IT takes all personality types

One-size-fits-all management has no place in IT departments, says Frank Hayes

Feeling stressed? Of course you are — you’re in IT. And according to William Cross, a working CIO who has also done academic studies of IT people (see Computerworld, August 21, page 30) all the stress of working in an IT department doesn’t just produce health problems and high divorce rates for IT people with their Type A personalities. It also results in lower-quality software and more mistakes in IT operations.

But wait — you say you’re not feeling stressed? You’re not a Type A personality? Your health, marriage and work quality are just fine? Say, maybe you don’t really belong in IT.

Or maybe it’s time to cease one-size-fits-all IT management.

Lately here at Computerworld US, we’ve seen a running debate about stereotypes of IT people. They’re introverted nerds, says a professor at a major tech institute. Not the ones I know, retorts the editor in chief. Sure we are, and what’s wrong with that? chime in readers.

Well, some people think IT’s reputation as a nerd ghetto is why fewer students have become computer science majors in recent years. Others are concerned that if IT people think of themselves as socially inept geeks they’ll never master the communication skills required to keep IT aligned with the needs of business and users.

But that’s hogwash. At university, many students choose their majors according to where the money is. Reports of layoffs and outsourcing have thinned the ranks of computer science majors, but they will swell again as IT career prospects look better.

And, yes, IT people can communicate. If they couldn’t, we’d never have successfully completed a single project or supported a single user over the past 40 years.

But there is a real fallacy in this geek-or-no-geek debate: IT people simply aren’t all the same. We don’t want them to be all the same. We can’t afford for them to be all the same.

And they certainly shouldn’t be managed as if they’re all the same.

IT management’s job is to build this very mixed bag of people into teams that meet business needs.

It also means understanding that every team, and every IT worker, requires lots of communication — along with careful care and feeding. Some IT people have the skills to handle that themselves. For those who don’t, it’s the manager’s job to make sure people know what they’re supposed to do, and to draw out problems from even the most taciturn of techies.

Which brings us back to Cross. I’d wager he knows that not all technology people match his model of stress-riddled Type A personalities. But he also knows that CIOs and IT managers are better off paying careful attention to the corrosive effects of too much stress on IT people.

He even gives managers a hard-nosed, non-touchy-feely reason: it damages quality.

Sure, one-size-fits-all IT management is easy, but it’s lazy. Do it right. Pay attention to what each of your IT people needs. The payoff is healthier IT staff and less turnover — and fewer errors, which translates into better business results.

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