Our IT department is very technically saavy but they also come across to other staff and department heads as rude and uncooperative. Our organization is well know for our tech saavy put their PR is awful.

Now it appears that departments are penalized when they complain to me and I relate complaints onto the IT director. IT takes my involvement as sidestepping them.

IT is doing good work but they are starting to run the show. At the same time their knowledge is critical to our organizations continuation.

Could you share some advice?


Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

This may be one of the classic management questions of the modern IT era. I've spent a great deal of my time dealing with it - and in fact, my first engagement with Mike had overtones of this.

(And, I'm sure Mike will chime in with his perspective, both from his experience as a senior exec and as an IT exec.

Before I answer, I want to remind everyone that I am a nice person, and everything I recommend can be done in a courteous, professional and caring way.

Nevertheless, this is an UNACCEPTABLE situation, and if gentle suggestions, coaching, and/or feedback over a period of time (3 - 6 months?) do not work, I would not rule out firing the manager for failing to meet his core responsibilities, and for overseeing unethical behavior by his staff.

To those who would say, "Gosh, that sounds harsh," I would say, well, not really. If you're not willing to consider firing people for certain situations, you have NO BUSINESS being a manager. As I've said elsewhere, I consider firing a failure. It is, of both the manager and the person terminated. But that doesn't mean it's not the right thing to do.

[In this situation, some failures have already occurred, both in IT's delivery of service to its internal customers, and in the manager's failure to correct significantly aberrant behavior.]

Okay, perspective over... what would I do?

Your IT department is engaged in unprofessional and it appears unethical behavior. Your IT manager is responsible for the department, so he's on the hook for this. It's time for you to give him some absolutely crystal clear feedback that failure to correct both the customer service behaviors of his team AND the "punishment" behaviors.

I would ask him if I could give him feedback, and then do so. "When your team says X, makes face y, dismisses complaints, makes derogatory comments in front of other employees, here's what happens. the managers come to me. I feel you're not supervising effectively. What can you do about this?"

Also: "When your team does x (list behaviors that appear to be punishment), here's what happens: managers come to me. I begin to look into who did what, and start thinking about punishing them and you. What can you do differently?"

Further: "I am ready to help you. I will make suggestions of things you can do, I'll support any training your guys need in customer service. I'm motivated to have you fix this, because there's so much of what you guys do that's great. But one way or the other, we're going to get this fixed."

If this manager were to ask something that might be translated as, "Am I in trouble?" the answer I would give is, "no, but if this doesn't change within 30 days, my answer will be yes. This is serious enough that I hold you personally responsible for every instance, and if it doesn't change quickly there will be consequences."

There are those in your org, and some on these boards, who will say that you should "investigate," because you can't necessarily believe what folks are telling you. Well, I think that's wrong. I believe your posting means that you've already decided that these comments have merit.

It's POSSIBLE that this data isn't accurate. But let's consider the downside of either approach.

In my experience, if you start to investigate, you're going to get either side of the disagreement digging in, and not telling you the whole truth. There are some that will say that an investigation is enough to stop the behavior. I've found that's true for about 90 days, and then the lack of sanctions (due to the investigation) will embolden those offenders to start up again. Those who behave this way KNOW it's wrong, and they will only change when given adjusting feedback with clear consequences.

What's more, I've seen this SOOOO many times. The data you're getting is surely accurate, I'd bet. So what's the downside of you giving direct feedback?

Well, what everyone tries to say to me is that you might lose some IT people. Maybe even your IT manager.

Yes, you might. And it might take a while to get someone to replace him... but you WILL be able to. You may have to pay some consulting fees in the short term to fix problems.

But I've found these fears to be largely unrealized in virtually ALL situations. People DON'T leave.

And really, if your IT manager won't respond, are we really prepared to be held hostage by him and his professionally arrogant thugs?

I wouldn't. And if you worked for me, and he worked for you, I'd expect weekly updates from you on how your efforts with him were going until we were back to reasonable behaviors and effectiveness.

Hope this helps!


PS: If he asks for ideas, and you don't have any, post again, and we'll go through next steps. Before you do, though, listen to the coaching podcasts. That's what you'll be doing. - H

Mankney's picture


I am currently in the private industry as a Network Engineer for the first time after 20 years in the consulting business, many of those managing.

I will tell you that what you describe is the norm and not the exception.

My current manager used to work with me in a consulting job and that was all about customer service. If we were not helpful and polite while solving the client issues everyday, we would have been out a job.

Now that we are both in the private industry we are working hard to instill that same customer service attitude in the IT department.

The IT field has changed. Departments with the attitude you described cannot be tolerated. IT is there for one support the people who make the widgets or the billable hours. These "Productive" people are not interrupting the job of the IT staff, it is the job of the Staff to handle these interruptions.

