IT managers are aloof, insular, says psychologist

If they changed their ways, IT managers could have enormous impact on their organizations

Organizational psychologist Billie Blair
Organizational psychologist Billie Blair

IT managers and their staffs are different from the rest of us.

They view the world in terms of "us against them" and see others in an organization as pests or threats to their IT universe, says Billie Blair, who holds a doctorate in organizational psychology and heads Change Strategist Inc., a Los Angeles-based management consulting firm.

Organizational psychologists have an understanding of management and psychology. They use that knowledge to help firms and organizations understand behaviors that can impinge on the ability to implement required changes, said Blair.

Blair also has the perspective of having once overseen an IT department as a former dean of the College of Psychology and Human Services at California State University.

Blair looks at the performance of an entire organization, including IT, and draws observations from that work.

IT managers see themselves as "reigning supreme," says Blair, but they are also capable of having a dramatic impact. In an interview with Computerworld, she outlines various personnel and organizational issues facing IT executives.

Are IT managers different from other managers in an organization? IT managers are different than managers in the other parts of the organization, for the most part. They tend to adopt a persona of aloofness. They are different from the operations and sales folks. They feel themselves to be odd men out to start with, and they are. They perform a specific service that the organization can't do without.

What makes IT managers different? Is it the type of job or the characteristics of the people it attracts? It is a little bit of both. It is the type of job, and clearly people choose their professions based on their proclivities, interests and natural inclinations. It's the same thing with CFOs, or people in the financial accounting arena. In IT's case, it is a love of things technical and they are typically very good at it. Mostly, in these days, people in those positions have been told since childhood that they were gifted in all things technical. They feel very comfortable in what they do. They have chosen their job because they like it a lot. I would tend to say that they love it. Technical jobs are an engagement with things rather than people, for the most part, and it's that engagement with things which is what got them to the management level. Now, as managers, they have to deal in a whole new arena. With IT managers, within their group, their cadre of other IT folks, it's pretty much an 'us versus them' approach. We are the gurus and the knowledgeable people and those other people are the ones that are always making demands and keeping us from doing our real jobs.

Do IT managers feel under siege? There are always demands. It's sort of useful to look at the IT manager in the university setting. In the university, they are aloof because they know their area. But in the university setting there are lots of people that enter into that category, but still IT folks maintain a persona of aloofness. This is in a setting where everybody is a specialist and everybody has that giant ego. For the most part, they (IT professionals) get away with it. This sounds like I don't like IT people - I actually really do and certainly respect their knowledge and ability. But it's their attitude that gets them in trouble in organizational settings. It is (an attitude) that they know it all, and that everybody else is a fool, and all that everybody else does is just mess up their systems.

Do IT professionals have a problem explaining what it is that they bring to the business? For the most part, they don't try to explain very much. That's part of their problem. They just want people to bow to them as they come into the room. They are not talented in dealing with people. They don't understand that in doing that they are generally being very off-putting to the person they are dealing with. It's a matter of learning how to be part of an organization. Every time they are dealing with the rest of us they have very little patience.

Outside of the IT department, how are IT managers and their departments perceived? They are seen as difficult to get along with. The phrase you will hear most often is 'difficult to get anything out of' and that means, typically, services.

It sounds as if a lot of people try to avoid IT departments. True? Yes. They would if they could. That's absolutely correct.

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