5 IT management practices certain to kill IT productivity

Table of Contents

Why it’s a problem: When each employee independently figures out the way to get something done, IT’s practices are, in effect, in a perpetual state of alpha testing. Processes never improve because no two people ever do them the same way or build on past successes.

Why it’s a temptation: Defining, documenting, training, and insisting everyone follows well-defined processes is a lot of work, not to mention that it can make a manager unpopular. After all, for most employees doing things the way they want is a whole lot more fun than doing things the institution’s way. Worse, doing things the institution’s way and insisting on it will lead to accusations that you’re turning IT into a stifling, choking bureaucracy.

What to do instead: Encourage a “culture of process” throughout your organization.

Yes, this is just the headline, and there’s a whole lot of thought and work associated with making it real. Not everything can be reduced to an e-zine article. Sorry.

Bad fix #4: Holding people accountable

What it is: According to its proponents, it’s how to make sure everyone does their best to avoid making mistakes and do whatever it takes to get the job done.

Why it’s a problem: Holding people accountable is root cause analysis predicated on the assumption that if something goes wrong it must be someone’s fault. It’s a flawed assumption because most often, when something goes wrong, it’s the result of bad systems and processes, not someone screwing up.

When a manager holds someone accountable they’re really just blame-shifting. Managers are, after all, accountable for their organization’s systems and processes, aren’t they?

Second problem: If you hold people accountable when something goes wrong, they’ll do their best to conceal the problem from you. And the longer nobody deals with a problem, the worse it gets.

One more: If you hold people accountable whenever something doesn’t work, they’re unlikely to take any risks, because why would they?

Why it’s a temptation: Finding someone to blame is, compared to serious root cause analysis, easy, and fixing the “problem” is, compared to improving systems and practices, child’s play. As someone once said, hard work pays off sometime in the indefinite future, but laziness pays off right now.

What to do instead: Whenever something goes wrong, first fix the immediate problem — aka “stop the bleeding.” Then, figure out which systems and processes failed to prevent the problem and fix them so the organization is better prepared next time.

And if it turns out the problem really was that someone messed up, figure out if they need better training and coaching, if they just got unlucky, if they took a calculated risk, or if they really are a problem employee you need to punish — what “holding people accountable” means in practice.

Bad fix #5: Keeping you in the loop

What it is: A consequence of the no-surprises rule — if something happens in your department, you’re supposed to know about it before it becomes visible to your peers and management.

Why it’s a problem: It isn’t a problem. Unless, that is, you make keeping you in the loop a higher priority than fixing what’s gone wrong, and especially if it means whoever is trying to fix the problem has to get managerial approval before taking whatever steps they need to take.

Why it’s a temptation: Being kept in the loop reduces the fear that a manager will be blindsided and look bad to their management. Also, it makes a manager feel important: “I have to take this call” is almost as compelling as, back in the old days, having their pager start to buzz.

What to do instead: This is a softball, isn’t it? Just make sure everyone knows that, should a problem arise, priority #1 is fixing it. Briefing you is priority #2 or #3. Or maybe #27.

Not everything is hard to figure out.

And, a suggestion

Set up an anonymous one-question survey. Invite all IT employees to participate. The one question builds on the aforementioned Peter Drucker observation: “What are we in IT management doing that interferes with your ability to do your work?

Publicize the most common responses, take them seriously, and repeat the survey quarterly.

And if any of the common responses surprise you, revisit your organizational listening program, because clearly the one you have in place isn’t working.

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