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Making the most of your IT heroes.

Making the most of your IT heroes

Are petty jealousies in your IT department holding back your company? In the November 2010 issue of Computer Weekly, Bernoff and Schadler suggest that they might be.

The authors cite the difficulties some IT specialists have in accommodating the growing number of so-called 'highly empowered resourceful operatives', or 'heroes'. These are non-IT employees with enough knowledge and confidence in their IT abilities to work around restrictions imposed by corporate IT departments.

The authors explain that many IT departments take a dim view of heroes and lock down systems to make innovation by them difficult. This can cause these employees to become discouraged and leave the organization. In contrast, hero-powered businesses can tap a powerful force for continuous innovation, particularly in customer service.

The authors set out a 'hero compact' to promote a healthy working relationship between heroes, IT specialists and management. Under this accord, the heroes promise to build things that serve customers and not simply 'mess around with technology for technology's sake'. They also agree to live within the rules set by management and IT to keep them safe and manage risk. Managers commit to creating an environment that supports technology innovation wherever it starts, while simultaneously managing any risks associated with this innovation. IT specialists, meanwhile, no longer try to run the projects. Instead, they consult heroes and support them with their ideas and help management to understand the risks.

Heroes are often an example of employees whose job is also their passion. In Volume 33, Issue of the Journal for Quality and Participation, published in October 2010, Robinson points out that these people can be among the happiest, most energetic and creative members of the workforce. But they need to be properly managed.

In Training Journal's November 2010 issue, Ryde highlights a tendency among some bosses - perhaps unsure of their own skills and feeling threatened by the superior performance of their employees - to seek out flaws and weaknesses and so undermine their engagement. The author suggests that training can help these managers to change how they react to the employees' contributions and suggestions, and so boost their energy, confidence and commitment.

In the same issue of Training Journal, Wilson, meanwhile, points out that people perform best when they do what they are naturally good at, in support of clear goals. He argues that organizations should focus on liberating the talent of all their employees, not simply the top 10%. This involves exploring who each individual is, recognizing his or her talents, working out how the person adds value and deciding what can be done to develop and use each individual more effectively.

Wilson emphasizes that this approach is especially suited to organizations like those in the UK public sector that are facing cuts and need to achieve more with less funding.

In similar vein, in Volume 33, Issue 3 of the Journal for Quality and Participation, Ehin explains that organizations achieve the best results when the formal structures of their day-to-day operations mesh with informal management and employee networks. He coins the term 'sweet spots' to refer to this phenomenon and warns that, since they depend for their existence on dynamic interaction among different personalities, they can be difficult to create and sustain.