As the manager of an IT department, you probably understand that your employees are going to be a little more difficult to handle than most. The challenges your employees face will most likely be outside of your ken (as it should be, if you make a brilliant administrator or programmer a manager, you are losing a brilliant administrator or programmer and gaining at best, a mediocre manager). And the challenges you face managing them will be slightly odd, you may run into the over-privileged admin who never grew up, or the buzzword heavy douchebag who thinks he’s a programmer, or a bevy of hangers on and pretenders who haunt your organization at every turn. You may also run into a lot of group morale issues, moreso, in my opinion, than non-IT managers. The morale problems all usually have a common cause – you, or someone above you. Here’s a quick hit, and if there’s one thing you take away from this, it should be this – If you can’t figure out what is bugging your employees, and you have scoured the management above you for reasons – The reason is you, and you need to find out what you can do to fix it fast.
But the real reason I am writing is to talk about the barometer that your employees are likely providing, as a free service.
Dilbert comic strips.
For some background: It takes a lot to make me print out a piece of paper to immortalize something, and I assume that, to one degree or another others in my department share the same aversion to hard copy. If something is funny and not poignant, I usually IM it off or email it to share. If something is poignant but not funny, there is another group that I go to. If I find something funny and poignant, another group. All electronically. If something needs a broadcast, I send a group email. If something needs a broadcast, but nobody has been receptive, then it gets printed out and hung in my cube, as proof when the inevitable “I told you so” comes up.
When someone prints something, it’s because it has nailed a point that they think needs making.
Do yourself a favor and look at the Dilbert comics that have been printed out and hung on cubicles in your department. You will find a diary of distresses and concerns. This is the modern equivalent of men scratching names and dates in prison walls, or slogans. If at all possible, set a default level of comics, get a feel for how many are up, and check the yellowing of the paper to see how old they are. If you get a rash of new comics printed out, or more people start printing them out, your department is probably having a crisis. Look for themes in the comics printed. This is going to be important. This is the dummy light of the car, and if you haven’t noticed any problems before now, this is the department’s way of saying “Yo, look at this.”
I realize this is difficult for those who manage people in geologically disparate locations, but really, that’s a retarded way to do things anyhow, so you’re already fucked. But again, this is just the dummy light, real management is going to have to happen at one point or another to figure out the root cause (in all reality – probably you, and if you’re only now noticing, probably through inaction rather than action) and resolve it (probably a series of meetings with people that they don’t realize are meetings, like hallway talks or lunches, or a reorg, that makes everything better).