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Entries in Operators (1)


Respect thy Operators

Information Technology runs with two shifts in many companies. The day shift is made up of executive meetings, board rooms, and initiatives. The night shift is covered by the heart and soul of any Information Technology (IT) group, a group of people huddled in dimly lit rooms staring at flat panels.

The night shift is covered by computer/network Operators, often the most modestly paid in IT. Have you ever considered the irony of the success of many companies resting in the hands of someone rarely seen?

Being a computer operator is analogous to being a police officer. There are hours of boring, mundane work occasionally highlighted by periods of shear adrenaline. It is during these periods where misalignment between the day shift (CIO) and night shift are highlighted.

CIOs spend a great deal of time shaping strategy, and communicating same to staff (often in large group settings.) While these sessions are being presented (often with catered food), the night Operators are sleeping. Operators need to support strategy in an appropriate way, and this often means keeping things running smoothly. For example, while the CIO will work on new means for transportation, Operators keep the trains running on time.

CIOs achieve longevity of 4.4 years, according to a 2008 “State of the CIO” report, often striving their entire career for the role. Most operators are in their role a much longer period, outlasting CIOs, and often fall into the role.

Due to their unique hands-on perspective galvanized over time, Operators are often a wealth of information. They know the stable applications; they know the staff members who will respond and (most importantly) help solve issues. They often have a 6th sense for when something is going very, very wrong. With a little attention, Operators can become trusted allies for any CIO – literally the CIO’s eyes and ears at night.

How does a CIO build rapport? It’s not hard. Spend some time with the Operators on their turf, on their shift. Ask what they do “during the day,” and where their interests lie. Make note of their spouse’s names and children (as appropriate.)

And listen. Listen to what is working, and what isn’t working. Ask what you can do to improve their world, and act on it.

If subsequently an Operator makes an error, build on the rapport you’ve established to understand how you can help them succeed. Operators know when mistakes are made, and genuinely feel bad about it. When mistakes are made, consider what you can do to help the Operator be more successful.

Having sufficient processes in Operations is a management function. Operators are accustomed to doing the same thing on a predictable, repeatable basis. They want and need to understand when changes are made (in a respectful way.) Operators want to please. Often, the instruction they receive is in the form of a never ending series of corrective emails. A single, living process and procedures guide (written, wiki, web) is something operators can reference is a necessity. When you spend time with the Operators, ask them to see the processes and procedures so you can determine if the materials are reasonable and up to date. If not, charge your management team with getting them updated, with the “clients” being the Operations team. Make the solutioning a collaborative team effort. External facilitation can be used if the team is unaccustomed to working in a collaborative manner or if the task seems insurmountable.

Operators are no-nonsense people, and an informal session with them on their shift to explain major changes succinctly will help them buy in.

While it may take time to build rapport, with the Operators generally reticent to open up, the CIO who drops by the Command Center regularly to acknowledge efforts and “catch people doing things right” will solidify their relationships. Remembering Operators are often working holidays, a quick call to wish them the best, and checking how the food you sent in tasted, will help the Operators see you are a regular person, too.

And like the police, night Operators know where to get really unique food at odd times of night. Enjoy!