There are very few IT leaders who do not feel overwhelmed today. Between the never ending list of user requests, scalability and sustainability problems within the IT infrastructure, as well as compliance and regulatory needs, there is no time to think about getting ahead.
I have been blessed over the past years to take direction from leaders who have prepared me for taking on increasing responsibilities. When I reflect on the guidance it often stands out as contradictions. Contradictions don’t sound like a plausible means to solve many of our most complicated and time-consuming problems, but experience is telling me that it is absolutely correct; it’s also rooted in psychology
According to Wikipedia, “Leon Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance focuses on how humans strive for internal consistency. An individual who experiences inconsistency (dissonance) tends to become psychologically uncomfortable, and is motivated to try to reduce this dissonance as well as actively avoid situations and information likely to increase it.” Being uncomfortable sure doesn’t sound appealing, but to a motivated IT leader who is determined to succeed, it can stoke a hearty fire that can knock down walls. I’ll call out a few here
"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function"
Slow Down to Speed Up
We are all busy. Busy, busy, busy. Responding to emails at all hours of the day, night and weekend. Many of us are perpetually racing against a competitor that we cannot see or maybe even name. We just know that we need to “get caught up”, which never happens. Aside from your own discomfort, what would actually happen if you took a 30min walk in the middle of the day? Would the system crash? Would something happen that you yourself would have been able to single-handedly prevent during that time?
A hurried workforce is rarely effective. Joe Deney, SVP of Customer Operations at Peak 10 says, “A well-run manufacturing facility is a quiet facility without people running about.” Unless you make your business responding to external events that you have no control over (fire fighters, law enforcement, military) you can always find the time to pause and reflect on your situation
Getting your team to slow down in order to speed up is not an easy task. Inertia is an incredibly difficult force to repel. Remember, people strive for internal consistency and when that is challenged stress ensues. Even if you are insanely busy, you will perceive a “non-busy” state as impossible, something incongruent with the world as you currently know it. This is cognitive dissonance in action and those persons who are able to recognize it and move into and ultimately against it are able to create real change in their organizations
Maybe you have a number of mavericks on your team who prefer to not schedule or plan any activities. Perhaps you stack maintenance events on top of one another because “that’s what has to happen”. Rushing through the work will only set the expectation with others that you are only productive if you are hurried
Take a 30 minute walk and try to ask yourself why it is the way it is. There is always a reason, if you ask yourself enough probing questions. I have seen customers pressure service folks to the breaking point, constantly pushing and pushing all the while jumping on every single detail that is not exactly right. After scratching at the root of this issue for a number of days it occurred to me that the customer had simply lost faith in the provider’s ability to deliver what they said they would, when they said they would and by what means. Once the root issue of lack of trust was put onto the table the entire conversation changed and processes and methods were put into place to ensure that the customer’s expectations were met. Trust was rebuilt and stress began to dissipate.
Without slowing down to try and identify the root cause of this busy, stressed behavior, the team would have continued to drive themselves and the customer crazy. With trust re-established and the pace slowed a tad, both the provider and the customer accelerated their relationship and their respective businesses.
Accommodate Everyone, Selectively
Every IT department feels pressured to accommodate every single request made of them and to master every technology the business asks them to manage. The result is an over-worked team that is mediocre in all aspects of the job, excelling at only a portion of the overall responsibilities.
Again, take a 30min walk (several walks, actually) and begin asking yourself which activities are the absolute most important to the success of the business that are currently performed today in your IT department. It will be a short list, shorter than you think. It will be in the form of something like this:
• Ensure my users are productive at all times.
• Ensure my business’s customers’ expectations are met or exceeded.
• Ensure that information moves across the enterprise with no restrictions while ensuring security.
Once you have whittled the expectation list down to a respectable number of items create a second list of all items that are performed by your team. That list will be excruciatingly long and will include everything from laptop provisioning to telephone support to upgrading SAP. Sort that list in order of your team’s honest ability to perform the work to the expectation of the business and be honest in your grading.
With that second list completed, begin looking for arrangements to augment your staff, starting with those that your team performs least well. Select managed service partners that perform a select operation better than your team could every possibly perform it in-house. Unlike outsourcing, this is strategic partnering. We are in the days of the service economy and IT is a service to the business. There is strength in numbers and selecting the right partners for the right services will result in a significantly stronger IT department. The IT department can be a village of services. IT does not have to be all things to all people, which only guarantees mediocre support for everything.
These two contradictions, “Slow Down to Speed Up” and “Accommodate Everyone, Selectively” are in my mind every single day. They challenge me to get better every single day and have worked for me. I hope that they work for you. For a little motivation, I located a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald, which seems fitting:
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”