One of the benefits of working with many buyers and sellers of IT services is seeing the many different cultures of IT functions.
Some are hierarchical and some are horizontal.
Some are open and collegial, and some secretive and political.
One person didn’t make them, and one person can’t fix them.
But if you are stuck in a place with a disconnect between the top and the middle / bottom, here’s some news about what the people on the ground think when you make a sourcing or modernization decision – and what you can do about it.
What the Average IT Employee Thinks
Agree with it or not, this article is a great summary of what your team may be too afraid to tell you. Some choice extracts:
- Much (but not all) of the American technology industry is being led by assholes. And those assholes are needlessly destroying the very industry that made them rich.
- The IT services industry is following the same bad collective management plan: It is more important to book business at any price than it is to deliver what they promise.
- You can’t fix a problem by throwing more bodies at it. Continuity and team cohesiveness is important, and with each layoff and offshoring, these are destroyed, making IT services worthless.
- When you treat and pay people poorly you lose their ambition and desire to excel, you lose the performance of your work force. Many workers in IT services are no longer providing any value to the business – not because they are bad workers, but because they are being treated poorly.
- Underneath it all is the faulty (and recent) theory of shareholder value maximization where management has incentives to drive up short-term stock prices, but find it easier to do so through outright fraud or more subtle erosion of the brand and team built up by their predecessors in the name of cost cutting.
What that Implies for You
Beliefs have consequences. And specifically, the consequences of these beliefs are deeply damaging to your ability to accomplish anything as an IT leader:
- Your motivations are always suspect. No matter how much of a good guy you may be, you’re probably thought of as an asshole who’s only doing something for the notch on the resume, a big bonus, and a golden parachute.
- By extension, all change initiatives are met with suspicion. Especially those that involve dislodging established staff, suppliers, and methods / technologies in favor of something new.
- IT services suppliers are not to be trusted. They will oversell their capabilities and leave the remaining old school staff and business users holding the bag when they fail. Even the grand old brands.
- People on the ground are not truly motivated by stock. They don’t get enough of it, and they don’t have enough control over whether it appreciates or depreciates. So when you disrupt their routine and team to ostensibly get more shareholder value, they’re not buying it.
- People who believe they’ve been abused one time too many “quit and stay” – they will put in the hours but not their hearts.
What You Can Do About It
On the one hand, you can say “hey, I don’t need anyone’s approval.” I’ll be an asshole – but I’ll get things done. Except you won’t. We’ve had customers that were CFOs, CIOs, even CEOs, and had their well-intentioned initiatives slowed down and torpedoed by people two to three levels down. Not openly, of course. But “we can’t find this document” or “if we don’t renew this supplier / service, production will have an outage” or even just rescheduling meetings ad nauseam.
Or you can be conscious of the fact that generations of bad IT leadership has eroded the trust of their teams just as bad political leadership has led all government branches to their lowest approval ratings ever. And like it or not, you will need people to buy into your initiative – whether that’s a new outsource, infrastructure modernization, or changing suppliers. So here are a few things you can do to retain your mandate and not look like an asshole:
- Find savings outside of your staff. CFOs put the screws to you all the time, and sometimes it looks like a layoff, pay freeze, or mass outsource are the only options left. But savings can also be found in your suppliers – from telco to hosting to hardware and software. Many times these will not only allow you to retain staff, but finally patch up gaps in the team that lead them to be frustrated and burned out. Go the other way, and your best staff will find new jobs while you retain the “cruisers and losers” – and probably more of the latter.
- Don’t believe any suppliers – no matter what the brand. Make sure you have a thorough due diligence process that vets not just the promises they’re making, but their ability to fulfill the commitment. For example, if your buying support services, do you know your supplier’s staff turnover ratio annually? The qualifications of people who’ll be doing support? Have you called a help line? Do you know what their average customer sat score is? If not, you may be in for a rude surprise – and a loss of faith in your future initiatives.
- Involve more people in your decision making process. If choosing a new supplier, have them attend an on-site presentation and ask their most pointed questions. Ask for their vote on the tradeoffs between cost, performance, scalability, and other decision factors. Have them comment on your RFP and show them how the final decision was made. And don’t just go one level down to a mid-level manager. Talk to your sysadmins, coders, support team members, server / network designers, etc. That way, even if there is a hitch, there’s a team effort to fix “our problem” not minions grumbling at fixing the evil overlord’s complexity addiction.
- On that note, just talk to people. Not in a “hey, Peter, what’s happening” type of way, but a genuine discussion of “what are we doing that you think is eroding our brand, value, and competency as a team?” and “what can we do better?” And in case your team is too shell-shocked for honest feedback, give them an anonymous venue. And then do something about the feedback if you want it to continue.
- Give incentives for your team to save money – not pennies on stock appreciation, but “we’re going to select a provider with low costs / offshore staff / new technology, and it will be a tough transition. If we make it work, we’re splitting half of the first year savings with you for bearing with us.”
Ah, but who has time for employee relations when there are execs upstairs to be wooed, budgets to be massaged, technologies to review, conferences to attend, internal customers to make happy? Well, that’s where we come in – we run change processes that are open, transparent, diligent, and find savings. The only thing we as for is that you share them – with us and with your team alike.