IT cannot be an island by themselves in the business. The IT leader must be an active participant in the business and working with every level of employees to ensure the most productivity user experience.

Also remember that IT people are typically the C's in the DISC profile. Get the chart of the Manager-Tools website to see how to deal with them.

It may entail getting rid of the current IT leader or troublemakers and it is definate worth it as a last resort.

The place to start is with the IT director, teach them about Customer Service and it will flow down.

Also, people like to think IT people are indispensible, especially them. Let me tell you that there are thousands of people out their with the same skills would could do the job.

I have seen many times where people are reluctant to let IT people go because they are "indispensible". The situation will get worse, you will eventually let the person go anyways and you will find a replacement for them. I have never seen a business fail because of the switchover. In the businesses I remember, they company is much better off.

Just my opinion on the subject

PierG's picture

I'm an IT manager in a 'fast moving' organization.

We are a service: I'm sure you've never made a phone call to the telephone operator saying: 'THANK YOU!!! I've just called my wife and everything was OK!! Brillant sound, no delay! Good job!!!'

You call them for 2 reasons: problems or money

Unfortunately this is life for service providers as we are.

So we have to:


. Transform hard, techincal stuff into easy commodities

. Take care: our customers want FIRST someone who take cares of their problems. So again: COMMUNICATE!

. Taking care and communicating, we gain TRUST!


KS180's picture

I have worked in IT for 20 years and to be honest my employees have seldom acted with disrespect to our customers. It is very clear that the customer is right. If you need to vent then come in my office and tell me how stupid they are but DO NOT let it show on your face to the customer.

I have this talk only once and everything is fine for over a year. I'm not an ogre but I am serious when I talk about Customer Service.

It goes back to my retail days when I turned over the furniture department at K-mart 7 times in one year when the norm is once. I listen to the customer and give them what they want. It works out well.

Good luck!
Kevin Sweeney

huntbk's picture

Having spent lots of years as a contractor before landing in my current position, I can say that I agree with Mark.

If the guy won't take the feedback, fire him.

Managers who are not customer-service oriented and act vendictively definitely teach their teams the same bad habits.

I'd fire an employee who exhibited those qualities, so I'd defintely fire a manager who was making employees exhibit those qualities.

douglase's picture

I would be interested in hearing how this has progressed.

To me this problem stems from a poor relationship with the business. If you don't have SLA's with the IT department, get them. You should be having regular meetings with a representitive from the IT department designed specifically around raising issues, and on working with them so that they better understand your business and its needs.

If you phrase in the form of we are looking to have open and continuous dialogue to improve our understanding of your business, and for you to gain better understanding of what impacts us, most IT people are really open to that.


stephenbooth_uk's picture

I'd be interested to hear how things went as well.

I've worked in IT pretty much all of my career. Whilst I've seen the [b]very rare[/b] instance of rude/arrogant IT person, I've found it to be a lot less common than the stereotypes suggest. Actually most IT people, in my experience, tend towards the opposite and are more insecure. That said it's very difficult to remain polite when you're faced with a user who has called for the 5th time this week asking why the server is down when the actual problem is that one of their colleagues unplugged their PC to plug in a mobile phone charger (despite there being plenty of empty sockets around) or their monitor is turned off (a real life example).

I see the solution as three pronged:

1) Talk to the IT manager and give them the shape up or ship out talk as recommended by Mark. Then see if they shape up and if they don't ship them out (listen to the podcast on late stage coaching).
2) Set up customer service training for your IT people. I found it invaluable when I worked in support and have been frequently complimented on my ability to deal with users who are...challenging as a result (indeed colleagues would often pass me the more difficult users). If possible you might want to look at staffing levels and facilities (probably not easy in this credit crunch/recession) so that if an IT person has had a particularly difficult/stressful call they can take a quick few minutes break to collect themselves.
3) Investigate. I don't mean whether the complaints are fair and accurate (although if that is a concern the answers will fall out in the process) or that you should do it, the IT manager (or their replacement) should do it. Is it always the same users who are complaining but everyone else seems happy? Is it particular IT staff who are being complained about but the rest don't get many complaints (everyone will probably have complaints made about them from time to time, many users will complain about the IT tech when in fact the problem is elsewhere and/or down to unrealistic expectations)? What are the complaints about? 'Rude' and 'uncooperative' are judgements, what are the actual behaviours? Once you've got that information you can target your solution a lot better. Maybe you need to concentrate training on a small group of staff, those who get the most complaints, first then roll it out to the rest? Maybe different staff need different types of training? Maybe some users need to have their expectations managed better? I can think of one user, in particular, who took any loss of service as a personal affront, even when it was a planned out of hours outage that she herself had signed off on. Maybe some staff need to have the shape up or ship out talk?