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Field Of Rakes October 9, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Leadership.
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In the surreal sitcom My Name Is Earl, Earl (our hero) is at one point confronted with a series of challenges that he must complete to rescue Catalina, his brother’s true love. One of the more painful trials is that he must run through the Field of Rakes, blindfolded.  The rakes are positioned tines up, so that each mis-step results in Earl getting smacked in the face with a rake.  Earl’s painful sprint will seem eerily familiar to anyone who has spent any time in IT.

It is easy, in IT, to build your own Field of Rakes.  Each time we disappoint a user we add a rake to the field.  Even the simplest of problems can turn into a rake that will pop up to smack us in the face when we least expect it.

We work hard to do the big things right: system upgrades, new technology deployments, and major projects get lots of attention so that they don’t go awry.  That makes sense; big projects involve a lot of rakes, and the last thing you want to do is add several hundred rakes to the field in one fell swoop.

Unfortunately, we often get the big projects right but fail on the little things.  Individually, the little things don’t present much risk. After all, it would be pretty easy to run across a field with a single rake.  But all those little things, taken over time, can fill a field with lots of rakes.

What can add a rake to your field? Anything and everything.  Denying a request for special software.  Failing to follow up on a support call.  Getting stuck between two competing users, so that you’re guaranteed to get a rake from one of them.  Missing requirements from a user.  Mismanaged expectations on a contract negotiation.  Ignoring what people really need and acting like you know best. I could go on and on, and every seasoned IT pro could add to this list.

How do you avoid adding rakes?  Easy: listen, care, and communicate.  Continuously. Every rake is the result of our inability to communicate and relate to someone.  As service providers, it is inevitable that we will disappoint people.  How we handle that moment and compensate for the problem determines whether we get a rake.  People know we cannot be perfect, but will only be gracious about it if we sincerely and diligently work to meet their needs.

Even with our best efforts we’ll still get a few rakes, and our run across the field may be a bit painful at times.  But diligent attention to people is the real key to IT success.  My Name Is Earl was a series about karma, good and bad.  All those rakes represent your karma, collected over your career. Focus each day to look for the rakes and remove them from your field.  May we all run through empty fields!

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