Corporate IT needs the intervention of Human Resources. That is the conclusion I am forced to, after decades of watching IT consistently fail to apply even basic concepts of people management to its operations. Please join my campaign for greater HR insistence on IT staff professionalism.
IT Support is hugely, strategically important. This fact seems commonly underestimated by IT heads. But here’s the thing. Essentially, any business is the productivity of its staff. That productivity can be expressed financially in how it translates into revenue. It can even be calculated by the hour, because so much revenue is generated by so many hours of productivity, even in the public sector.
If that productivity is impeded by an IT failure, the cost of restoring it is always lower than the cost of its loss, because a technician’s salary is only a portion of their own contribution to the business.
This is where HR comes in – because staff productivity is by nature a HR matter. If something gets in the way of the organisation’s people, HR’s ears prick up.
“Look at all those people – and not a single manager among them” – HR director of large UK retail company, on perusing IT’s organisation chart.
What’s getting in the way is the fact that on average, IT support fixes take hours, when they should take minutes. Backlogs of these fixes abound, sometimes going months without being attended. IT Technicians are routinely left to choose what enquiries they want to resolve and when, and their own productivity has been plummeting for years.
IT Must Hire Technicians
And the reason for this persistent failure? Simple – IT must hire technicians to do what it does. However, it typically makes no account of the vast philosophical chasm between the technical mindset and the managerial one. So when the time comes to select a new leader for an IT workgroup, the only pool of talent they can appoint from consists exclusively of technicians. So you end up with groups of technicians being headed by just another technician.
“We can’t afford to have managers” – CIO, global news-based organisation
And it’s not limited to the lower ranks. I have met several IT Directors and Chief Information Officers (CIO) who still spend at least part of their day writing code. More than one of these has, without irony, simultaneously wondered why his department cannot deliver projects on time. By the way, the CIO usually does come from the code-cutting, machine-focussed ‘development’ side of IT – very rarely do they come from the ‘services’ or support side, where dealing with customers is workday routine.
That mentality difference is stark. Technicians work to a job description, typically written by somebody else. Usually working alone, their function requires a focus on a defined object or system that is already in existence and comprises a known and finite set of parameters. Their skill is in deploying their knowledge of those parameters to know which of them to adjust and by how much to make the system perform as expected. This is called ‘diagnosis’.
This could not be more different to the managerial approach. There, the equivalent of the job description is a set of objectives for a department. Some of those objectives will be of the manager’s own invention, based on their perception and quantification of challenges and developing a vision for how their department should structure and conduct itself to meet those challenges. They will design a mechanism for their department, so it can deal with numerous and various demands simultaneously, and coach their people in its operation. They will engage with other departments and consumers and their own staff to ensure smooth progress. ‘Diagnosis’ and sole effort are irrelevant here – this requires ‘analysis’ and ‘negotiation’.
In IT, your salary is based on how much you know about technology, not on your ability to turn that into a service for the people who rely on that technology. There is little concept of your productivity, and almost certainly nobody monitoring it. And as regards your skills and personal development, you are typically left to your own devices.
IT does have official, industry-standard governance frameworks, but unfortunately these place no value on man-management or work-method. Qualifications in those frameworks test only the candidate’s ability to quote the framework back at itself, not on any measurable consequential improvement in delivery. The concept of the customer is an add-on, rather than a core consideration. These frameworks are entirely IT internal – chances are that if they are being used at your organisation, the business and HR would never even know.
HR Insistence Please
I want HR to join with me in insisting on staff professionalism and real management in IT’s ranks. As a consultant and trainer, I’ve tried to do it alone for years, but failed because of the entrenched culture. Where I’ve succeeded, however, my advice produces higher productivity, more appreciation from service consumers and a more rewarding place to work for Support staff. HR is better placed than I am to make that insistence on behalf of the business, and in its purpose of getting the best of of the organisation’s people.
To help HR engage with this, I’ve produced a curriculum of qualifications in IT Support method and professionalism. The programme is designed for HR to get involved, to use it as a way of developing IT staff, while making improvements in services to the business, which IT has always struggled to provide. The curriculum is ‘Mastering IT Support Delivery’ (MISD). For the landing page, click here, or to go straight to the HR use of the MISD programme, follow that link and drop the tab marked ‘Your MISD’.
Five of the Most Frantic Minutes of My Life
A DisruptHR presentation is breathtakingly challenging. Twenty slides in five minutes, 15 seconds per slide and whatever you do, don’t pitch a product. Loved it. Here’s the video: