Retire your Wizard hat

For many companies, trust in IT is waning. This is particularly true in organizations with long established IT. Gone are the days when we were the experts in everything. Simply put, there’s too much to know and many of our users are much better with the application of technology and user interfaces than we are. On the same hand, we’re far more adept at certain aspects of it than they are.

In our firm, we have a older generation of employees and owners who are experienced and classically trained in Architecture. They have a background in getting things done with or without technology. With some notable exceptions, most in this category have established means and methods for accomplishing their work and continue to lean on IT for much of their Technological needs and questions. Google and Email are their primary Internet destinations, only as needed. “Do I click or double click” questions are still common. They are cognoscente of their impact on the network – bandwidth, storage use, etc. They see your yearly budget and know what you spend and roughly why.

Then there is the younger generation. They grew up with technology. They aren’t afraid of it. Many have become more adept at it than IT is. They call IT when they can’t get to their Gmail, Facebook or Twitter account or when they can’t remember an AutoCAD command they may have used in college. Issues such as archiving, storage capacity, bandwidth, etc are someone else’s problem in their mind. They complain and deem you incompetent when things are slow or down.

The younger generation is challenging much of our established, antiquated assumptions about what we truly manage and provide. Interface questions like clicking vs. double clicking don’t come out of this generation. Questions such as “Why can’t I use BitTorrent?” and “Why aren’t we just using Gmail instead of Outlook?” can be expected. When they need a solution to a task at hand, they don’t email helpdesk – they hit Google, Twitter, Wikipedia, Blogs and Forums. They find something cool, try it out and spread the word with the other younger employees via Twitter, IM and email.

As a result, this younger generation sees IT as getting in the way of progress. Yes, we block a dangerous stuff on the Internet. No, you’re not free to install anything you want on your company-owned computer. Yes, we buy the software and install it. No, you don’t get to have a Mac. No, you can’t have the Adobe CS suite. Yes, we have standards. No, it’s not okay to insist the Contractor only talk to you via email (this really came up recently).

Without going too much into social differences between generations, the conclusion is that the expectations are different. The younger staff want us to get out of their way, the older staff prefer we show them what to do.

Where does that leave IT? In a strange spot. Bridging a ever widening gap effectively between owners and employees. It’s uncomfortable and makes us seem like a-holes to the youngsters and ineffective at maintaining consistency in the organization to the older generation. Yikes!

What’s to be done? Here’s a few things I’m trying right now. Your mileage will vary depending on your firm culture:

1. Look over the shoulders of the younger staff. They can teach you a lot about what they’re using. You can’t keep them off the Internet (nor should you), so take the opportunity to learn from them what it is that they’re doing. Find out what they would like to do if you allowed (or the firm allowed) them to do it. You are no longer the wizard. Your wizard hat is retired. Accept this. Your career depends on it.

2. Bring the Older staff up to speed. Principals and PM’s are notoriously ‘busy’. Little do they realize, mastering the use of technology is no longer an optional situation. To save face (for you and your owners/pm’s), spend time either one-on-one with them just exposing to technologies that the younger staff is using. Plant the seed that if they learn some new and more efficient ways of doing things, they may not be so busy all the time. Let them know about your wizard hat retirement.

3. Bring the Younger staff up to speed. The young ones aren’t always right. Hear them out, but bring them up to speed on why we do things the “old way.” This is an amazingly successful tactic. Either you will correct their misgivings about why certain rules and processes are in place, or you will learn a new way of thinking that may be the red-tape cutting opportunity to feed real change to old-school policies and procedures.

4. Educate everyone together, let others educate you. Try changing your training sessions into discussions and knowledge transfers. Present your training for the first half, spend the second half discussing the applicability to process and different methods for accomplishing tasks. Try spreading real knowledge, not just “How-To’s”.

5. Revise old Rules publicly. You’ve probably got old policies that are overly restrictive. Change some and flaunt to the office how less restrictive they now are. Put some trust into your employees and ensure that you have communicated to them your newfound trust in them. Yes, it’s risky. Older staff may grumble.

6. Use well known “credible” sources validate your assertions. If Walt Mossberg or David Pogue say it’s the best thing since sliced bread, and you happen to agree – run with it. If, however, Mike Vizzard is ga-ga over something, think twice. Nobody knows who he is except us. You may as well say “my hamster likes it.” Architects don’t trust most experts.

7. Be the Dictator sparingly. Nobody likes a dictator. Yes, you know a lot more than they do and have to clean up their mess when things go bad. Don’t slap someone on the hand if you don’t have to. See #5. Remember that your job isn’t to make your job easier. It’s to make everyone else’s job easier.

8. Talk about the Infrastructure. For the staff that are technologically inclined, clue them in to the impacts of their interests on the infrastructure. Listen to their suggestions, try not to laugh and really put some thought into how their ideas could work (and why they won’t if it’s really true) and be candid about the costs. Remember that the Internet is “free” in many minds. The reality of a corporate infrastructure costing lots of money is mind boggling to some as a result. How many people in your office steal Internet at home from their neighbors? You may be shocked how many. You may be even more shocked as to how many feel that it’s their right to do so.

Greg

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