It is a simple truth that people in high-tech careers often spend entirely
too much time staring at their computer screens, when, in fact, they
should be dealing with the people using computers. It is all too easy
to lose yourself in the minutiae of programming, debugging the Excel
spreadsheet or tweaking that PowerPoint presentation. If you really
want to make a difference in your company and your career, you need
to take the Grand Tour on a regular basis.
Get up, get out, get on with it
If you aren’t spending a few hours each week checking up on your
clients (or users or customers) then you are in danger of forgetting
the reason behind your job. No matter what you do in high-tech, in
some way you are supporting the productivity of other people. They
rely on you to keep their systems operating so that they can do their
job. Too often, though, you can become so enmeshed in your own worries,
that you forget the true purpose of your job.
If you think you are falling victim to this lack of perspective, take
some time — right after reading this column, if possible — and
go talk to some of those people you support. In some cases, you might
actually be supporting end users and their computer systems. In others,
you might be facilitating program development or accounting for a host
of other high-tech systems.
Ask them how they are doing. Ask them how their computers are working.
Ask them anything. More than likely, the conversation will come around
to some issues they are having with their systems. You can also ask
direct questions about newly installed equipment or systems just
to confirm that everything is working. More importantly, listen.
open and attentive in your listening. Listen for the half-truths
and little white lies that people sometimes tell to avoid the hard
This is not the time to be defensive, though. If someone criticizes
one of your systems, listen to their complaints and ask questions
to make sure you understand their problem exactly. No matter what
problem, it is always better to hear about it before it gets escalated
to your supervisor, manager or VP.
Write down comments and complaints. This shows you are paying attention
to their problem and are taking some action. Let the user know that
you will get back to them with an update by the next day. You don’t
have to promise that the problem will be fixed, only that it has been
heard and someone has given it some attention.
Once you have talked to the first person, repeat as necessary. Talk
to everyone, line workers, junior and senior management and executives.
Only in this way will you get a true overview of how you are doing.
Relying too heavily on any one sector can give you a false reading
on your progress. Executives might love a system because it gives
them the statistics they need, but end-users may feel that the
using the system is falling entirely on their shoulders. Everyone
should get a say.
The Virtual Tour
I understand that, in some cases, you may not be able to talk to
your users directly. Perhaps they are located in a different building
in a completely different city. Maybe you staff a telephone customer
service center. Even so, you can still take a virtual tour of your
office. Make a point of reviewing call logs, trouble tickets, problem
reports or whatever other correspondence you have with your users.
Oftentimes, this will point up a problem or a trend that needs some
Call your customers directly, much as you would drop by their office
if it were nearby. Let them know you are interested in hearing what
they have to say. Send out regular emails asking for comments and
complaints or offering new tips for certain programs. I know that
whenever I send
out my monthly newsletter to my clients it always triggers 2-3 calls
or emails. These users had an issue, but needed a reminder to contact
Sometimes listening to your users can be difficult, especially if you
are in the midst of a major project. That said it is also one of the
most important things you can do. Taking the Grand Tour gives you an
opportunity to head problems “off at the pass” while also
developing ideas for new projects and solutions. Don’t shortchange
yourself or your customers. Get out of your office and let them know
you are listening.
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