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Politics in IT: Separate operators from performers

Al Kuebler | Feb. 7, 2011
There's politics in IT. Are you shocked to hear it? I didn't think so. But it can be negotiated. It comes down to knowing what sorts of people are around you. I'll get to that in a bit, along with some advice for dealing with the bad players, but first let me tell you about two times in my career when politics came to the fore.

Sometimes, you'll have to take action before you even leave the meeting. Your boss might give you a new assignment that you realize your team doesn't have the resources to handle because of earlier projects that already have you at maximum capacity. (If your boss really is an operator, then he or she probably already knows this and is simply seeing what can be gotten away with.) When it happens, you have to speak up, no matter what heat you might get for doing so. Tell your boss that you can probably handle this new assignment, though it could mean rearranging things and finishing some current projects later than planned. Be reassuring -- "If we can handle it, consider it done." Then do the e-mail thing again in a day or so to inform your boss that unless you can agree on a way to restructure existing priorities, the new assignment will have to wait. Again, end with words to the effect of "Please let me know if anything about this is not clear."

If your boss is an operator, he or she will push back on all this documentation and suggest that all of the follow-up isn't necessary. That is pretty much confirmation of operator status. Which means, of course, that you should not go along with the suggestion. Your e-mails are an insurance policy, making it much more difficult for an operator to pull you this way and that, according to whim.

Those initial follow-up e-mails aren't the end of it. As projects move along, you should have your team, on a monthly basis, keep track of the progress of all formally agreed-upon goals assigned them. Six weeks before your annual review (or your probationary period if you're in a new position), summarize everything carefully. Quantify as much as you can. Demonstrate progress against all your goals, showing how you achieved those that were reached and noting when your performance exceeded the target. Don't just say that projects were completed on time, for the agreed cost and as specified; provide the evidence. If your team was called on to handle ever more units of work, spell out their increased productivity. If they received kudos from your clients, forward them. (And it's a good idea to solicit as much praise from your clients as possible.) Then summarize all of this from the shareholder point of view, explaining how your team avoided cost, improved service or increased revenue.


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