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Just ONE THING before you leave for the day…

It’s 4:45pm, you’re finishing up a project for the afternoon when someone runs into your office, letting you know they are getting on a plane tomorrow and need a new piece of software installed. You know this will take several hours to download, install & test, and there just isn’t enough time.

Here’s how different IT personalities respond to the situation:

  • Tim, the victim: “Oh crap, now I gotta cancel my dinner plans. FINE. I’ll see what I can do.”

  • Mary the clock-puncher. “Can’t do it, it’s too late in the day, I’ll do it tomorrow if you want.”

  • Paul the tough guy: “You have to give us 24 hours notice for this. Sorry.”

John, the I-have-no-life-outside-work-guy: “Sure, happy to help!”

Tim does the work but gets stressed about how the job is taxing his personal life. He feels unappreciated.

Mary takes care of herself but upsets her coworker and doesn’t seem very understanding.

Paul sounds like a jerk and gives people reason to dislike him and the entire IT community.

John pleases the customer and doesn’t have a personal life to be impacted, but then any other IT person who takes care of themselves will seem not as “good” of an employee as John. John’s actually doing a disservice to the IT folks who choose to have a life outside of work.

When you get these “oh, need this ASAP” requests, you may need to probe a bit. Some of the people will not give you accurate information and will instead pad their deadlines. They’ll lie. “By the end of the day” really might mean tomorrow midday.  And some computer people then lie and pad their information (“that will take at least 2 hours”, etc.)  This escalation of conservatism ends up taxing companies unnecessarily. It’s ok to say the truth provided everyone understands what’s involved.

It’s not YOUR fault that they gave you virtually no lead time. But if you punish them for that or rub it in their face, that’s not going to engender the good-will towards IT that we all need in order to be successful. So that “need it before the end of the day” response suddenly will go from impossible to “ok, I guess that can wait until tomorrow at 11am” – but here’s the key. You already have WORK for tomorrow that’s going to be impacted. So you follow it up with a CONSEQUENCE. “But the only way we can make that happen is if we get an ok to move our morning items to the afternoon.”

If you don’t assign a consequence, you become victimized. Is that in your job description? To have to be adversely impacted whenever there’s an unforeseen IT issue that arises?The person you’re helping generally doesn’t CARE about the consequence. They’re probably not evil, they’re just focused on their own need. So they’ll not be able to help. So if it is worth it to THEM, then they will need to help you persuade YOUR boss about rearranging things. IF YOU LET THEM LEAVE IT UP TO YOU to squeeze this in, then they are manipulating you unfairly. It’s not your job to squeeze 5 things into a container that holds 4 things. You shouldn’t have to guess, or risk guessing wrong and upsetting someone. It’s not a net gain to please one person and disappoint another.

This is why IT people impulsively say no. Because it’s easier to say no than contemplate the 4 paragraphs of implications of trying to be accommodating. But “no” doesn’t get you where you want to be with your career.

So what to say to that coworker?

You: “The only way we could do this in that timeframe is if we had the software already installed. Here are some options: we can try to rent you a computer at the destination city, or we could overnight you this computer after we finish the process, or we could start the process now and then you could pick it up from us midday tomorrow on your way to the airport. What do you think is best? Oh, and I’ll need your help in getting some of my other projects delayed to accommodate this…”


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