I’ve held nearly every job you can hold in IS, and in twenty years I’ve never worn a pager.
Some of this was dumb luck. When I worked as a programmer, for example, none of the applications I supported ran as overnight batch jobs, so that eliminated one source of pager-itis.
For the most part, though, I carefully planned my freedom from being on-call. When I managed networks and telecommunications, for example, I remained pager-free, even though we ran a 24×7 mission-critical operation. How?
Every time the subject came up I asked the same question: “What would I do about it?”
The team always had analysts on-call if something went wrong. They wore pagers. I slept until the next morning.
“What if they need you for something?” one of my colleagues once asked.
“Like what?” I asked in return. “They know what needs to be done, they’ll make the right decisions, and if anyone questions their authority they can explain that they had no choice — they couldn’t reach me because I don’t wear a pager.”
If I’d worn a pager I’d have had to justify it, and that would have meant insisting on being beeped every time something went wrong. And that, in turn, would have drained the authority right out of my team.
Even worse, I would have lost a lot of perfectly good sleep.
A lot of first-time supervisors treat their newfound authority to make decisions the way a child treats a new Pez dispenser. It isn’t the decisions (candy) that matters. It’s the process of delivering them that’s fun. (As evidence: At a recent “Nerd-fest” thrown by my friends Faith and Lynn, Fitz demonstrated his new motorized Pez dispenser. This is a killer gadget, kids. Ask Mom and Dad to get you one!)
These supervisors either learn the key lesson of career advancement or they’re perceived to be front-line supervisors the rest of their lives, even if they reach middle management. That’s the oldest lesson of succession planning: Always be important, but never be essential.
A regular theme of this column is the distinction between managing well, managing effectively, and succeeding in your career. Managing well refers to how you manage staff. To manage well, you have to delegate well, giving decisions to the people who report to you. Otherwise they can’t grow.
Managing effectively means making sure your department gets its job done well. That means you’re responsible for people and processes, not making decisions. The fewer decisions you make yourself, the more effective you are as a manager.
And then there’s the minor matter of your career. To be promoted, you need to pass the following tests: (1) You should at least resemble being qualified for the position you want; (2) You must have created the appearance of having been effective in your last job; and (3) You must be easy to replace.
This is neither original nor profound, but it is hard to accept. That’s because being hard to replace is a key survival strategy for many employees. And it’s a good one if your goal is job security. If that’s your goal, in fact, you should avoid sharing information, skills, or anything else that helps someone else do your job in your absence.
If, on the other hand, your goal is advancement then you have to treat succession planning as a personal mission. Delegating decisions makes you upwardly mobile. Your department can function effectively without you, and probably includes several qualified replacements, too.
Here’s the irony: Some managers get the silly idea that managing well and effectively is what got them promoted.