Posted on: July 30th, 2018

Failure! – Socially Integrating new IT Professionals during Onboarding

Blogs showing a disconnect between Information Technology departments and an organization’s lines of business are nothing new.  But in today’s competitive business environment the topic is more critical than ever before. Twitter, LinkedIn, and various other business journals seem to report on IT Professionals not socially integrated on a daily basis. Articles of Shadow IT groups, IT departments in working in Silos, and the CIO not having the confidence of Senior Business Executives are commonplace. Thus, is the norm for any CIO.

Although there are initiatives underway to try to merge IT into business lines and reduce these silos. Another question comes to mind; are there any efforts underway to understand why such gaps exist between IT Professionals and their non-IT counterparts? If so then what can we do to reduce these gaps? Finally, is there a way to get in front of this problem, once a new IT Professional joins a firm? After all, if one of the goals of IT Onboarding is to socially integrate an IT Professional into the organization, then both the IT Professional and their non-IT Counterpart should have a shared vision of the firm’s objectives and are able to capitalize on them for the overall success of the firm. Unfortunately, there seems to be some serious roadblocks for both groups to have that shared vision.

A case for Stigma

To begin to explore this phenomenon we can first look at the makeup of a typical individual contributor in any IT department. Although every individual is different, there can be certain characteristics that are stereotyped and considered common when working with any “IT guy”. In 2011 Dr Jo Ellen Moore and Dr Mary Love of Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville did exactly that as they explored the stigmas behind Information Technology professionals in an article titled An Examination of Prestigious Stigma: The Case of the Technology Geek. To summarize: the article focused on IT Professionals through a psychological lens of stigma for whom they affectionately call “Technology Geeks.” The article explores what that stigma means in mixed interactions with other individuals whom are not stigmatized referred to as “Normals.”

Moore and Love’s research suggest that stigma – an undesired differentness, can be worn positively with a sense of pride instead of the typical uncomfortable disgrace associated with stigma. They refer to this phenomenon as “prestigious stigma”. The research focuses on how some Information Professionals or “Technology Geeks” can have poor communication and/or social skills especially in mixed interaction with “normals” causing tension between each group.

Social Ineptness and Self-Doubt

Social tension is not an uncommon complaint among non-IT groups. Technology Professionals speaking with acronyms and speaking for a long time but not really solving their problems are common. For example, calling an IT Help desk the “Helpless desk” is a frequent joke of non-IT Professionals. As they have already re-booted several times before they call the desk and yet it is the Help desk’s first request.

Going further into more complex mixed interactions such as application design requires the geek to have a better understanding the normals day to day business functions. This should include more intricate details of the normals issues and the organization’s client base. As the issues get more complex it may be possible that the geek does not fully understand these complexities. This is a very difficult revelation for the geek since by definition they are intellectuals and usually astute to solving problems in their own world. This revelation can cause self-doubt and as a result a self-protection strategy could develop if they are not meeting the normal’s expectations. Symptoms can include the geek withholding communication or failing to document the normal’s issues. Moore and Love quote another study in which a self-doubting person prefers the notion it is “better to be considered lazy than stupid”. This is more preferred rather than face the realization they are just not good at something. Additionally, human nature is to consider things that we are good at to be difficult and important.  Whereas items that we are not good at are considered trivial and for someone else to solve.

In psychological terms divergence can occur which is where one will maintain a social self-categorization. For example, this is where we see the geek adopting stigma symbols such as pulling out their latest technology gadget, wearing clothes outside of the normal dress code, or speaking in techno jargon. This lets normals know that they outside of the membership of the normals group and have little interest in joining it. Normals of course resent this type of behavior.  The unwillingness to communicate, limiting exchanges of knowledge, and an attitude of high ego are perceived as an unwillingness to meet me half way. This causes great organizational frustration and ownership of trying to find resolution usually rests solely on the normals in these cases.

Practical Implications

As previously stated today’s competitive marketplace will no longer allow for inefficiencies between departments and individuals.  IT Departments are either integrating into business lines or are being considered revenue centers themselves.  They are no longer allowed be mere support functions for the overall organization.  Furthermore, any form of systems development is just as social as it is technical and therefore poor teamwork, inefficient project management, or a low quality of services is not tolerated.

Although this topic relates to the overall organization, it is best to solve the problem upfront.  This starts with the organizational socialization a new geek, “IT Professional” starting with the company. The realization of the IT Professional not understanding the complexities of an organization’s business should be anticipated and expected.  There should be an upfront understanding that they will be working outside of their comfort zone.  As Dr Moore puts it:

“You are not expected to know our business processes! You ARE expected to ask and to learn, and over time come to understand our business processes. You are new to this company, do not be afraid to say you don’t understand something.”

A Better Approach

Unfortunately, most organizations do not have a plan of how to address knowledge transfer between IT and the business. This should begin with a true understanding of products but go beyond that.  This includes an understanding of business line organization and the current marketing campaigns/goals of the firm.  Socially Integrating an IT Professional into business unit must formalized .  This task is simply too big to be left to each individual IT manager.  Instead there should be a more thorough approach.  To include guidelines and milestones for the new IT Professional with social support mechanisms.  See Our Approach for more details.

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