We’ve all been there, done that: pushed hard to accomplish some goal. This type of “acceleration” is something that every IT department ends up doing at some point in time or another. As CIO you’ve got to love the results of a “push” like this: everyone works harder and a lot gets accomplished in a short time. However, there’s a real danger that if you keep accelerating your IT department everyone’s going to burn out and you’re going to end up crashing…
The Need For Speed
The reasons for the CIO to press on the acceleration pedal can be many and varied. In my experience, this type of ramp-up in the pace of an IT department is more often than not a reaction to some change. The change can be external – a competitor makes a move that puts your company in jeopardy, or it can be internal – customers start to leave because of some billing / ordering / support failure and IT has to step in and correct the problem.
Although everyone can work harder for awhile, we can’t work harder forever. This is where the problem starts to show up: CIOs enjoy pressing on the acceleration petal so much that they forget to take their foot off of it after awhile.
Why Too Much IT Acceleration Is A Bad Thing
Drs. Heike Bruch and Jochen Menges have taken the time to study firms that over-accelerated their workers. What they found is that there are 3 patterns of what they called “destructive activity” that showed up after too much acceleration had been done for too long:
- Overload: I’m certain that we’re all familiar with this one – IT staff are simply overloaded with too many requests to perform too many activities. The end result is that they don’t have the time to get things done. This can be a major contributor to individual IT employee burnout.
- Multiloading: As though overloading employees wasn’t enough, multiloading occurs when employees are asked to do too many different types of activities. Employees may appear to be able to “pick up the slack”, but the truth is that they are now unfocused and unable to complete goals because they are too spread out.
- Constant Change: Change is supposed to be good, right? Well, yes but too much change is not good. One of the reasons that we like a bit of routine in our lives is because it allows us to recharge our batteries. When there’s too much change, this recharging doesn’t get a chance to occur and so we quickly start to feel run down.
How CIOs Can Break Free Of The Acceleration Trap
Yes it feels great to have an IT department going full throttle. However, it’s not so great to have everyone walking around feeling burned out and then leaving. CIOs need to take the following steps to make sure that they are not over-accelerating their IT departments:
- Stop Unnecessary Work: just because everyone in an IT department is busy, doesn’t mean that what they are working on is important. There are projects that were started awhile ago that are probably no longer necessary. What folks are doing needs to be reevaluated and the work that is not needed needs to be dropped.
- What’s Our Strategy?: Ultimately everything that an IT department does needs to be working towards accomplishing a single goal. This goal has to be what your IT strategy is based on. Making sure that everyone know what the department’s strategy is can be a great way to make sure that only the important work occupies people’s time.
- Announce That The Acceleration Is Over: Tell everyone that the IT department is no longer in an acceleration period. Just this simple act can take an enormous burden off of everyone’s shoulders and will allow them to mentally get ready for the next time that you decide to press on the acceleration petal.
What All Of This Means For You
Every day is not like the previous day. Sometimes a CIO needs to step on the acceleration petal and push the IT department to accomplish more in less time. However, if that petal gets pushed too hard for too long, burnout and lower productivity can occur.
Overloading, multiloading, and constant change can impact an IT department that has been accelerating for too long. CIOs need to stop any unnecessary work, make sure that everyone understands the IT strategy, and simply let everyone know that the acceleration push is over for now.
Just like with a high performance racecar, IT departments are built to be able to run fast. They just can’t run fast forever. CIOs who know how to both press on the acceleration petal and then how to back off will find that they are the ones who can get the IT department over the finish line in first place.
– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™
Question For You: How long do you think a CIO can push an IT department to accelerate its activities before burnout starts to occur?
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
As CIO one of your most important jobs is to get as much out of your IT department as is humanly possible. You’d think that that best way to do this would be to always be pushing harder and harder. However, researchers who have been studying this very problem have come up with a different approach that they say can yield better results: go slower…