The Rule of No Surprises
In the IT business, if it's not my birthday, surprises are almost always a bad thing!
Also, a coworker of mine use to say that bad news never gets better with time. These two thoughts are particularly true in IT. When there is a serious issue within your department, the worst thing you can do is not tell your boss. This may sound counter-intuitive, but it is the best possible course of action for the following reasons:
- When you tell your manager about a problem and propose a solution it confirms that you realize a problem exists and you are thinking of ways to solve it –that you are proactively managing!
- All IT departments have problems. That’s why IT departments need managers!
- If your manager notices a critical problem within your department that he/she thinks you are not adequately addressing, it will reduce that manager’s confidence in your strategic and operational management ability and judgment
- When you tell your boss that something is going well he/she will believe you because you are also forthcoming with bad news
- Your manager has the right to know about issues, as it’s also their IT department---just at a higher management level
- If your manager finds out about a problem in IT from others, it puts you in a bad situation as the manager. It looks like you either don't know about it, or that you did know, but didn't want to tell your boss
- Once a technical challenge is resolved, you get to take credit for it and add it to the accomplishments section of your annual performance report
As a general rule, good companies can solve or at least mitigate most business problems, including IT issues, if they have enough time to react. Therefore, by raising the issues early, you can help keep the problem small. Also, it lets your boss know that you are paying attention and being proactive, rather than reactive.
Note that this rule of no surprises is true at all professional levels.
- Just as your manager would not like bad-news surprises from you, your manager does not like giving bad-news surprises to his/her manager.
- When your boss asks “How are things going?” he/she is very possibly looking for a quick, fact-based assessment, both potentially good and bad, to say when speaking with his/her manager. Do not let your boss get blind-sided!
To illustrate this concept, let’s say there is a problem with one of the mission-critical IT projects your department is spearheading. You explain the issue to your boss in your weekly project status update meeting, and you also present an appropriate solution to correct the problem. This simultaneously --
- Shows your boss that you recognize there is a problem
- Demonstrates that you know how to correct the problem
- Shows that you are willing to tell your boss the good and the bad, which helps build trust
- Provides your boss with the opportunity to help correct the issue
- Gives your boss talking points with his/her superior as to the status of your projects and with luck, discuss his/her confidence in you and your judgment—along with your ability to recognize and correct critical issues in IT
President and founder of Manager Mechanics, LLC
Eric is also a nationally syndicated columnist, entrepreneur, speaker, award winning author and trainer in IT management skills. By pioneering IT leadership education in traditional classroom settings, as well as online platforms and advanced virtual worlds, Eric's team provides strategic education to firms who value superior IT leadership, a strong teamwork ethic, IT innovation for competitive advantage, and planned succession to consciously control recruiting and retention.
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