IT Management, Herding the Cats

You know?  There are a lot of management theories and guidebooks out there.  Theory X, Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.  The five levels (good book, by the way).  I don’t subscribe to any of the more-than-dozen I’ve studied.  As with most things, they have enough truth to be valuable, but not enough to be reliable.  There are some basic ideas which I use when leading people.

First, even when I owned the business and employed several consultants, I have always relied on influence rather than authority to move the people with whom I work.  I get far more results per effort-hour from motivated (and especially from inspired) employees than I would from two people working because they fear for their position.  I begin by building a one-on-one relationship with each one where I understand the levers which motivate them.  In other words, I find out what they want, then explain to them how what I need from them will move them toward what they want.  Then I deliver.  This generates respect and trust.

This goes hand in hand with my practice to pass along kudos – they’re for my people, not for me – and intercept any blame.  The only person allowed to blame my people for anything is me.  In a crisis situation, while on a bridge call to restore a critical service, I heard people saying, in essense, “No, that wasn’t my fault, it was the other guy’s fault.”  I immediately stopped the conversation by saying “No, It is my fault.  Blame me.  Now solve the problem.”  I knew exactly who had caused the problem, and we had a conversation the next day when the service had been restored.  He never made such a mistake again.

On the other hand, I had two people loaned to my team to help out on a difficult project.  They went above-and-beyond, really helping me get the job done.  I made sure that their boss, his boss, and her boss all knew what those two had done for me.  From that day on, I always received instant attention to anything I needed from their group.  This is one of the ways I lead by influence rather than authority.

This same thinking applies to global groups, including outsourcing.  Many seem to think that if the work is being done by an outsource company, the paycheck they receive is sufficient.  I know that treating each one as an individual, and filtering their motivation through a cultural lens based on their culture not mine, makes them perform better.  My projects with outsourced resources do not fail because of communication or lack of domain knowledge issues.

There are a couple of rules I try to never forget, stemming from my time running my consulting company.  First, I always remember that I have some measure of responsibility for the food on their table and the roof over their head – which makes me accountable to them.  I must treat them fairly and make sure they know where they stand so they can make sound decisions about their own future and wellbeing (for good or ill).  Second, helping them to develop into the best they can be only enhances my productivity and chances of success.  In my case back then, it literally affected the amount of food on my table.

There are many other guidelines I use, such as ways to foster collaboration, consensus, and creativity, but I’ve already spouted enough platitudes for one article.  Help me out and tell everyone here how you encourage creativity in your group.

6 thoughts on “IT Management, Herding the Cats

  1. Working as a senior technical resource on projects, I find that collaboration, more often than not, encourages creativity. Solving difficult issues sometimes takes a group effort, but also needs the right environment.

    I’ve also seen the group clam up and won’t resolve anything when a Senior member of management is around on a bridge or in the room , giving orders, when none are called for, as most people, if not all, are competent to do things on their own when given the chance.

    • Lionel:

      As usual, spot-on observations. In my case, I’ve found it simple to foster a bit of creativity simply by asking “what haven’t we thought of” before we (the group) settle on any approach. That one, very simple, question seems to be enough to get most people to set aside “the box” and let them know it is safe to offer up a wild idea.

      It gets more complicated with “quiet” groups, folks fearful for their position, or crisis situations, but that one question has served me well over the years.

      And you are right that no one wants to make a very visible mistake in front of a boss several rungs up the food chain. Those with more secure positions need to take the chance to step in and let the boss-type know that s/he is being counterproductive – in a politically sensitive way, of course.

      You know, it just occurred to me, I think you were on the call I described where the blame game was stopping the solution and I said to blame me. We got to a solution pretty quickly after that, didn’t we?


  2. Workers value being treated with respeto (respect) and good manners. Anything short of this can easily turn into an abusive incident or relationship. It is so important to catch abuse of authority situations before they get out of hand, when farm employers have more choices to make. Possible measures may include offering training or counseling. Once these situations have progressed too far, the choices may narrow to the point that the only viable alternative calls for employee termination.

    • Muchas gracias por su respuesta. Su sitio, lasart, es bien interesante tambien y espero que mi audiencia lo visita. And thanks for posting your reply in English so my readers can understand it. 😀 Good luck with your artistic endeavors and I hope you will come back and comment more.

  3. What follows is a thumbnail of my strategy. I don’t know yet if it will work. Basically my dept. consists of me, my direct report, and my laptop. We are going to treat other departments as customers. Because it’s CRM, I must practice what I preach and build relationships with people at all levels. So, rather than build a department, I am going to build a network. I will endeavor to add value to my customers. I will focus on their needs and how I can exceed them. I will do favors and ask for little in return because my goal is to create a first class CRM philosophy that will help my organization accomplish its goals sooner, faster, cheaper, more effectively. That will be my reward. My data will include knowledge gleaned from these podcasts as I do everything from shake hands the right way, to using DISC, to sending e-mails with the BLUF. (I echoed Mark today about not sending e-mails that had a vertical scroll bar.) My mantra: I will be people-focused; mission-driven; outcome-based.

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