Changing Metrics When Hiring IT Pros
When evaluating current or possibly new staff members, look to see who utilize automation for repetitive time sinks.
Most organizations these days have some kind of annual or semiannual review process, in which employees are asked silly questions such as, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" and measured against various "goals and commitments" to see if they're performing well. Similarly, most organizations hiring new IT staff tend to have some minimum requirements, often requiring résumés to "pass" these hurdles in order to clear the HR department and get in front of an actual hiring manager.
Consider asking your organization to modify both of those things a bit. What I'm proposing should actually go down quite well with HR. I'm suggesting you simply add, or change, a single item on those existing annual-review and pre-hire checklists. My change is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely, making them"S.M.A.R.T," something HR folks love. This suggestion is also massively beneficial to IT. It doesn't solve every problem that IT deals with in a modern organization, but they deal with a couple of the bigger problems.
Here it is: Ask employees to look for repetitive, time-consuming, manually performed tasks that can be automated. Set a goal of eliminating x manual man-hours of work each period. For new hires, look for résumés that detail how many man-hours of manual labor the candidate helped automate at previous jobs (and advertise that as a criterion, because folks are used to lining up the four-letter certification acronyms, and need to be told you're looking at this). We ask that employees identify and automate IT operational tasks, with a target of saving at least 50 man-hours of manual effort per year.
I have additional suggestions derived from this one, but this one's the alpha-fix, because it pushes a number of important behaviors. The organization is going to have to invest some time in its employees, educating them about specific automation technologies. In a Microsoft world, that might be things like Windows PowerShell, System Center Orchestrator and so on.
Failing to educate means your employees won't meet their goals, and they'll be able to identify lack of education as the root cause. But for perhaps the first time, the organization will be able to measure the return on that education investment. This metric also helps drive important business specifications for internally developed software. Knowing that automation is a measured goal means developers can be notified early on in the software design process, and can include automation-friendly interfaces in their software. This one simple metric can, if properly managed (of course), put the entire organization on notice that automation is highly desired.
Next, set an internal management goal to have some specific number of individuals do nothing but create units of automation. They'll be 33 percent developer, 33 percent analyst and 33 percent administrator. IT operations then become more project-based and less of a firefighting exercise, keeping IT more responsive and agile.
IT tool acquisitions are also impacted by this change of thinking. When automation is a goal for every IT staffer, you can't afford to buy tools that don't support automation. "Ok, so your solution can let us apply AD permissions more rapidly than using the native tools. Does it let us build that into our own scripts, so that we don't even have to use your GUI if we don't want to?" When the entire organization focuses on how it can automate something to take it out of IT's hands as much as possible, while still running the actual process, you'll make decisions that natively reduce workload while still getting the job done.
With automation as an organizational goal, you could technically downsize your IT team. In reality, most IT teams are massively overwhelmed already, so you'll actually be downsizing the workload to meet your team's capabilities.
Yes, it's a big change in thinking and in management. Yes, it'll take some time to socialize through the upper levels of management, and to implement in the front lines. But it's a worthy philosophy. It isn't something you can just start "doing" immediately, but it's something you can start bringing into every IT conversation going forward, to get everyone thinking about the upsides of not doing everything manually.
Don Jones is a multiple-year recipient of Microsoft’s MVP Award, and is an Author Evangelist for video training company Pluralsight. He’s the President of PowerShell.org, and specializes in the Microsoft business technology platform. Follow Don on Twitter at @ConcentratedDon.