins lost control of IT policy. I remember one lecture from a newly-appointed hatchet-man, in which he threatened us all with dire penalties, for any infringement of the new rules his insertion was bringing in to bear down on us all .. I could hardly believe my ears .. Who do these creatures think they're dealing with ? Do they think we're morons, to be beaten into line ? Threats & menaces: that's the sum of the new management style. And if you don't like it, " off you go ! Out the door. Now ". Something has gone bad at the highest levels in the way corporates are running their empires. If the disease hasn't got to you yet, don't worry: it will, sooner or later ..

mialp
mialp

Managing IT is not straightforward because we have a problem in our business environment. Business people do not always understand IT and IT people do not always understand business. The answer is for IT people to learn about the business and business people to learn about IT. In respect of business managers I found it was well worth setting up one to one sessions to find out what their main business problems were. Make sure that IT budgets are not created in isolation but flow from and are integrated into the organization's business plan. Regular education sessions are essential - I remember vividly how one FD's (CFO) attitude to IT changed when I took him into our server room to illustrate why we needed an enhanced backup system. The complexity of what we were doing only struck him then. There are no easy answers but I have to agree with Patrick's assertion that a positive attitude and identifying business benefits will be a vast improvement.

todd_dsm
todd_dsm

I love talking about Pink Elephants and this is surely one of them. I don't know how many times I've submitted a proposal, with a cost/benefit analysis, and been shot in the @$$. There are a great many (CEO) responses I've heard to these proposals but they all seem to lead back to a central, cancerous concept: [i]"I'll be damned if I'll be held at the mercy of those geeks. This is my business!"[/i] Some companies, with some of the largest networks in the world, even go as far as to NOT hire a CTO, claiming they are not in the technology business. If your company is supported by a 100,000+ node network - I have news for you, [i]"You're in the technology business"[/i] - like it or not. Anything else is delusional at best. That's why I love companies like ideeli; sure they seem like a company with a silly purpose but their (Inc 500) numbers are impressive: 3-year growth:40,882% 2010 Revenue:$77.7 million Employees:145 Employee growth:140 Founded:2006 Industry: Retail Industry rank:#1 The purpose of highlighting a company like this is that they are killing in their industries. Why? Because they understand that their business is not just Retail - it is Retail+Technology. 144 employees billing out nearly 78 million dollars in services is no small feat and a 3-year growth of 40,882% is impressive by any standard. Pre-cloud, this type of growth was just not possible. Executives and Managers have a few things to think about: Which small company is coming up behind me? Moving faster than we are? When will they take too much of my market share? The only way out is to embrace technology. Stop thinking of the world in terms of filing cabinets and start thinking about business in terms of relational databases. Sure it's scary but it beats the alternative: your company gets bought and you end up answering to your new CEO, Kyle, a 22 year-old tech-whiz. That's the real boogie man. Everyone understands numbers and fear. Sometimes it's necessary to include them both a proposal. IT vs Management is being reformed into Business+IT by the smaller companies. If the older guys can't get on board they're going to have to lie in the bed they've made - on the park bench. Good subject. I'm glad someone is thinking about these things.

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

or a gradient in which p flows down hill? :)

Professor8
Professor8

We may not "like" the fact that the economy sucks and the whole company is being "forced" to find ways to cut back while we're bringing in record profits and record compensation to the execs, but we have to understand that as inflation rages on and our total compensation packages have been heavily trimmed, profits aren't increasing as quickly as the execs would like, so we have to continue to take another personal loss "for the team".

Professor8
Professor8

It's like "innovative", you know. Quality only not really "quality", because, you know, we have to cut the quality to be able to get a low enough retail price on it and still get the CEO and other executives our performance bonuses this quarter (like they're stuck between the present and the hippie-dippie 1960s). Yes, I really did have a manager say "If you don't know what I mean by this phony-baloney term I can't explain it to you" and expected that to suffice to close out/resolve the discussion resulting in my eager support and compliance. When they start talking like that, it's time to jump ship to some place where people are mostly sane.

j2will
j2will

Making IT a profit center is an excellent idea. By charging all departments for services rendered by the IT department, all department managers would become very familiar with the functions of IT. This would encourage them to ensure their respective workers followed established protocols, were well trained in the basics of computer operations and PC recovery, and reduce the amount of frivolous work requests. Can you image a departmental manager getting a bill from IT for 200 work orders at $20 each when only a simple reboot was needed? Also, how many changes to the wiring infrastructure would occur if department managers had to pay $120 for each data drop with a 50% action fee for immediate service. I bet the IT department could finance all its projected 10 year scheduled upgrades for server, network hardware, and software improvements during the acclimatization period between the changeover from a cost center to a profit center.

blarman
blarman

Didn't quite understand where you were going with this. If your complaint is that the execs are getting fat raises and bonuses while at the same time cutting IT, I agree that that is the type of behavior that undermines the credibility of those individuals in a major way.

blarman
blarman

You might just find yourself competing with local vendors and getting yourself outsourced. IT must tread a very sensitive line here. I agree that IT should be viewed as productive/valuable to a company, but if you focus only on the revenue side, you could alienate the bean-counters. Including both the cost and comparative cost helps your internal customers realize what a great deal they are really getting.

Golfloon
Golfloon

The bean counters will never go for it the sort of comments I have had back when I have suggested we do it: "Cross charging takes a lot of resource for no business benefit", "It won't reduce the cost it'll just move it to a different cost centre" and my favourite "You wouldn't be happy if we charged you $150 for processing an invoice would you?" I can't think of a better reason for Business Process Outsourcing a Finance function....