A few years ago, I participated in a panel discussion in front of Ohio University students with Kim Rometo. Kim and I went to grad school together and she has one of the coolest jobs in IT (CIO of the Miami Dolphins). I really enjoyed some of the lessons that we were able to share with the undergraduates. At one point, I mentioned to Kim that I wish I had received the same advice when I was in their shoes. She responded by saying that we probably had but were too stubborn to listen.
Kim shared some valuable lessons during the panel discussion. The first was a credo that was adopted among her team. “No surprises” has a multitude of meetings for Kim’s team members. They use this saying to make sure that their leadership team is never blind sighted by a particular issue or outage. Few things make your boss look more unprepared than finding out from a 3rd party about an issue that occurred within their team. While it can be difficult to balance fixing a particular problem while sharing the appropriate details, effective communication a key component of crisis/incident management.
As I transitioned into leadership, one of my biggest challenges was to stop performing the actual technical work. This was especially difficult during a systems/network outage. I thought I was being helpful when I jumped in to address the problem but I was actually creating additional challenges. I eventually realized that my role in those situations was to make sure that my team had the necessary support that they need and that the organization (including my leadership) was not “surprised”.
It’s also important to proactively identify issues before your business partners discover them. This could be something as simple as implementing a monitoring solution that focuses on user experience. Customers tend to be a lot more patient and understanding when the issues are brought to their attention with transparency and tact as opposed to them being the one to identify the problem. Nobody likes surprises.
The second lesson that Kim shared was not to bring up problems without offering solutions. There are few things more frustrating in the workplace than a team member who consistently complains about a particular issue without demonstrating any ownership or offering a potential solution. For the most part, people within an organization want to do the right thing but are faced with complicated decisions. You’ll often find they will genuinely appreciate any feedback that you have especially if you have an idea for how to improve a particular situation. However, simply complaining for the sake of complaining doesn’t help anyone (including yourself).