My daily trek to Philadelphia is often fraught with obstacles – mainly traffic, traffic accidents, and longer delays looking at the traffic and traffic accidents. It’s not significantly different than what we deal with on a daily basis as managers and supervisors. Every day we walk in with the best of intentions, only to have a variety of diversions, changes, and personalities threatening our ability to reach the goal we’ve set for the day. But it took a simple encounter at a traffic light at 34th and Market Street to set a different perspective for how I viewed the work I was doing and those people whom I often spend more time with than my family.
Ironically my standard route to get to the office was blocked by a variety of construction trades furiously unloading their building materials. Knowing I was going to have to sit through multiple light cycles to get around one city block was not my idea of a good time, and anyone who was sitting next to me in traffic and could read lips certainly knew it. But on this day the detour would result in a “teachable moment.”
A variety of people proceeded across the crosswalk. As I looked to my right, taking a slow and steady approach was a visually impaired man, clearly familiar with the city. Despite that, he was headed directly for a car that had pulled up further than the crosswalk allowed. At that point a young man, also crossing the street, took him by the arm and directed him safely to the sidewalk. This same young man then had to wait for the next light cycle to get to his destination – likely a bit late for his class.
Us managers, and especially those of us in IT, also sometimes just need someone to “get us across the street.” The rapid pace of technology – new and legacy – continues to challenge us. The machinations required to oversee run-the-engine activities, continuous education to stay current with the market and business acumen, block-and-tackle for the endless stream of business issues and risks, people issues and risks, all this together can be not just exhausting but also impair our abilities.
But there are options for getting help. They include:
- Peer Options: Because we spend so much time with the same co-workers, there is a tendency to huddle with this group to consult, discuss, collaborate. Certainly there is a level of benefit to engaging with someone who knows the organization, the operation, and the culture, but a fresh set of eyes can provide an impetus for creative and innovative solutions. For example, while there may be a level of competitive posturing between organizations, there is a natural collaboration that occurs between executive management – kind of a mutual admiration, if you will – that allows relationships to be forged despite market position. Middle and senior managers need to tap into these information channels – much easier now with social media venues – sharing and collaborating on topics not just domestically, but internationally.
- Local Organizations: One of the most economical methods of networking for a manager and their staff is the plethora of local organizations available that meet at some regular interval. While the natural tendency is to attend and collaborate with organizations in your own technology sweet spot, occasionally attending those outside of your sphere of influence can be just as valuable. Can’t find a local activity in a discipline of interest? Work with your vendor representatives to put you in touch with one, or if possible, host an event. As a host you can maximize the offering to your organization with minimal cost or risk, if you’re worried about you or your staff being offsite for the day. AFCOM local chapters provide a great option, as do other national affiliates with dispersed member populations. In many cases, local events will allow you to try a meeting out without a fee allowing you to assess its value before forking out the dues.
- Social Media: I was speaking at a data center event several years back and was shocked to see the number of individuals (when posed the question) had no presence in any form of (work based) social media. We all know that this industry is suffering from a lack of contemporary interest in this field, but avoiding education and use (or even understanding) of how social media works in the communication universe is not only doing a disservice to yourself, but also your staff. Even if you’re not comfortable using one of a number of options available, at least have a working knowledge of their potential uses, benefits, and risks.
- National Organizations: There are traditionally fees associated with membership of a national organization, so it is critical to understand the value proposition that these groups bring to you as an individual as well as your organization. While discounted conference fees are an interesting incentive, it is the (traditionally no-charge) webinars, (member only) blogs, etc. that really give the subscriber the benefit of membership. But all national memberships are not created equal and need to be vetted before pushing the submit key. Similar to contracts, read the fine print – most come with an auto-renewal option – based on your organization’s protocol this could be problematic.
- Vendor Partners: While certain purchases just “have to happen” – think an inventory of contingency drives – there are those purchases that require a true “partnership” with a service provider. Developing these business relationships bring with them the advantages of valuable resources in all aspects of technology. A true vendor partner, despite providing product or service for one discipline, will readily make subject matter experts available to you in other disciplines. I’m not talking a professional services engagement, moreover a casual conversation that can help you make an educated decision. This subtle distinction is how I distinguish who I consider a “vendor” versus a “partner”.
As our industry continues to evolve to focus more on the “business of IT,” understanding how to make use of resources that can help we as professionals bridge gaps of information and become more effective as managers and as leaders is imperative. And while it’s quite unlikely that my commute is going to improve anytime soon, there certainly is no shortage of dots that I can connect as I ( as we all should) continue to ponder those subtle anomalies of everyday life and how they permeate “opportunities” of a management career.
Donna Manley is an IT senior director for a major university’s Information Systems and Computing (ISC) organization, managing its central administrative data center, the sole IVY League University ISO 9001:2008 certified data center for quality across all ISC Computer Operations services and support disciplines. Involved in various information technology national and local organizations, she currently serves as president of the AFCOM Midlantic Chapter and serves on the Data Center Institute board.