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Swimming with Sharks in the IT Fish Tank

By - Source: Toms IT Pro

Fish tanks one of the better analogies for corporate IT management.

Corporate IT Environment As Shark Infested Fish TankCorporate IT Environment As Shark Infested Fish Tank

Fish tanks one of the better analogies for corporate IT management.

When you buy a tank and populate it with fish, you have a living ecosystem.  You have big fish, small fish, top feeders and bottom feeders swimming around in life-sustaining liquid doing what they do best, survive. 

The hustle and bustle of a typical IT environment is quite similar to a fish tank. Technology changes as easily as the landscape in the aquarium.  That hiding place you use to have is now a plant; too many top feeders are grabbing up most of the fish food before you can get to it; decreased water levels affect mobility and encourage getting too close to the enemy … and so on.

A careful owner will keep an eye on the tank to make sure there aren’t any problems or disturbances.  They’ll make sure their $35 Black Ghost fish isn’t getting chased around by the $10 Bala Shark, an aggressive and territorial species that will harm or even kill other fish in the tank.  If they really prize their fish’s well-being, tank owners will find a way to separate the fish so that there can be some peace and harmony in the aquarium.

On the flip side, some fish tank owners will buy a bunch of fish, feed them and then just let nature take its course.  They ignore the tank’s occupants and let the fish play their own game of survival until one or few that can live together remain.  If “management” ignores what’s going in the aquarium, that one Bala Shark would have carte blanche to kill and eat every fish it deems enemy or food. 

Jump to Corporate IT

By turning the other cheek, some managers ignore what’s going on in their departments.  Maybe they figure laying out some rules would keep everyone in check and they don’t have to be that people person that managers should be.  As long as the employees follow the guidelines, everything should be fine, right?  Unfortunately, new rules are usually responses to one or two employees’ actions and are applied to the rest of the group out of “fairness.”

But here’s what happens, these IT managers create a corporate Wild Wild Tank.  The “sharks” in the group start attacking.  By ignoring and not doing anything about it, managers enable those with aggressive personalities to dominate and control the environment.  If one of the other team members goes to the manager and complains, the manager does nothing as it appears that (a) things will fix themselves or (b) the problem will go away. 

They accept the situation and, as such, create a hostile environment for their employees. 

Add in rules about clock-ins, appearances and vacation schedules, and you get frustrated, unhappy employees who are now stuck in a workplace that encourages a fast-food joint fish-filet mentality.  At this point, free thinking is gone as policies take over and kill overall morale.  Even in such an environment, IT techs may not leave because of the job market, personal obligations or nostalgia, however. 

Back to my analogy: As fish continue to disappear, you end up going out buying more fish to make the tank look good.  Nobody wants an empty tank so you continue on with the cycle and by ignoring what’s going on, you tell yourself that the fish are expendable and that you can easily just go to the store to buy more and more future victims. 

This illusion of having a full tank will eventually backfire.

Are Employees Really That Replaceable?

Say your senior Linux admin has given his two week notice.  Was he worth the paycheck you gave him?  Did he contribute enough to the environment that would make you reconsider listening to his recommendations or wants? 

By letting them leave, you don’t just lose their skill set, you lose the years of experience that person has working in your company.  They may know the ins-and-outs of getting around the company that a younger team member may not have, or have a reputation for working well with other departments. 

Plus, you affect morale. 

You could change the positive dynamics and synergy that may have been there before, and will now need to be rebuilt when the new guy shows up.  What goes on in your head when you see someone walk out the door?  What do IT peers think? 

As the economy improves and more IT jobs keep popping up, other fish tanks will look much more appealing so why impact your business by turning the blind eye?  Yes, you can keep refilling that tank and make it look pretty, but how many fish did you kill or in IT terms, how many employees did you actually lose?

Julio UrquidiJulio UrquidiJulio Urquidi is the Technical Editor at Tom's IT Pro. Previously, he spent 17 years in healthcare-related enterprise IT. Julio’s most recent responsibilities centered around virtualization, but he is also well-versed in Linux, Windows and systems administration. Specializing in articles that help small companies with limited budgets leverage technology, he has been a contributing editor to Tom's Hardware.

See here for all of Julio's Tom's IT Pro articles.

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