Is managing IT for the birds?

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Back in graduate school, in my electric-fish-research phase, my advisor won a National Geographic grant that took the two of us to Gabon. One of the terms of the grant was that National Geographic had first right of refusal for any photographs we took.

At the time I fancied myself a professional-grade photographer, and so it was that we each sent in the best we’d taken while on the trip. My photos were crisp, well-composed, and attractive.

National Geo’s response: “While your photographs are technically well executed, here at National Geographic we like to have a bit of life in the ones we use.”

But you aren’t reading Keep the Joint Running for tips on taking better pictures, let alone getting the tips from someone whose photos earned a rejection slip.

So instead (drumroll) … here are some tips on IT management that are derived from parallels drawn from what I’ve learned about that subject. Some are more of a stretch than others, so I’m including some recent photos to keep your attention.

Tip#1: Know the current state

Green heron at rest

When shooting (for example) a green heron, capture it at rest while you can. Motion is harder; don’t miss the shot altogether.

When figuring out your IT management priorities, make sure you understand your department’s current state – “at rest,” so to speak – before you start making plans for motion … for change where change might be needed.

Tip#2: Notice motion

It’s doing something. Not sure what …

Capturing motion makes for better photos. Recognizing motion in your organization gives you a chance to reinforce that you value initiative right away, when it occurs. Even if what you’re seeing is just random movement, you can still take advantage of it as an object lesson in what you want to see.

Tip#3: Listen

It’s talking! Are you listening?

Observation is an important tool in your toolkit – so much so that for many managers one of their top priorities right now is figuring out how to engage in “management by calling around” with remote employees, for whom management by walking around doesn’t work.

But beyond observation, pay attention when employees take the initiative to vocalize in your general direction. When the sound is coming from a green heron it might be trying to let you know you’re getting on its nerves.

When your employees are making sounds in your general direction they just might let you know something important about what’s getting on their nerves, even if it isn’t you.

You just have to pay attention.

Tip#4: Give your subject some space

Wait! I didn’t get the shot yet!

When photographing an interesting subject (in this case a great blue heron) it’s tempting to go for the close up. But that can backfire – you get the motion National Geographic likes, but at the risk that what it you’re trying to capture in motion doesn’t want to stick around while you take more photos of it.

When managing IT you might be tempted to get the results you need by overseeing the work that’s getting done too closely. Not every IT professional will sit still for managers who get too close, either. They’ll call it micromanagement and even if they’re wrong they’re right, because there are no precise metrics for identifying micromanagement.

Only gripes when it’s perceived.

Bob’s last word: There’s a near-iron-clad law of avian photography – birds have a remarkably precise ability to know the exact focal length of the lens you’re shooting photos with, and the exasperating habit of perching just beyond what that focal length will support.

It isn’t all about the lens. But the right lens sure does help.

Great glass does make a big difference. But patience can make an even greater difference.

With your employees, providing the best tools of the trade is the parallel to shooting photos with the right equipment. It can make a big difference in employee performance.

But as with photography, when it comes to encouraging the best performance, patience counts for even more.

Bob’s sales pitch: It’s time for you to hop over to CIO.com again to read the next article in my “IT 101” series. This time the subject is technical architecture. And if you don’t mind, take the time to let me know what you think of the series so far.

Comments (6)

  • You have learned well — Those photographs are magnificent! I’m going to submit some of my photos to NatGeo to see if a rejection will help me as much 🙂

    • When the events in question took place, I was, to put it mildly, enough of a know-it-all that I didn’t easily learn from criticism. But when you’re a budding photographer, National Geo’s opinion is hard to wave off.

      Which leads, I guess, to one more tip to draw from all this: People who think they know it all and people who don’t think they know it all have something in common – they don’t.

  • Bob,
    Great analogies, useful lessons, and inspiring photographs. What does National Geographic know? (Oh, actually…)

  • The “management by calling around” method is something that managers should include in their toolbox. When my former employer went into work from home mode in March, 2020 – the conversational brain storming dried up. The weekly individual and group meeting calls were all very focused on a manager’s tight schedule and the talking points for “priorities”.

    While we were keeping the joint running, we were minimally discussing improvements to the infrastructure and planning out the improvements to consider for 2021. There were a few group meeting phone calls where we actually went off-topic or expanded our discussion about some problems and potential solutions.

    Ironically, my manager was recruited back to a former employer and I was recruited into a position in a different company within a month of each other. Guess someone else will have to figure out what improvements need to be done for 2022.

  • I think this one is one of the BEST one’s yet!!!! — Old time reader…

  • Woweee! You are versatile.
    From photographing to being an IT weenie, you sure can do it all.

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