A TechRepublic member who’s been placed in a difficult position and needs your advice recently relayed the following story to me.

“Three years ago I was hired to provide computer support to the [regional] office of an international management and environmental consulting company. The office consisted of approximately twenty-five consultants, a few secretaries, a VP, and an office manager. Each employee had a computer, but there was no network.

“When the company decided it needed a network, it also recognized the need for a computer professional to provide support. I was hired to install and maintain the network, and provide general computer support to the office. My direct supervisor was the office manager, whose primary function was to deal with local HR issues, manage the secretaries, and liaise with corporate headquarters in CA. The office manager reported to the local VP.

“Shortly after being hired, I received a call from the CIO at corporate. They had heard that we were installing a LAN and wanted to ensure that it conformed to their standards. Eventually, we would be integrated into the corporate WAN, e-mail, and document management systems. When I mentioned the phone call to my boss, the local office manager, she became visibly agitated and made it clear that while I needed to maintain a good working relationship with corporate IT, that she was my supervisor and that she would be the one making the final decisions when any conflict arose between the needs of the local office and the demands made by corporate.

“This conversation set the tone for the next three years—I had inadvertently landed into the middle of a power struggle for control of IT resources between the local office and corporate. It became apparent that I had been hired to help stall corporate in their attempt to control the local network. Battle after battle ensued over such issues as file naming conventions, appropriate fonts for presentations, choice of e-mail software, and so on. Despite the backdrop of constant conflict, I successfully supported the local office and satisfied the needs of corporate, but it was not an easy or comfortable position.

“Corporate attempted to deal with the problems democratically by inviting all the regional IT staff from around the world to partake in a committee to determine how to improve computer support in the company as a whole. I attended several conferences at corporate headquarters and participated in many videoconferences, always acting as an advocate for [my regional] office.

No good deed goes unpunished
“Recently, due to my success in supporting the local office and my contributions to the committee, I was asked by corporate whether I would be interested in assuming the additional responsibility of supporting the Chicago office. We talked logistics. Chicago was a smaller office than Philadelphia with a more computer literate staff, and a very cooperative office manager. They felt that I could successfully support them remotely, and just commit to being on site for one week every quarter. This was a fantastic opportunity but I could not accept the appointment without first discussing it with my manager. Believing that I would have a better chance of success if the topic were raised by corporate, the CIO himself offered to ask my manager. To my surprise she agreed on the understanding that I gave first priority to Philadelphia.

“Just a few weeks later, my manager left for a two week vacation. The day after she left, corporate IT called to see if I could go to Chicago the following week to install additional disk drives and memory in the server, and perform some very overdue service pack installs. I indicated that I would not be able to get permission of my manager as she was on vacation, but they assured me that this would not be a problem and the arrangements were made.

“The upgrades all went well. On my last day in Chicago I received a phone call from my manager. She had returned a day early from vacation to discover that I was in Chicago without her permission. I told her that I was acting under the instruction of corporate, but she completely lost her cool and told me that I was to instantly cease and desist from supporting Chicago, and that I had to take a day off without pay as a disciplinary measure and use the time to decide whether I wanted to continue working for the company.

“I was shocked and dismayed. A phone call to corporate revealed that when they had asked my boss’s permission to use me to support Chicago they had very much downplayed the extent of my expected commitment and had made no mention of any need to travel. In fact, they were so thrilled with the feedback they had received from Chicago, they were in the process of working on a similar arrangement for Dallas, and suggested that if I could do the same there that they could then justify promoting me into a newly created position of U.S. regional office IT manager, with a staff of two support techs. This was a fantastic opportunity, but they indicated that the position could only be offered to me if I first demonstrated my ability to support the third office. I asked for time to think about it.

“This all happened two weeks ago and they are still awaiting my decision. Meanwhile, I have continued to support both Philadelphia and Chicago, but the Chicago support has become problematic, because I have to do it without the knowledge of my boss. So what do I do?

“I very much want the opportunity to prove myself worthy of promotion. But corporate is not prepared to make the offer unless I can demonstrate my ability to support three offices, which I obviously cannot do effectively without permission from my boss. If I decline the offer, my only hope of promotion would be through seeking alternative employment, as the Philadelphia office will never grow sufficiently to require more than a single support tech. If, on the other hand, I accept the assignment, I will be directly contravening the instructions of my manager and will risk immediate dismissal. What would you do?”

We want to hear what you have to say!

You can submit your ideas either by e-mail or by posting a discussion item at the end of this column. A week after the publication of a scenario, we’ll pull together the most interesting solutions and common themes from the discussion. We’ll later present them with the situation’s actual outcome in a follow-up article. You may continue to add discussion items after the week has elapsed, but to be eligible for inclusion in the follow-up article, your suggestions must be received within a week of the scenario’s publication.

Should a tech sabotage a project to save department’s reputation?
Here are some of your responses to a previous column detailing a support tech’s dilemma about being asked by his boss to sabotage his own database development project and push the blame to another department, instead of risking the project being perceived as an IT failure. As usual the responses ranged from one extreme to the other. While many of you felt that the tech’s only loyalty should be to the person who signs his check, others like member John_Knickerbocker believed that he should “Just do it [the database project] and let the IT Manager worry about himself.”

Many responses expressed dismay at the manager’s lack of confidence in his tech and his readiness to undermine him and sabotage a project on the basis of the mere possibility of a failure. The only way of dealing with such a manager is to either find another job or to simply expose the manager for what he is. “The support person should go to the QA manager and explain what the IT manager is proposing,” wrote Don.taylor. “Together they should go to senior management and present that information.”

Others felt that a safer and more constructive approach would be to politely refuse to sabotage the project and work on convincing “his boss that he is confident and capable of successfully completing the project, thereby preserving his integrity,” wrote TechMom. The issue of personal integrity was raised in many of the responses: Regardless of who the tech reports to, no one has the right to place him in the position of effectively lying to the users simply to protect his boss from blame for a possible failure. “Personally I would refuse (as I have done before) and try to persuade the manager,” wrote Mark.woodcock2. “I like to think that the reflection I see in the mirror is one I can respect.”

So what really happened?
At the time of this column’s publication, the database conversion project has been put on hold, but not as the result of any nefarious actions on behalf of either the support tech or his manager. Instead, the maintenance department has determined the need to upgrade the version of their work order system from Access to Oracle or SQL and is currently working with the support tech to put together a proposal to present to upper management for approval.

If the upgrade is approved, both the support tech and his manager are in agreement that it would make more sense to upgrade the QA database to client-server rather than to Access. The IT department had originally proposed Access only because it would solve the immediate problem without incurring any expense associated with purchasing additional software. Keep watching this space for additional developments in this scenario.