After Hours

Let's share what we've learned about managing through this crisis

There is no guidebook to help managers deal with last week's tragic events in New York City and Washington, D.C. In this edition of Artner's Law, Bob Artner reflects on his reactions and asks other IT managers how they handled the effects of the tragedy.

I’ve been managing people for more than 20 years. During that time, I’ve had to deal with the normal things that IT managers face every day: hiring, training, and firing people; maintaining project schedules; hitting deadlines and meeting budgets; and rolling out new technology. While it’s never routine, after so many years, your experience gives you a certain amount of confidence about your ability to meet new challenges.

And then one morning, you find yourself in the company kitchen, watching TV with your colleagues as the World Trade Center implodes.

Nothing in my background prepared me for this most delicate of management problems: How can you be sensitive to the needs of your staff during such a crisis while making sure that work gets done? I don’t know of any guidebook for such a situation.

In this column, I want to do two things. First, I want to tell you what we’ve done here at TechRepublic. Second, I want to invite each of you to post comments to this column, recounting what you’ve done over the past week. My hope is that by sharing information, we can learn from our successes and mistakes and help each other be better managers.

Some lessons we've learned
Before I go any further, let me be clear about the situation we faced here at TechRepublic last week. I’m guessing that we’re like many of your organizations: We didn’t have offices in the World Trade Center, and none of our employees is on the missing list. We were very lucky. Those of you with facilities that were directly affected are obviously dealing with a much different situation. If you are one of these people, your focus is on setting a course for recovery.

For the rest of us, the challenge we face as managers starting last week is finding a balance between the needs of our employees and the needs of the organization. Here are some things we have tried:
  • Give people the option to go home: It was pretty obvious to us by late morning Tuesday that there was no way we could act as if it was “business as usual.” Therefore, we got everyone together and gave people the option of spending the day working at home or just being with their families.
  • Focus on essential work: As you know, TechRepublic publishes content every business day. Therefore, early in the week, we focused on just the essentials—getting daily production done. Besides, as a couple of my directors pointed out, it was simply too hard to concentrate on strategic issues; it is much better to focus on task-oriented problems. Otherwise, you’re too easily distracted.
  • Identify and support those with special needs: Luckily, we were able to account for all of our employees fairly quickly. Unfortunately, some of our people have friends and relatives who were either killed or are missing. That process took a couple of days. Since then, we’ve tried to express our support in whatever ways are appropriate—even if it means just listening.
  • Give your people a chance to talk: Of course, it isn’t only those who’ve lost someone who need to talk. During such a crisis, everyone needs the chance to work through his or her feelings and thoughts by talking.
  • Give your people a chance to help: Since we’re part of CNET, an online media company, there were some things we could do pretty easily: create links to the Red Cross and other organizations, for example, or provide advertising banners for nonprofits that are helping with relief efforts. All of us feel useless in the face of such a catastrophe, and all of us want to help.
  • Be a little more forgiving: We made some mistakes last week, but we also did a lot of good work. While I tend to be a “glass half empty” kind of guy by nature, this is a time for patience.
  • Be calm: Folks are understandably worried. Part of being a manager during such times is setting a tone of calm, without downplaying the significance of the event.

What have you been doing?
As I said at the beginning, I really want to hear what you’ve been doing. As a technical manager, how have you been coping with this crisis? Have you been able to keep your team focused? If so, how are you doing it? Please post a comment to this article and share any suggestions or tips.

While I focused on motivation and morale, there are other issues you can address in your posts. Here are just some of the topics we’d like to hear about:
  • How has the disruption in travel affected your operations?
  • How responsive have your vendors been during this period?
  • Has this incident triggered any disaster recovery contingency planning you had prepared? How did your systems respond?
  • If you work for an organization outside the United States, how has the event affected how you manage your people?

As I said earlier, by sharing information, we can be better managers and help our organizations and our employees get through this crisis.

How did you respond?
How did the terrorist attacks affect your employees? How has the tragedy changed the way your company operates? Share your thoughts with other TechRepublic members by posting a comment below.


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