Writing policies with an attitude Wed 27 May 09

The_Law_smlpcouk I received an email the other day that was offering to sell me pre-written IT policies to use rather than writing them from scratch.  Using a template may be a good way to develop policies as long you review them carefully and adjust them for your particular situation.

But I'm not writing about policies.   Although I think we in IT sometimes have too many policies for the wrong reasons I'm really all in favor of them and I also support the idea of enforcing them.  With that behind us I wanted to point out what really got me about the way this particular company decided to market their product to IT people.

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Trainers or Knowledge Facilitators? Wed 25 Mar 09

Changing Our Approach Can Make A Big Difference

Last week I was listening to a story on NPR and it caught my attention.  It was about the Washington, DC school district and the things they are doing to improve things.  What caught my attention was a quote for a principal about the attitude toward teaching, specifically, "I taught it, they didn't learn it, it's on them." 

I made a quick post on this and didn't think much more about it.  As sometimes happens I was surprised to find this little post got more attention than I expected.  And as also sometimes happens I received a comment that is better than the post itself.  The post was via Facebook from blog designer, Dave Weiss and that's what I'd like to discuss in this post.

First, it would be good if you read the post in question that generated the comment to put things in context.  Go ahead, it's a short post, it won't take long.  I'll wait here until you get back.

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IT Doesn't Have To Be Annoying Wed 04 Feb 09

How to improve the perception of IT departments.

Annoyance_in_retrospect Brighton, Michigan made the headlines not too long ago when the city council passed an ordinance that you could be ticketed and fined for annoying someone.  I don't intend to get into specifics of what's going on in Brighton, but I couldn't help but think any information technology folks passing through Brighton might want to be very careful, given our reputation. This reputation of annoying people with our indifference, poor customer service and overbearing policies and standards may not be accurate or deserved, but it persists.

Because it persists perhaps we should do something to counteract it. Why is this so important? Think back to your childhood. You're in the back seat of the family car on the way home from an outing with your parents and your brother or sister. It's been a great day of fun, laughter and fellowship. And then your brother pokes you in the arm. No big deal. He does it again and you give him a dirty look. He pokes you a third time and you yell, "Quit it!" He doesn't and mayhem breaks out until dad bellows, "Don't you make me stop this car!" That's what set the tone for the day--not all the good things but being annoyed with your brother.

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Remember What Your Mother Taught You - Always Say Thank You. Wed 18 Apr 07

Annie_4 Anne Fisher, a senior writer for Fortune magazine had interesting article in her recent "Ask Annie" column.  Her column Why saying "Thank you" is more than just good manners highlights how important it is to sincerely recognize people for their contributions.  In this post she quotes some research that indicates that companies that have a culture of recognizing contribution and excellence show better performance than those that don't.  This is all based on the book "The Carrot Principle" by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton.  More information is available at www.carrots.com.

While I believe it is a good idea to recognize people I'm always skeptical when people try to link one management trait to superior company performance.    Superior company performance result from many things not just one type of action.  In this case I think you should recognize people simply because it is the right thing to do and the right way to treat people.  You shouldn't need a monetary incentive to do this.

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Change Martyrs Wed 13 Dec 06

In her Manage to Change blog, Ann Michael has an interesting post on Change Martyrs.  By change martyr she refers to the situation were ". . .the initial person highlighting an opportunity was unceremoniously dismissed, marginalized or otherwise rendered powerless."  She goes on to point out that it is not unusual for this person's concept to eventually be implemented after they are gone.  Unfortunately, this does happen more than we'd like.  Being a pioneer or prophet can be a dangerous job!

Take a look at her post.  She poses the interesting question of whether an organization is more accepting of an idea from the outside and tends be less accepting if an internal source is proposing the change.  I think she has a point.  Two factors come to mind that might explain this. Both have to do with the relationship between the future martyr and the rest of the organization.

First, an internal proposer is a known factor.  We know where they stand in the organization, what their history is and what their political backing and clout is.  Therefore, in their resistance to change the rest of the organization knows how to attack this potential disruptor of the status quo and is quite comfortable in doing so.  With an outside change agent we know less about them, who supports them and how strongly and therefore proceed much more judiciously and cautiously.   Our uncertainty gives the outsider a chance to adapt and counter with additional arguments and justifications.

Second, the change martyr themselves can fall victim to this familiarity.  Since they know the organization and all the players they can often fail to adequately explain and sell their change.  "They know me and what I stand for.  There is no need to sell them on this new idea.  Just that fact that I'm suggesting it should be enough for them."  Wrong!  The outsider knowing he has no support base instinctively knows he as a major sales job on his hands and acts accordingly.

We in IT are often in this role and would be well served to take some prudent steps that will both help get the change implemented and ensure we are around to see it happen.  My suggestions:

  1. Lbj Work behind the scenes to make sure we have the key decision makers and influencers support and understanding.  Work with them one-on-one to bring them along to the new concept.  To use one of my favorite LBJisms "Better to have 'em inside the tent pissin' out than outside pissin' in."
  2. Sell, sell, sell.  Change is hard.  People need to be convinced and emotionally ready to accept it and that means it is up to you to sell them on the idea.  This is an especially tough concept for most IT folks.  We don't naturally like to sell.  The facts should speak for themselves.  The truth is they don't -- you have to be their voice.

What are your thoughts?

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Leaving Our Past Successes Behind Mon 16 Oct 06

Jared_diamond One of my favorite authors is Jared Diamond.  Professor Diamond is Professor, Geography and Physiology at UCLA and is the author of "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed" a best seller often listed in the business category.

In Collapse, Professor Diamond discusses at length the collapse of the Norse who settled in Greenland in A.D. 964 and survived for about 450 years before starving amidst abundant food supplies.  The Inuit living there at the same time were able to thrive with far fewer advantages than the Norse.  The Norse refused to adjust their way of living to the current situation.  It had worked well for them in Norway so why shouldn’t it work for them in Greenland.  They simply wouldn’t re-appraise their core beliefs.  Professor Diamond sums it by saying, “the values to which people cling most stubbornly under inappropriate conditions are those values that were previously the source of their greatest triumphs over adversity”.

I recently heard Fred Lowe of BMS Connections speak and he struck a similar theme.  Fred cited the need to re-assess the “truths” that we let govern our actions.  Fred gives an example of why prisoners never escaped from Alcatraz.  They all knew the “truth” that to try to swim away was impossible.  The water was too cold and they would die of hypothermia, the current was too swift and would take them out to sea and if the cold and the current didn’t kill them the sharks certainly would.  Despite these “truths” swimming is now an amateur athletic event and was even completed by a 7-year old!

How often have we in IT developed a system based upon core values though once appropriate no longer work in the changed environment?  I’m not suggesting that we change for the sake of change but some good healthy re-appraisal just might keep us from the fate of the Greenland Norse.  As Fred Lowe stated, to be successful tomorrow, “sometimes we need to leave behind today’s success”.  What do you think?

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