I hate to change. Whether I'm happy with the status quo or miserable with the way things are, I don't want to change. Change is scary. Change takes work. Change is hard. The results are unpredictable. I don't like it. But I have indeed changed, and I know I need to change more. I'm not alone; most IT personnel today will be forced to change.
Why do IT personnel need to change? Specialization is crippling our effectiveness. In the current state of affairs, we're knee deep in technology specialists. Indeed, we even have specialists within specialty categories. For example, we don't have just server specialists—we have server specialists for each type of operating system and hardware platform. This situation is equally true in storage, networking, application, and other arenas.
To be fair, I should clarify that specialization alone isn't the problem. The problem is exacerbated by the behavior that specialization can breed and, even more interesting, how our HR organizations tend to do more to reward that behavior than discourage it.
Hot: Focusing on Business Instead of Technology
Why do I think specialization is bad? It's because specialization can result in protectionism. You've probably seen it in action: IT specialists may fight against a project that doesn't favor the technology they're aligned with. In this case, specialization is keeping team members from communicating effectively, and conversations can be rife with hidden agendas.
The better approach is to encourage IT personnel to focus less on a specific area of technology and more on how the technology they know supports the "big picture" of the organization. In this approach, an IT specialist isn't a "Windows server specialist"; instead that person is a specialist in how servers support aspects of the business. For example, in a retail environment, you want to hear "I support our point-of-sales implementation," and not "I support our Windows servers."
With this approach, IT personnel become more team oriented because, in most businesses, it takes a team of IT personnel to deliver, operate, and support a service. When those personnel think about their own technology first and the business usage second, finger pointing occurs, and communication breaks down. When those same people think about the business first, they tend to be more willing to work together to figure out how to fix problems or improve services.
Don't get me wrong—some level of technology specialization will always be required. We'll always need Level 2 and Level 3 experts for technical support. But having those people aligned to the business first and technology second is definitely "hot" in my book.
Not Hot: HR Undermining of Team Building
You might think that the Human Resource departments in most organizations would have the same goal as IT: getting people to pull together to support and enhance business operations. However, in my experience, that's seldom the case when it comes to the crucial function of performance reviews.
In my own history of working inside corporations and consulting with other organizations, performance reviews have tended to focus on individual behavior and, in most cases, encourage hero-oriented behavior instead of team-oriented behavior. I don't think that's unique to my experience; when's the last time you saw a performance review system that favored team achievements over individual achievements?
Let me be clear that I don't think HR is intentionally undermining IT efforts to build business-centric teams. Honestly, I think HR just doesn't know any better. After all, HR's mission is a broad one; HR is tasked with handling personnel throughout the entire organization. IT is just one facet in the bigger scheme.
Nonetheless, an HR focus on individual achievement makes it incredibly difficult to change behavior in IT. As an IT leader, you can talk and talk about team performance—you can fund pizza parties, you can institute team-based recognition awards, and you even develop team-based metrics—but if individual compensation is based on individual performance, you end up pushing a large boulder up a steep hill. And that's definitely "not hot."
Sean Chandler is a computer and network consultant with more than 30 years of field experience. Astro, a border collie with more than 40 dog years of data processing experience, provides technical support to his master, Sean.
Astro's Pick of the Litter
It's been quite some time since my master bought an Android phone—he's been distracted by Android tablets lately—so I was a little surprised when he came home with a Motorola Droid Bionic. He likes the large screen (4.3 inches versus his 3.5-inch iPhone 4) and the overall performance of the device. However, he's finding that the phone is on the borderline of being too big. If it were any bigger, he'd be unable to operate it with one hand. Personally, I like the size of it—the big screen makes it easier to use with my paws—but I'm vastly disappointed with the camera. Either my master hasn't configured it properly yet, or my paws have become too shaky for effective picture taking in my old age.