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Amy Arnold
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High Anxiety: 3 Tips For Handling IT Engineers In A Crisis

IT managers must handle their technical engineers carefully during a crisis. Here are three management tips to ensure effective troubleshooting.

Crisis situations in IT are inevitable. Anyone who’s worked in the field for any extended length of time can recall at least one wheels-off-the-bus experience, a full-blown crisis of epic proportion, complete with critical infrastructure down and panicking masses.

As an IT manager, you should know that handling your technical engineers in these situations requires a special kind of care and feeding. If you follow these IT crisis management tips, your nerds will pull off technology miracles in your name and write songs in your honor. Ignore them and not only will your nerds suffer, but likely your department’s reputation will as well.

No 1: Give Your Nerd Some Space. Yes, something is down, and yes, everyone recognizes the immediate need to know why that something is down. But as it turns out, your nerd is many things and psychic isn’t one of them. Rest assured your IT engineer wants to know as badly as you do the root cause of the issue, but diagnosing a problem correctly takes time and clarity, two things a nerd cannot get with you constantly calling him or her for updates. Worse yet, if you start asking questions about alternate workarounds and evaluating worst-case scenarios, you might just see the vein in your nerd’s forehead explode.

Distracting an engineer during the IT troubleshooting process means he or she misses details -- details that could mean the difference between a quick resolution and hours down a rabbit trail that wastes more precious time. If your nerd seems particularly quiet during a crisis, that’s not a bad thing. If as a manager you must interrupt, don’t ask silly questions like, “What’s the problem?” as if the engineer figured out the answer and is simply sitting on it to see you squirm a little longer. Ask something useful, such as “What have you ruled out?” or “What are the next steps in the process?”

No. 2: Be Your Nerd’s Bodyguard. During a crisis, your nerd’s phone is likely ringing off the hook, email is flooding in, and people are gathering around in hoards to watch the show. As IT manager, it's your job to run interference for your engineer and protect your nerd from all of these elements. When the CEO comes down from his or her office on the top floor rabidly shooting accusations and demands for answers, you may even need to take a bullet for your nerd.

[Read about the top vendor bad habits that can send engineers over the edge in "3 Ways Vendors Aggravate Network Engineers."]

Will you have all the answers to keep your higher level executives happy? Probably not. But if your engineer feels the heat of the CEO literally breathing down his or her neck, you won’t be getting those answers any faster.

No 3: Throw Your Nerd A Lifeline. As engineers, our job is to fix stuff. Somewhere deep down, we believe nothing is so broken that we cannot fix it. Sometimes it’s your job to call “time of death” and start moving your engineer in a new direction. It’s not in your nerd’s nature to surrender to a technology, so after a reasonable amount of time, you as a manager need to step in and take the lead.

The best way to offset the resistance you are likely to encounter from your engineer is to allow him or her to vent over the current state of things, acknowledge all of your nerd's efforts so far, and then direct the engineer to solving the problem of creating a new action plan. Remember, your engineer is a problem solver above all things -- use this desire to your advantage.

Following these IT management crisis rules, you will find your nerds will reward you with quality troubleshooting and faster resolution times. Your team will shine in a time of crisis and other departments will notice.

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Drew Conry-Murray
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Drew Conry-Murray,
User Rank: Strategist
2/5/2014 | 3:10:30 PM
re: High Anxiety: 3 Tips For Handling IT Engineers In A Crisis
These are great tips, particularly the one about taking a bullet for your nerd.
MarciaNWC
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MarciaNWC,
User Rank: Strategist
2/3/2014 | 7:39:41 PM
re: High Anxiety: 3 Tips For Handling IT Engineers In A Crisis
I can imagine how nerve-wracking -- and unproductive -- it would be for an engineer to get badgered for answers while he or she is trying to figure things out. This is must-read advice for IT managers. Do readers have any other tips?
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