On The Other Foot


*** WARNING: Tech & Philosophy talk to follow, bail out now if you have no interest ***

After nearly two decades in the IT field, I’ve gone from a user with very little administrative power to one with almost complete power. All the while, I kept in mind the old (paraphrased) saying:

Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

I learned that in my youth from reading Marvel Comics. In case you’re unaware, though, it is attributed to John Dalberg-Acton in his Letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton (dated April 5, 1887). The full quote is:

Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.

Regardless of my position, I never made arbitrary decisions regarding someone else’s needs or permissions. I understand there’s often a perception that IT support personnel are lazy, vindictive, or power-craving individuals, so I would do whatever I could within the scope of my abilities to accommodate the end user. Sometimes this meant having to be the bad guy and saying “No”, but it was typically followed by the reason why. What good is it to dismiss someone out of hand when you can illustrate why you’re forced to say “No”? Understanding is the key.

This morning I got to experience what a regular user felt as I asked a Senior Help Desk technician about installing a tiny productivity application called KatMouse. It doesn’t do a whole lot, it allows you to use the mouse’s scroll functionality on network folders, web pages, etc. without that window having focus. Imagine having to follow instructions while doing data entry or comparing folder structures in two separate windows as you try to find the proper file or folder. It’s not a large application and it doesn’t bring other elements onto your machine. The tech said installing this was against company policy and was frowned upon. I replied with a simple, “Okay, thanks” and was about to let it go when my laptop spontaneously rebooted.

Imagine my surprise when logging back in to find that my local admin rights had been removed. Everything that I could do moments before went Poof! I IM’d her, “Did you change something on my laptop” and she said, “No.” Okay, maybe this whole thing was just pure coincidence. Sure, why not? When I detailed what happened, her only response was, “Weird. I didn’t do anything.” Again, I gave her the benefit of the doubt. When she asked me why I had admin access, I explained that our bosses (different people) agreed it was inefficient for the technical staff to have to wait on the help desk to install anything locally, so she offered to restore my access. All the while, she maintained no knowledge of what happened to my permissions.

Upon restarting I opened the Event Viewer and noted that she had deleted all the logs to cover what was done. Really? Come on, your name is right there. Did you really think I wouldn’t see this? What galled me the most is that she had the audacity to lie to me. Before performing such a knee-jerk reaction, why not talk to me? We’re both in IT, can’t you extend me that courtesy? Also, why not just own up to what you did and explain it as, “I had to do this as part of my job” rather than lie? I can understand and respect that. If I really feel something is necessary, I will then go through the “chain of command” to get what I want (which I did).

All this leads to another thought about corporate life and the mind-boggling lack of trust that seems to exist. There’s a phrase regarding training employees that’s been floating around The Net for at least a few years that mimics a discussion between two members of management:

Boss 1: What if we spend all this time and money to train our employees and then they leave?

Boss 2: What if you don’t train them and they stay?

Are higher-ups ever actually saying something similar to this? I can’t say for certain, but their actions seem to indicate yes. It would certainly explain why a supervisor would have no clue what their subordinate actually does on a daily basis or how to cover for them in the event of an absence.

Phrases like, “[Insert username or corporate department here] is too busy to handle [insert task/responsibility here], so we’re going to handle it” not only demonstrates a lack of trust for the user/department, it also insults the people or group who are then responsible for said activity as it presumes the second party isn’t working as hard as the first. Maybe it’s true and maybe it’s not, but I would wager due diligence was never done. This often leads to repetitive processes and superfluous workloads as employees try to ensure all tasks are completed.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that a system of checks & balances isn’t valuable in the workplace. However, when you spend more time revisiting your work or trying to cover for someone else rather than completing new tasks, establishing an alternate way seems the only logical recourse. This is where the improv part of my brain struggles the most. Experienced improvisers understand the value of trust and how allowing you to be successful allows everyone to be successful. Why isn’t that obvious to everyone?

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