Managing People: Introducing the worst IT Managers ever

In this column, I’ll tell you about the worst IT managers I’ve ever worked for, with,  or alongside.  After you read about this story of unbridled arrogance, I dare you to tell me a story about another IT manager who is worse.

Worst IT Manager #1: a heinous crime against a friend of mine

I was consulting in a big IT shop in the healthcare industry and one of my friends, a full-time employee, started looking for a new job. She found the job she thought was the perfect next step for her career. She applied for the job and accepted an offer. The story should have ended, “She gave her notice and went on to great things at the new company.”  But no.

The problem was that her new employer-in-waiting was an IT vendor for her current employer. Mind you, she was not recruited by the vendor. She saw a job advertised and applied for it. She got the job on her own merits. But then someone from employer-in-waiting called my friend’s manager as a courtesy to say, “Hey by the way, we hope you know we didn’t go after [name withheld].”

Her boss didn’t let the guy finish his sentence. He started cussing and moaning about how dare they try to steal HIS employees out from under his nose, and don’t they know they have a clause in their contract that says they won’t recruit our employees and, bam! This pathetic excuse for a human being used his position as Managing Director of Operations and Telecommunications and How to Loosen a Jar from the Nose of a Bear to intimidate the vendor. Plainly put, he threatened to take away their business if they hired my friend away.

Pop goes the job offer

Just like that, the vendor caved and called my friend and said, “We regret to report that we’re weak and spineless and we’ve caved in to your current manager’s request that we withdraw the job offer we made you.  So so’, but you know.” They said if she quit her current position, they could offer her a position in six months, if one is available at that time.

Does that just suck? So I award the dishonor of #1 Worst IT Manager Ever to the guy who played “god” with my friend’s life as well as her professional career. He picked up the phone and screamed at the vendor instead of, of I don’t know, calling my friend into his office and asking her why she wanted to leave? Maybe mentoring her in her career instead of sabotaging it?

I award the dishonor of #2 Worst It Manager Ever to the guy who caved in. I don’t care what’s in the written agreement between the parties, he should have held his ground and said, “Now wait a minute…” and worked something out and, oh I don’t know, stood up for my friend’s right to freedom to work wherever she wants to work.

Regarding the contracts: change your policy

Some of you will say “Come on, Jeff, if there’s a clause in the contract about not recruiting each other’s employees, then #1 Worst IT Manager had every right to be mad.”  In my opinion, anything in a contract that limits someone’s ability to pursue a better opportunity should be ignored. Common sense and common decency should trump antiquated contract terms.

We’re not talking about situations where the Chief Scientist or Chief Engineer is jumping ship to the current employer’s competitor and, in doing so, will harm the current employer. We’re talking about people who administer systems, for crying out loud.

Use the Gold Series Toolkit to improve yourself

If you might be one of the “bad managers” I’m ranting about, here’s what you should do instead of playing God with other people’s lives and careers: Use the Practical IT Manager Gold Series to improve your own performance. This toolkit, written by Mike Sisco, contains dozens of useful tools and templates designed to make your life easier.

If you’re wondering what makes the Gold Series so special, here’s a free sample from the toolkit to whet your whistle: The New Employee Offer Letter Template. 

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I’d like to bring your attention to the next-to-last sentence in the welcome letter:

{Employee first name}, we are excited about you joining our company and believe that you will make an excellent addition to our team.

Notice that you’re asking your new hire to be an “excellent addition to [y]our team.” You’re not asking the new hire to sign on unconditionally for the rest of his or her life.

What’s your wost IT manager story?

To comment on this column or to nominate your own Worst IT Managers ever, please post a comment below or send me a note at [email protected]

Choosing report criteria from a dropdown list in Microsoft Access

In this edition of Jeff’s Quick Tips, I’ll show you how to create a form in Microsoft Access that lets an end user choose a value from a dropdown list and how to use the value selected as the criteria for a report. The best part about this approach is that it doesn’t require any programming skills.

Why this tip is too cool for school

When you run most Access reports, they’re  designed to include “all records” by default. Users  come along and say, “I want to run the report with only some of the records.” The fast, easy, low-tech way to prompt the user to enter a value to filter the records is to type a prompt string (enclosed in square brackets) in the Criteria row of your query. When you run the query, Access will display a rudimentary dialog box like the one shown below.

