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The End User My Team Feared

| February 16, 2022

by David Sweetman

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is by Dr. David Sweetman, Executive Director, Infrastructure and Technology, at Michigan State University.  David is a MOR alum and consultant.  David may be reached at [email protected].]
It was my first full-time job out of college.  I worked as a systems administrator.  I enjoyed my job and adored working with my new team.  From the perspective of a recent grad, my team was nothing short of amazing.  We’re talking about super-hero status here.  So knowledgeable and confident in so many things.  How lucky of me to land this job with this team.  There was so much for me to learn from them.
One of those lessons came one day from the most unexpected place: a request through the service desk.  As with many IT teams, mine regularly got requests escalated from the service desk for especially complex issues.  We had a process where we rotated those responsibilities.  Except for this request.
After seeing the requestor’s name, my team bristled like a cat whose hair stands on end when confronted by a large dog.  Where was the cool confidence I had come to admire?  It became a veritable game of hot potato.  No one wanted that request and it was a competition to see who could shirk the furthest from it.  Reading the request, I could see the hesitation.
I could hear each angry keystroke of the dozens of words in ALL CAPS.  This user was frustrated.  Extremely.  While I thought highly of my team, it was not a sentiment this user shared.  Fury could be read in each and every keystroke. It reminded me of the great and powerful wizard from the Wizard of Oz.  Larger than life, an entity to be feared, pillars of fire shooting from either side of the email.  Even the most courageous lion would be running in fear.
At that moment, I made a decision.  I was not going to participate in the game of hot potato.  I was going to take on that service request.  Not only that, I was going to visit that user in their office.
My team thought I was crazy.  C-R-A-Z-Y.  They thought perhaps I didn’t know any better, perhaps my inexperience was showing, perhaps I wouldn’t make it back.  While the pit in my stomach was large, it was something I knew I needed to do.
The big day came.  The walk across campus seemed to take forever.  Eye of the Tiger might have been suitable background music.  All the while, in my head I was going through what-if scenario planning, trying to be ready for even worse scenarios than my team had prepared me to expect.  Finally, I arrived.  I knocked on the door.  Footsteps.  A shadow on the translucent glass of the office door.  The door slowly opens.  And…
A warm smile, a friendly handshake, and sincere gratitude I was there.  What?!??!  Was this the same person?  Was this the right office?  Yes and yes.  Much like that wizard in Oz, the curtain had just been pulled back to discover a humble and agreeable person.  Perhaps sensing the shock, an apology was made for those emails that had sounded angry.  Also, an outpouring of sharing the months and months of this user calling the service desk, getting one issue resolved, only to then have a second issue that was escalated to a different team, then a third escalated to yet a different team, only to complete the circle by the issue the first team had resolved then reappearing.  The cycle had continued for months.  Each fix from these different teams introduced a new issue. This user finally felt heard from this visit.  Hearing the whole story, and physically seeing the impacted devices, it was a relatively quick fix to stop the cycle.
I left that office with a new advocate, the user so pleased with the resolution after months of going in circles.  I also left that day with a few formative lessons that have stayed with me all these years later, and that I now connect to these three MOR Maxims:

  • Relationships are currency.  Don’t rely too much on the judgements of others, especially about other people.  Take the time to form your own viewpoints.  You might be pleasantly surprised by what you find.
  • Do the right thing.  In our perpetual work to reduce silos, never lose sight of the impact those silos have on end users, and how we can improve their experience, especially through directly talking, connecting, and understanding.
  • Make mindfulness a habit.  Stories are powerful.  Taking the time to reflect on our own stories helps us grow and has the potential to help others too.

Please make your day a leaderful one for you and your team.