All too often the person dealing with IT in a company was not hired for this specific job. Instead they are often the owner trying to stay afloat or another key player of the company, such as an operations or office manager who has proven themselves competent enough to handle it. Putting the wrong person in charge can be detrimental to the business and here’s why.
What is not getting done when the wrong person is doing IT support?
These key people generally have client facing work that needs to be done. It may be doing a project for a client, billable time, helping to resolve the client’s issues or it may be selling to an existing or new client. All of these tasks have an extremely high value and often they are not getting done when they are stuck playing tech support.
Strategic work on the business.
These essential employees, including you, often have the ability to do something special and aide in the prosperity and overall business growth. However, too often, IT fires, distractions and other issues are getting in the way, leaving the main focus of the business neglected.
Do not underestimate the potential of your staff members. Typically, there are people working for the managers mentioned above that, with just a little bit of attention, training and documentation can blossom and move to the next level. Most people do not figure it out themselves and chances are you have a way you want things do be done.
You and your management have some unique skills and abilities that need to be shared to enable these other employees to become more effective in their jobs. If people do not have the time to focus on this, your company is losing your next generation of leaders and is limiting your ability to expand or prosper.
Time with family / life.
Do you work to live or live to work? Did you get into this career because you wanted to be in IT support? So many of us get caught up in workplace stress or unrelated projects and we lose sight of what is really important. I know several owners who dabble with IT support during off hours at the expense of their personal lives. Of course every once in a while things happen that require attention, but it becomes less and less acceptable once it begins affecting your personal life and the pendulum swings too far in the direction of work. Your family has to lose you enough with the areas that are uniquely yours; technology should not be one of those.
How does having the wrong person “supporting IT” hurt your company?
There are hidden costs when you have a key person in the company doing technology support instead of focusing on their main job.
Staff does not want to bother you.
Key support people may be not comfortable coming to the boss and asking for help, because they feel the boss is too busy to help them. Even when you have told them to come to you, they often are too intimidated or embarrassed. Chances are they will not do it until there is an emergency. Most will muddle through, finding a less effective work-around, wasting time troubleshooting or bothering other coworkers versus approaching leadership.
Friction and problems with other stake holders / leaders.
In a company where there are multiple partners, typically one of the leaders has technology responsibilities combined with other strategic tasks. As a result, often the other strategic tasks will suffer in performance, because there’s so much time spent on the technical front. In today’s businesses, technology often brings operations to a halt; therefore IT problems will always take precedence over big picture initiatives.
We have seen other partners hesitant to push the partner doing the technology work, because they know the company relies on technology to continue. The truth is the whole company suffers, because other strategic tasks are not getting done by this essential person.
This can also cause resentment between parties, because while others feel they are holding up their side of business, the one with the technology duties is not helping the organization grow. It causes a lot of friction when there is a person that wants to be the IT person, but the partners want focus on the strategic tasks that only leadership can accomplish.
Cost of technology support.
Consulting and IT support is not cheap and we all want to save money. Doing it yourself has a big draw to it. And if you have nothing else to do and you know what you are doing [the liability is limited as well] then it is understandable. Where it becomes a problem is that frequently we think we are saving an IT service rate, but in truth you are paying your rate on top of the cost of missing out on business opportunity. If you have client-facing activities, the out of pocket cost of IT support is almost always cheaper than doing it yourself.
IT needs to be done.
It needs to be done and why not me. No one will argue with the fact that the work needs to be done. The problem lies with who is the most cost effective and qualified to accomplish the task.
Most of us have been “burnt” when it comes to IT service at some level: whether something took forever to fix, it cost more than advertised, it was more difficult or it did not give the business the benefit it promised to deliver. With that comes a trust issue. That said there are competent, trustworthy people out there. If this is the case, to help you I suggest having clear expectations and measurement processes defined. This way you can hold IT support people accountable, giving you the confidence to move forward and get the help you need to free you up your time for more important tasks.
You enjoy it.
This is a crucial element. If you like doing IT work then all bets are off. It may be a part of your job / ownership that you truly enjoy in addition to your other duties. If that is the case, then it comes down to understanding the value of your time. If there are more valuable tasks you should be doing then you really need to think hard about getting proper IT support. But if your company has all the structure, sales, relationships, and trained staff that it needs and you like doing IT work, then I would say have at it. Just be sure to evaluate whether this is the smartest decision for the overall company.
The expanding risk of doing it yourself.
Over time there is an interesting expansion problem with regards to technology. On one hand, the creators of technology have to keep up with the ever expanding needs and options that the market is demanding. Software and systems can do more and more and the complexity is growing at an exponential rate. But that said if the creators of the software and system leave it in a complex format, then adoption of their products slow down. They need to create “wizards” and short cuts to do many of the core tasks. They dumb down the front ends to make parts of it easier.
These short cuts allow many people, who would otherwise be unable to use the technology, the chance to get some value from the product. The problem lies is that the complexity is still there. The liability and risk of usage is ever increasing as the complexity and dependence expands. But so many do not account for or even realize to what level they are dependent until there is a negative event.
As a leader, you need to understand you may be able to start something up using a quick wizard, but protecting yourself from the liabilities and risks does not come right out of the box. It takes experience and a different skillset to address these problems.
A real life example.
Let me share a real scenario with you. We have just started the engagement with a company that has about 40 users and 4 servers. There are three principals in the company, one of which has responsibility over operations, sales and technology. We met with each of the owners and it was clear that the one with technology responsibility was losing about 50% of their time dealing with IT support fires. They also have a CRM that runs on two of the four servers.
When interviewed, the staff all knew that the one leader was the IT support person. They only would talk to him when they were completely frozen. Otherwise they would do anything to avoid “bothering” this person. Several times a day staff would sit around frustrated and needing support, but would not ask. They would find something else to do. Often the most important tasks were being neglected.
When we suggested they consider a cloud based CRM system to alleviate some of the stress and costs the other two principals almost cheered, but the one over technology resisted. He did not want give up the control. You could sense the resentment and frustration from the others.
The cost to the company of the principal “part timing” IT support was a major burden. Strategic work was being neglected and sales activities were not where they should have been. User productivity was at least 5-10 hours per week below what it could have been all because an individual felt they were doing the company a favor when in truth they were hurting the overall business.
Often we start doing things because we are in crisis and it needs to get done. Over time it becomes the “norm” and we continue. For a company to grow, change is required. Not once a year, but constant change. You must consistently challenge and evaluate the ways things are getting done, why it is this way and the overall cost of the actions. We generally realize that a change is required when it is too late. After we have been the bottleneck too long and the company has suffered.
Do not get caught in doing things out of habit or comfort. Look at your approach. Is it the best approach to get to your real goals? If not, have the courage to change.
Until next time – I wish you the best.