Life in The IT Fishbowl

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The “fishbowl phenomenon” – we have all seen this. The higher the level of IT management, the worse it gets. In a technical environment that’s very complicated already, IT staff will watch, listen and try to figure out the “real” intentions of the IT executives they come into contact with.
After being seen by a senior IT manager leaving the office at 6:00 PM one night, the elevator comment “Good to see you have been working so hard” can become a puzzle for the IT employee trying to figure out the implications of the statement. . .

  • Was she glad you were working late?
  • Did she previously think you weren’t working hard and you’ve improved?
  • Did your name come up in conversation as a hard worker?
  • Did she mean you’re up for promotion?
  • Was it a subtle warning that you should continue to improve, or else?
  • Was she making idle chatter and it didn’t mean a thing?

When an IT manager seems to be spending more time with his door shut, the buzz begins: Is he looking for a new job? Is he working on something secret? Is he taking daily naps? Will there be a layoff coming in IT? Be aware that what seems inconsequential to you can seem ominous to your IT staff and create distracting worries.

Of course, the fish bowl phenomenon has always existed because of the power that an IT manager has over those in his/her group. Making decisions regarding your team’s raises, promotions, assigned projects, training opportunities, and longevity have always been of tremendous interest to IT staff. However, in the current economy with increasing performance pressures and marketplace changes, the increased worry about layoffs or company reorganizations and changing technical strategies – these create more stress for everyone in IT. Recognizing the increased preponderance for conjecture due to these issues is important for IT executives and failure to behave accordingly can have negative implications, potentially affecting retention management, recruiting, and succession planning, not to mention day-to-day productivity and current IT projects. If you allow your staff to feel miserable enough, productivity will drop at minimum and IT managers may find themselves facing unplanned attrition which can be devastating to IT stability and can seriously affect company-wide strategic IT management.

Watching your words and actions carefully is vital for IT managers today. Consider the following:

  • No matter how friendly you are with an individual (even if you used to write code together before your promotions) never joke about firing someone, they may not be 100% sure that you are kidding
  • Be careful not to use sexual innuendo, otherwise you may find yourself being accused of harassment
  • Sarcasm has no place in IT today—watch your tone when complimenting your staff members; they may consider it an insult rather than a compliment. At minimum, you may leave them confused. Be clear and concise with praise.
  • Never compare one employee to another in their presence. It may be thought of as favoritism and/or may leave both employees feeling uncomfortable and resentful making it difficult for them to work together.
  • Be aware your staff is also trying to analyze the nature and frequency of your emails, general mood, how fast you are walking down the hallway, how often your door is now closed, and anything else that can be construed as predictive.

Also remember that the words you say are only part of your overall message. Body language, voice tone, and the timing of your message can play a major role in how your words are interpreted. As an IT manager, you are also an employee. How do you look at and listen to your own manager? Logic should dictate that the people in your IT group are looking at you in the same, analytical way.


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