In the last article in this series, we talked about something most new IT managers dislike doing: writing good process documentation. This time, we’re talking about something that’s actually kind of scary: being the center of attention.
As a rule, IT is not the sort of job that attracts glad-handers and glory hounds. IT managers are quietly competent professionals. If the job gets done, and done the right way, then there’s satisfaction enough in that without needing someone to pat you on the back.
The sheer scale of the challenges we deal with also promotes a heads-down, results-focused culture. In no other department is there as much freedom to simply focus on execution without concerning yourself with office politics. The path of least resistance is actually to be invisible. There’s so much that needs done, and no one else can do it.
This is a subtle trap.
The truth is that nobody is an island, especially in IT. You exist to support the rest of your company. Their success is your success. You’ll have a really hard time if you don’t know their needs. You won’t know to fix what’s wrong if people aren’t coming to you when things aren’t working. They aren’t going to do this if they don’t know you’re there.
Worse, when IT is visible, it’s often visible in a bad way. Something breaks. Or you need something: more staff, more budget, flexibility in a crisis, extra work from a peer, compliance with policies that make your job easier. If the only time you make yourself known is when there’s a crisis or an ask, then people in your company will associate you with problems, not solutions.
That’s not a good path to be on. You might think your work speaks for itself, but most people won’t see your work. They can’t value what they don’t see. Unless you show them.
Building visibility for your department and having there be positive interactions between IT and the rest of the organization are thus critical in your first 90 days. What you do now will determine the tenor of your department’s relationship for the rest of your time with the company.
Fortunately, this isn’t as hard as you might be thinking. Most people are used to having so little interaction with IT that just showing up, being friendly, and seeming concerned with their issues will go a long way.
But here’s a few ideas on things to try:
- Meet regularly with your superiors & peers: You probably have some sort of meeting with your supervisor on a regular basis, but if you don’t, demand one at least every two weeks. Otherwise it’s very unlikely they’ll notice everything you’re doing. You probably won’t be able to meet regularly with more senior management, but try to get a meeting with people higher up than your boss in your first 90 days—make it a part of your onboarding. Hear concerns and talk about the work you’re planning to do. Give them context for what your department is and why it’s important. Finally, you should meet most regularly with the HR or People Ops departments, because you’ll find you have to work with them a lot. Take them out to coffee. Ask to be invited to their department meetings, and try to attend on a regular basis. The more context you have into what’s happening in their world, and the more they understand what’s going on in yours, the happier you both will be.
- Fix something minor but annoying: As a part of your situation audit, we recommended meeting with a lot of different people in the company and hearing their concerns. Look for something minor that seems to be annoying a lot of people, like WiFi stability or the sound in one of the conference rooms. Make fixing this a priority, even if it doesn’t seem very important, and then announce it publicly when you do. It may not move the needle for the company, but a visible solution to something with emotional resonance for many employees is a great way to announce yourself as a new IT Manager. It tells them that you listen, that you are there to solve problems, and that you get results.
- Announce your successes: In general, whenever something is fixed or a new system is implemented, make an announcement via email or your company’s Slack. Don’t be afraid to let people into the process a little bit and talk about the work that went into it. A well-running IT department can seem like magic, but you want people to know how hard you’re working.
- Find metrics you can track: Yes, these may not actually be that significant. But keep track of things like tickets closed, number of major incidents, WiFi uptime, etc. Track these over time. Even if each individual data point isn’t meaningful, a clear trendline can tell a story about the ways that your efforts are making things better.
- Present at company meetings: Public speaking is a bit scary. But large company meetings are a great way to get visibility, and they don’t necessarily require a lot of thought or preparation. When you have a success to celebrate, ask for 5 minutes to talk about it at an all-hands meeting or department check-in that will be attended by heads of other departments. Keep this short, talk about what the problem was, what you did, and what the results will be going forward. Focus on what the visible benefits will be for other departments.
It’s tempting to think that an IT department functions best when it’s least seen. After all, if you’re doing your job, things should just work. And if things just work, why does anyone else need to think about IT?
But visibility is critical, both to your own career advancement and to the good functioning of IT as a whole. It might not feel like it sometimes, but you’re a part of a team. Building goodwill with the rest of the company helps you get the things you need to do your job well.
And, honestly, it’s just a lot more fun. You can do IT while hiding in the equipment closet, but it does get a bit lonely, and it can be demotivating. You will work incredibly hard in this job. It’s more rewarding when you know and like the people you’re working for, and they know and value the work you do.