I was at the doctor’s office the other day as I’d fallen foul of the Man-Flu and needed serious help. While I was in the waiting room a mother came in with her two young children, a boy about 3 or 4 years old and a little girl of about 18 months. It was pretty obvious, even to the untrained eye, that there was a significant problem of sibling rivalry growing between the two kids, with the boy especially in need of that careful balance of attention and discipline. He was climbing over furniture, pulling things from his mothers bag, and picking up his sister in unsafe ways, all in all being the kind of child you don’t want sitting behind you on a long flight!
I mentioned what I’d saw when I got home as I wasn’t impressed with the mother’s lacklustre attempts to deal with her son and I was surprised at the response I received: “Supernanny has ruined a lot of parents out there”
Supernanny, with her naughty spots and rules about never raising a hand to child, has made a lot of parents believe they’re child psychologists, so they go around trying to reason with three year olds in the same way that they’d try to talk to a thirty year old and then simply give up in frustration when they inevitably get nowhere. In reality, I don’t think Supernanny herself is actually to blame for this as I think what has happened is that parents have misinterpreted the message the TV show was trying to convey.
There are loads and loads of great parents out there. I am perhaps a little over optimistic in believing that there are more great parents then there are truly bad parents. Then there are those parents who are trying their best but, for any of a variety of reasons, are just not getting things to go their way with the kids. These are people who can get most from shows like Supernanny, but they are also those most likely to miss the point. Supernanny can give you some pointers to deal with specific types of children in specific circumstances and these pointers can work wonders but they are not universal, they cannot be applied to every situation and give excellent results every time. In order to be able to know what to do and when to do it requires specialised training, years of experience, and the ability to look at a situation with a fresh perspective. The point of the Supernanny show is not to teach how to apply a few psychological tricks to child raising, but rather that when things aren’t going well you should bring in some outside help. Supernanny is the ultimate commercial for the consulting industry!
IT Management Consulting is an awful lot like Supernanny. On the one hand you have the unruly children in the IT department, throwing their toys everywhere because their parents don’t understand them. On the other hand you have the business management, who want to achieve their goals but often find that IT can be more of a hindrance than a help. Now before anyone in IT gets annoyed with my analogy I’d like to quickly point out that on Supernanny it’s never the kids fault that things are the way they are.
The role of any IT department is to manage the Information Technology used in their organisation. If the network is up, your laptop can connect, and you can get your email then IT are taking care of the basics just fine. The problems arise when the business expects more of IT then just looking after the basics. Management may want a wide variety of things but whatever the specifics the end goal usually relates to improving profitability either by somehow increasing market share or reducing costs. The guys in IT just might not be aware of this, or are aware but in an esoteric way that doesn’t translate into day to day action beyond looking after the network.
IT is a powerful agent for change; change that can positively impact on profitability. But when things get out of control IT becomes perceived as a drain, just another hurdle to get past on the way to getting things done as opposed to a valued part of the team that adds serious value. When this type of feeling arises in an organisation it doesn’t necessarily mean that management is bad or that the IT department are just naughty children, it just means that something has gotten lost in translation from the mission statement through the business plan and on to the IT operational plan, which isn’t at all hard to believe considering the different languages at use in each step. A communications breakdown has occurred if an entire department is not moving in the same direction as the rest of the organisation and as with other types of communications failure a change in the messenger might just be what’s required to get the point across successfully.
When Supernanny goes into a home to help out she succeeds because she understands both sides. She truly feels what the parents are going through but can then get onto the same level as the children to get a message across, usually the same message the parents have been shouting for years. She reopens robust conduits for communication between parents and children and then she leaves them to get on with it. There are a lot of organisations out there with ever increasing IT requirements that could benefit from the same kind of help.
I’m not the first to recognise Supernanny’s consulting capabilities: http://preilly.wordpress.com/2009/01/28/leadership-help-from-the-supernanny/
Please note: I’m not that much of a fan of Supernanny, but I am aware of her work.