A tale of two perceptions
Stan was the go-to guy in the IT department. He had a deep knowledge of many technical areas, and had the ability to come up with creative solutions to just about any technology-related problem. Further, unlike your stereotypical IT employee, Stan understood the business (he had worked at this company for several years) and was very articulate. All in all, the perfect IT guy…or so it seemed, until the day Stan was sacked.
His colleagues were shocked, stunned, and many other emotions of a similar shade. They asked the simple question, “Why?”, but got no satisfactory answer from anyone. Management wouldn’t say anything except the official line which was, “Consistently unacceptable performance” – a line his colleagues simply didn’t believe. Getting no believable answers, they indulged in wild hypothesising, which included a conspiracy theory or two. Stan himself wouldn’t say, which only added spice to the speculations.
It turns out the truth behind Stan’s dismissal was really quite simple. Stan was a victim of perceptions – or two perceptions to be precise. Let me explain…
Within the IT team, Stan was indeed the go-to guy. He wouldn’t hesitate to drop what he was doing to help a colleague resolve a technical issue. He’d spend hours reading up on and exploring technologies, writing nifty utilities and even contributing to the odd open source project. All this made him ever more valuable as technical employee. He was perceived by his IT colleagues as brilliant, approachable and always helpful.
Trouble is, folks on the business side didn’t share this perception. They perceived him as being arrogant and unhelpful. A typical complaint from an end-user would go something like, “I told him over two months ago that this report isn’t working, and he still hasn’t fixed it. I asked about it yesterday and he tells me he’s still working on it.”
On digging deeper it turned out that Stan was a serial postponer. He’d continually put off doing work that he found uninteresting. This included any business-related issues, application fixes, new reports or whatever. Stan claimed that his technical workload left him little time to do anything else. So, as the pile of unattended issues on his desk grew ever higher, the business-wide perception of Stan sank lower and lower. He got a couple of warnings which he ignored. Eventually, his manager gave up and put him on a performance management program. Stan dealt with this in the worst possible way. He immersed himself deeper into technical matters, to the further detriment of his business responsibilities. Paradoxically, he continued to grow in his IT colleagues’ estimation whilst incurring the increasing ire of the business. Then one fine day things came to a head and the rest, as they say, is history (as is poor Stan) .
Perceptions matter. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. This is particularly important to those who have to maintain a variety of professional relationships in the workplace. Corporate IT is a case in point: folks who work in IT must be able to deal with technical and business people. As illustrated by the Stan’s story, perceptions should be managed on both fronts. Mis-management of perceptions is what leads to the stereotype of the inarticulate, unhelpful, technology obsessed IT employee. Many corporate IT departments have a Stan or two (or more!) lurking within. Such folks would do well to heed this tale.