Common Sense and Toxic Management Do NOT Go Hand-in-Hand

This week I am taking my weekly recap blog on industry news and trends in a little different direction based on a conversation I had this past week with an IT Manager. Everyone knows the economy is bad, IT staffers are being laid off or taking pay cuts and management is scrutinizing every purchase but an experience I had this last week bordered on the edge of ridiculous.

I ran into a friend of mine who works (or rather, had worked) as an IT Manager at the headquarters for a large national company located here in Omaha. When I asked how things were going, he responded by saying that he had just parted ways with his company because he could not tolerate being classified by his company as a “Toxic Manager” despite saving his company millions of dollars over the last few years.

I’ve known this individual for years, had lunches with him on occasion and have even toured his data center. He ran a tight ship, kept his pulse on technology and sought to make the right decisions for his company’s data center. So when he told me he had been termed a “Toxic Manager” by his company’s HR department and that they had come to the “mutual” decision that he should leave, it floored me.

We went on to discuss some of the circumstances around how he came to be classified as a “Toxic IT Manager” and the “mutual” decision for him to leave. He explained there were two factors that contributed to him receiving that classification.

The first is he was seeking to reduce the amount of redundant products in his data center that provided no additional value. While he didn’t provide a lot of examples, one that he cited was that like many companies, his organization had been going through a series of data center consolidations over the last few years and he had inherited and eventually was managing 5 backup software products. So one initiative he embarked on was to get the number down to one to lower costs and simplify management. By the time he had left a week ago, he had the number of backup software products down to 2.

However he suspects that it was the fact that it was in how he was trying to manage the employees that he had inherited over the years during the consolidations that ultimately led to the problems he had with his employer and his eventual dismissal. More specifically, in the same way that he sought to bring the number of backup software products under control, he was also seeking to end some of the free-wheeling technology decisions that some of the employees that he inherited were making. He believed that it was his efforts to curtail their independence and their subsequent complaints to HR that eventually led to his departure.

In this respect, I feel both sympathy and empathy for him. IT people can be some of the smartest people of the world but also some of the most difficult to manage. He and I both agreed that creativity and new ideas are desperately needed in data centers but it has to be tempered with the reality that you are running mission-critical applications that require routine tasks such as backups, operating system patches and data migrations to be executed flawlessly.

The trouble that he ran into is that the same individuals who were the most creative were also the most free-wheeling and impatient. When running operations in a data center, creativity and the routine do not always mix well as creativity has to be tempered with the successful if unglamorous execution of the routine. This is where he ran into loggerheads with his employees. They did not agree with his stance that they could continue to act in an autonomous manner so they took their case to HR and his VP and it eventually led to him having to leave the company.

Now I am willing to concede there may be more to this story than what he is telling me but I am aware of at least a few other incidences where this has occurred in other companies in recent months. Smart but conservative individuals in IT management or architect positions that had made and were making sound technology decisions are being forced out of their companies under the guise of “Cost-cutting” or “Toxic Management”.

I cannot help but believe this will come back to bite these companies in the coming months and years and, with the growth of technologies like cloud computing and cloud storage, that these same companies will find themselves purchasing these types of services with these individuals that they dismissed at the helms of these companies in the years to come. I guess the upside is that while in the short term it will be difficult for these individuals and their families, the fact that they are out on their own now will likely lead to better opportunities for them later on.

Next week I will return to the normal focus of my weekly recap blogs where I take a look at industry events, news and rumors that catch my eye and ear. However I digressed this week because when I start to hear about good people being let go from companies even when they are saving money and making smart decsions, to me it is an indicator that the economy has probably hit bottom. Smart people with common sense and good work ethics stay busy and keep doing the things that turn the economy around, even if it is for other companies or their own company that give them the opportunity and freedom to do so.

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