End users are not helpless babies

IT departments, particularly infrastructure teams, are often thought of as being anti-user. We get the reputation of being grumpy cave trolls, unsympathetic to the wants and needs of those all those dumb, unreasonable end users. It’s all tech for the sake of tech.

Sometimes that characterization is earned and fair, sometimes not. Either way, it’s a problem of attitude and perception.

At the other end of the spectrum are people who consider themselves defenders of end users, protectors against undue change and hardship. It’s not very often that it’s classified as such, but this attitude can be just as toxic and damaging as any overtly anti-user sentiment.

End users don’t need you

If you think end users need you, either as the provider of some critical service or as someone who will protect them from change, you sir/madam, are arrogant at best, if not also an idiot.

Unless the core of the business is technology, most businesses would figure out how to keep functioning if everyone in their IT department got hit by a bus. It might be painful and frustrating, but they’d make it through. Believe it or not, there were businesses before there was IT.

If you believe your end users need you to protect them from the IT trolls who’ve been looking down their noses at them, consider this: there is no surer sign of disrespect for a person than to assume that they need your protection.

At best, end users enjoy the benefits and efficiency of the services we provide them. Our job is to help and lead innovation where we can, not to lord-over or to be a conservitor.

Get out of their way

When it comes to creating road blocks for users, the usual problems are those that can be fixed by discussion –  having an un-realistic security policy is a good example.

Making a cultural shift from traditional IT to things like XaaS and BYOD is a little harder. Becoming comfortable with user-led IT and innovation is something that many IT people can’t achieve.

“Why would you want to use Dropbox when we’ve built this super awesome Windows file share for you?”

One of the hardest problems to fix, though, is a hardline conservatism against change that evidences itself by people saying things like:

“We can’t do that, our users will never figure it out.”

When that attitude pervades throughout an IT organization or business, it prevents users from getting access to new tools that might help them do their job and puts the business at a competitive disadvantage.

Yes, change control is needed and yes, we should not change things for the sake of changing them. But to not embrace change and enable end users to use new and different tools will leave everyone coughing in the dust.

Your users will figure it out, because they are intelligent adults. Have some respect for them and trust them. If you’ve provided them with good tools (which are inherently coherent and usable), they’ll get there.

Exposing end users to change isn’t an unsympathetic act (at least it doesn’t have to be). Speaking for myself, when I give a user something new it’s out of an intense sense of empathy – I know they don’t need me to help them, but I also know they don’t need me to stand in their way.

I’m also thinking about a longer game, one where not everyone works for the same company their entire life. I’ve seen family members and friends who were inhibited by their employer’s IT end up having a lot of trouble either finding a new job or coping with a more modern IT ecosystem at a new company.

As much as dismissing user complaints offhand isn’t helpful, sheltering users from change is not helping them either. If we really care about the people we’ve been tasked to help, the right solution is somewhere in the middle – throttled change supported by good testing, training, and in many cases, just trusting that users will figure it out.

Image Credit: Harald Groven