'Equal' does not equal 'The Same' - Why some people deserve to go to the front of the IT help line.

Children can have a heightened awareness of fairness.

Image: 123RF.com
For example, when my older kids were much younger and I would pour them each a glass of juice, they would immediately smash their glasses together - not to celebrate a toast, but rather to check to see if the other one got more juice in their cup.

Nobody taught them this. It came quite naturally.

'Fairness is more important than anything' was the rule of the day.

Most people grow out of this.

Those that don't end up in various roles, but I have noticed that many of them end up in IT support.

In academics, our busiest time is the start of the school year. There are long lineups of people at the helpdesk with problems, with questions, and in need of support.

If the procedure for setting up the queue was established by rule of fairness, then the result was one long lineup... people had to wait their turn regardless of their problem.

Treating people equally is important? Right?

It depends how you define 'equal'.

I am not talking about 'equal' as in Animal Farm, where "all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others".

I'm suggesting that 'fair" is not the same as 'equal'.  Treating people fairly doesn't mean treating them the same.

I treated my three kids equally when they were growing up, but there was also a number of other variables such as their age, their maturity which determined what they were allowed to do.

Their privileges, the expectations of what they could do and contribute was determinant on the stage of development they were at.  We would never let a toddler play with a power tool, or the teenager play and sleep all day without doing any chores.  They were treated equal, but different.

Treating people 'equally' always involves factoring in the context.

Let's get back to our IT helpdesk lineup.

If we understand this concept when raising our kids, why do so many organizations have problems when it comes to customer service?

Treating everyone the same was not efficient and in many cases created p*ssed off customers.  Someone with a minor question had to wait behind the person who needed extensive work done on their computer.

But that was OK with the folks at the IT helpdesk, because it was fair.

When I arrived at my previous position this was exactly the situation I found.

I suggested splitting the queue three ways.  One for IT support, one for questions, and a separate line for faculty.

I received positive feedback from my team about segmenting the question askers, and the team even came up with a concept of having a roaming person who walked along the queue and redirected the question askers to a special desk set up to support them.

Where I got the resistance was in separating faculty from the students.

"It's not fair!" "Everybody has to be treated the same!"  Karl Marx would have been proud at their fight for egalitarianism.

My counter?  I explained that if you had one student in line, you had one student being affected by the computer not working.  If you had a faculty member who couldn't teach their class because of computer problems, you impacted thirty students.  In the name of 'fairness', you were actually impacting more people.

It wasn't about the faculty being 'better' than students, it was about impact.

We implemented the separate faculty line.  The goodwill it brought from the faculty was enormous.  The sky didn't fall, and most of the students were fine with the explanation.

In your organization, how many people are impacted if the CEO cannot access their information?  Would you make her wait in line?

So, if you find yourself planning your support and service offerings from an 'egalitarian' perspective, be careful that you do not fall into the trap of thinking that treating people 'equally' means treating them the 'same'.

This will go a long way in breaking the 'gatekeeper' 'unHelpdesk' image that so many IT departments have.


Post a Comment