Strategies to keep your  IT team stress free

It’s been a tumultuous year, and IT professionals have not been excluded from the heart-stopping excitement. What has surprised me immensely in the past month, however, is a sudden shift to pessimism.

People’s concerns about the companies they work for are melding with worries about retirement benefits and mortgages, all amplified by the sense that the world is falling apart. “We’re all freaking doomed!” has become the cry of the day.

How much of this worry is justified?

First things first. A lot of companies are in trouble. They’ve been having funding difficulties, and a second wave of budget cuts is starting to build.

More major names than you might suspect have been on the brink of not making payroll as commercial credit has dried up. Contractors are being laid off as projects are shelved, and permanent staffers are worried that they’ll be next.

For some, that’s true — and finding a new job won’t be as easy as it might have been a year ago.

But a fair number of companies aren’t in trouble. That old saying about a rising tide lifting all boats seems to have an asymmetrical corollary: An ebbing tide drops each boat individually.

If you work for a company whose markets and operating cash requirements are sound, your job is probably safe. One less worry.

Second, if you’re an IT manager, pay attention to what’s happening with your employees. They’re probably stressed out about the same things you are: credit card balances, investment performance, mortgage payments and real estate values.

One way to handle stress is to begin sorting out your work ahead of cutbacks. Pull back from the 20 or more projects that your area has been working on and focus on just a few, the ones that will result in cost savings or potential revenue. That’s a good way to hold onto funding.

And when you take ideas to senior management, present multiple approaches for getting them done. That will give them choices — and make it more likely that one of those ideas will be funded.

Turbulent times are ideal for cleanup activity. With pressure to cut costs, you can justify scaling back services to levels that are sustainable but less expensive. Remember, projecting the consequences of various courses of action is key to attracting money and work.

Third, it’s a good time to think about the value that your suppliers bring to the table. Vendors are going to be hungry for new business, so you can expect to see one deal of the century after another as they get more desperate.

Just make sure that anything you buy will deliver results for the company. Don’t buy anything just because of a price reduction.

It’s important to show discipline right now about what can be deferred vs. what must be undertaken. Take a stand against Microsoft forcing a companywide upgrade to Vista.

Be tough with any outsourcers that want price adjustments. Say no to a vendor with prices that sound too good to be true. Demonstrating an ability to do these things will help you when you have to make your case for the things you do need for the business.

Is it a high-stress time? Absolutely. But you can reduce the stress for all around you, including your corporate leaders, if you can show that you get their world. And you may just get what you need in the process.

Bruce A. Stewart is CEO of Vancouver, British Columbia-based Accendor Research Inc., an advisory services firm focused on management issues in the technology-enabled enterprise. He can be reached at bruce.stewart@accendor.com.

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