No more prima donnas

As does everyone else, I am hoping that the current economic downturn will reverse itself quickly, but until it does, I am focused on creating value for our customers and effectively managing our technology organisation. As a manager, there is one clear silver lining that consistently comes up in my discussions with colleagues managing technology talent across a number of industries: we no longer have to hire or manage technology "prima donnas".

You have all worked with or managed technology prima donnas. They are the people who must be in the centre of all decisions, but often shun the boring dirty work of getting things done. They demand the utmost respect, while showing little respect for everyone else. They think that writing good code confers superpowers of understanding that extend to all areas of the company -- "the salespeople don't know how to sell the product", "the systems guys can't get anything right", "my fellow developers don't know how to write code". The technology prima donnas know how to run the entire company better than everyone in it -- if only they had the time! Their arrogance knows no bounds, and even repeated and deliberate rudeness is justified by an inflated sense of self-importance.

I hereby declare the end of the technology prima donna era. So that this pronouncement doesn't seem completely arbitrary, there are a few factors that I believe make the technology prima donna an artifact of the past, fading faster than Windows 95.

Technology and business are increasingly indistinguishable. In the past, prima-donna behaviour in the technology side of a business has been tolerated as business folks accepted that top technology staff could be arrogant at times, and that was the price of finding good IT talent. As the influence of technology continues to grow in the boardroom, and top IT talent is more readily available, those who combine an understanding of technology with the ability to work harmoniously with others across all departments in an enterprise are increasingly valued. The prima donna's belief that their superior knowledge of technology trumps all other considerations has created their own glass ceiling. While their team-oriented colleagues advance to the boardroom, they will be left grumbling at their own lack of career growth.

The trend toward outsourcing continues unabated. This is a sword that cuts the prima donna in two ways. First, the prima donna who persists as a management problem is now at risk as managers ask themselves: "Should I tolerate all the strife caused by this person who knows Solaris so well, or should I outsource it to someone who knows it better?" That answer is easy. Second, as companies continue to outsource IT functions to business partners, in-house IT staff must work closely with these partners as an extension of their own team. If prima donnas can't work with people within their own companies, there is little hope that they can work any better with outsiders.

The economy. Most technology organisations can no longer afford prima-donna behaviour. Although prima donnas can be astoundingly productive when they want to be, their negative effects on the teams in which they work can be devastating and a true morale-killer. In my experience, cutting a prima donna loose from your team will result in immediate overall gains in productivity and improved morale. More often that not, the prima donna holds you hostage anyway -- they won't explain the "magic" of their work to anyone else, nor will they document it for the lesser mortals who must end up maintaining it.

Just say "no" to prima donnas and save yourself the pain. In these times, humility is "in."l Chad Dickerson is the CTO at sister publication InfoWorld

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