What Do CIOs Need To Know About Status Battles At Work?

CIOs need to understand that status at work does not follow a formal hierarchy
CIOs need to understand that status at work does not follow a formal hierarchy
Image Credit: Eugene Kim

When a member of your department does a good job, all of a sudden you find yourself in a difficult position. You’d like to show this individual that they did a good job and that you appreciate it. However, the big question is often how best to go about doing this. There are a number of different things that you can do: you can hand out awards, give them an office that has a coveted window, or increase their scope of responsibility. However, what a lot of CIOs don’t realize is that by doing these things, they are actually causing a great deal of damage.

The Damage That CIOs Do

CIOs often keep a careful eye on the people who work for them. When these people start to change their behavior, we notice these types of things. People may start to interrupt each other more, or a worker starts to dominate a meeting’s conversation. What we don’t realize as the person with the CIO job is that there is a very real possibility that the rewards that we handed out to our employees are what have caused these behavior changes. Research has shown that when we are kind to one employee, this can end up unsettling the existing status order in our department and then this leads to conflicts as the group tries to find a way to sort things out.

So what is a the person in the CIO position to do about this issue? A gut reaction might be to stop rewarding your employees. However, that’s not going to be the right solution. Instead, what needs to happen is that CIOs have to realize when they might be upsetting the IT department’s status quo. It’s only by being able to to realize this that you’ll be able to minimize the amount of damage that your actions can cause. Traditionally we don’t think about things like this because the actual status hierarchy in the IT department may not follow the formal hierarchy. The actual hierarchy is socially conferred and has been reached by an unspoken consensual agreement by the people who work in the department based on the amount of respect, esteem and regard they have for each other. When a CIO rewards one member of this group, it can upset that agreement.

It turns out that when a status conflict occurs, it can be very detrimental to how a department works together. In fact, it can have a bigger impact than many other forms of conflict. Studies have been done that show that teams that are dealing with status conflicts are the ones that perform the worst. When a member of a team has their status changed, it will produce discord within the team. People will start to interrupt each other and they’ll stop listening to each other. What makes this even worse is that nobody on the team will be able to recognize what is causing their increased levels of strife.

A Better Way

All of this can cause big problems for CIOs. If the members of a department don’t know that they are having conflicts over the status of members of the department, then what can a CIO do to both identify and then avoid status conflict? CIOs do want to reward people for doing a good job and showing the importance of information technology. They also want to give certain people increased responsibilities in order to improve performance. What CIOs need to understand is that they need to go about doing this in a way that will allow them to achieve the results that they want while at the same time not ending up setting off a status related backlash.

In order to prevent status battles from happening, CIOs need to make sure that they look for the subtle signs that members of their IT department are struggling to try to figure out their status order. This problem can be detected by observing frequent interruptions and people dominating conversations. CIOs may also detect when cliques start to be formed by people who feel slighted as they attempt to increase their feeling of self-worth. CIOs who detect these warning signs can take one of two actions. The first is that they can attempt to reduce the differences between team members. The second is that they can attempt to increase the tolerance of differences.

A third approach may work the best when it comes to status conflicts. Using this approach, the CIO tries to get the IT department members to recognize the necessity for status differences and attempts to increase their tolerance of them by creating transparent processes for how rewards are handed out. As the CIO, you are going to want to work very hard to attempt to head off status conflicts before they happen. In the case that a CIO wants to recognize a member of a long standing team, the CIO should go to the effort of getting buy-in from the group and allow peer-peer recognition to permit all members of the group to recognize the contribution made by their member. CIOs need to understand that the people working in their IT department just want to be recognized and individual employees want to be heard.

What All Of This Means For You

How good of a CIO you are is determined by how effective the people who work in your department are. When somebody goes above and beyond what they need to do, you would like to single them out and reward them for their extra effort. There are a number of different ways that you can go about doing this. However, it turns out by doing this you run the risk of upsetting the status quo in your IT department.

CIOs have the ability to watch how the people who work for them interact. We can start to see when people start to interrupt each other more and when they start to cut each other off. It turns out that the reason that they are doing this is because of problems that we have created by rewarding one of them. What CIOs need to realize is that the hierarchy of an IT department may have nothing to do with job titles and may have everything to do with how much respect everyone has for each other. Status conflicts can be very detrimental to the productivity of an IT department. CIOs need to start to reward people in a way that won’t produce status conflicts. CIOs need to be able to detect when there are status conflict issues within their IT department. One thing that they can do is to get the IT department members to recognize the necessity for status differences and attempts to increase their tolerance of them.

CIOs want everyone in their IT department to be performing at their peak level. When someone goes out of their way and does a superb job, we’d like to be able to reward these people so that everyone else will be motivated to do their best. However, we need to understand that rewarding some department staff and not others can upset the department status quo. Keep your eyes open to determine how people are interacting and make sure that your rewards are received in the correct way.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: How often do you think that a CIO should reward a member of the IT department?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Let’s face it: it is becoming harder and harder to keep the company’s IT assets and its network safe from people who want to do you harm. The threats are relentless and they just keep getting stronger and coming at us from all directions. Additionally, what could happen if the bad guys do get in can now be disastrous because of the importance of information technology when you consider how much customer data can be lost, how many corporate secrets can be lost, and then the threat of lawsuits because of the breech. As CIOs we probably should not be sleeping very well at night and here are the reasons why.