000EntersomethingThat solution isn’t bad, but there’s one big shortcoming: Your user has to know what value to type! Your user has to spell the value exactly as it’s stored in the underlying data. A misspelled word will result in a query with no data and a report that has no records. Instead of depending on the end user to type the correct value, you can make sure that the query always has a “good” value by making the user choose from a dropdown list.

Quick Summary

If you’re an experienced Access user, you can use these step-by-step instructions to create the dropdown that lets your users select the criteria for their reports. Less  experienced Access uses can follow along using the detailed instructions and screen shots in the Detailed Instructions below.

1. Create a form to use as the Reports Menu and put a button on it labeled with your report name.

2. Create a second form that contains a combo box that displays the possible values for your report criteria.

3. Put a button on the second form that launches the report itself.

4. Give the combo box a unique name. By unique, I mean a name that isn’t the same as any other c0ntrol in the database.

5. In the criteria for the query that populates your report, enter the expression [Forms]![form name]![combo box name]. The keyword [Forms] tells Access “Look on [form name] and fetch the value named [combo box name].

Detailed Instructions

Here are a few screen shots to illustrate how this technique works. Let’s start with a form named Demo Reports from which your users can launch their reports. In this sample, we’ve put a button on form labeled with the name of our report, “Business Unit Demo.”  (Click on the screen shot to see a bigger version.)



When your user clicks the Business Unit Demo button, it opens a new form like this one, which displays a blank field with a dropdown arrow that will let the user select the Business Unit to be used as the criteria for the report.



In this example, our universe of possible values is Collections, Human Resources, and Marketing.



Here’s what the header of our final report looks like after we selected Human Resources from the dropdown list and clicked the “Run Business Unit Demo Report” button. We put the [Business Unit] field in the report header and in the page header so that it’s obvious to every casual observer that this Business Unit Demo report has been filtered for the Human Resources business unit.



Behind the scenes: The combo box

Here’s what the property sheet for our combo box looks like. Notice that we gave the combo box the name BusinessUnitName.



Behind the scenes: The query that populates the reports

Like most good Access developers, I use queries to pull the data for my reports. In the Criteria row, I entered the expression




This expression tells Access: Look on the form named frm_BusinessUnitReportParameter and return the value assigned to BusinessUnitName. Notice that the name of the underlying field is [Business Unit ID].

Summing up

If you design Access reports or support end users who do, this tip gives you the ability to create a report interface that lets your users select criteria (set parameters) for their reports without the burden of knowing how to correctly spell and data-enter the report criteria. Your users can simply click on the dropdown arrow, select a parameter, and then run the report!

Is this tip helpful?

If you liked this edition of Jeff’s Quick Tips, please share it with the Microsoft Office users in your organization. If you have any questions about this tip, please post a comment below or send a note to [email protected]



Save Time with this New Employee Orientation Checklist

Have you ever had another manager in your company come running to you requesting a PC for a newly-hired employee who just started with the company?

This manager may not even have a place for their new employee to sit, but the employee won’t be productive until he or she has a working PC. Even though this emergency clearly is not your IT organization’s fault, you and your team still get blamed if you can’t deploy a PC immediately.

What’s worse is that the manager who failed to prepare for the new employee has created a morale problem within his own organization. Other employees are joking and talking among themselves about how poorly prepared the IT department is to onboard a new employee.

Don’t let this happen to you or one of your managers! Instead, take charge of the situation by organizing and preparing a Standard Operating Procedure to follow when a new employee joins your team.  To get prepared quickly and easily, use a New Employee Orientation Checklist.

Make the list, work the list

When it comes to setting up equipment for a new employee, there are several things you want to accomplish such as:

  • Getting a cube or office set up and ready for the employee to move in, including a working PC and a connection to a printer
  • Ordering equipment and supplies
  • Scheduling first day orientation sessions and a meeting with Human Resrouces for new employee paperwork
  • Introducing the employee to key components of the business
  • Bringing the employee up to speed on what’s going on within the company and the IT support organization
  • A quick tour of the building facilities

Using a checklist like the one I have used will help you start a new employee quickly and productively. As an added bonus, this checklist sets the tone that your organization is organized and focused.

Having a working PC on Day 1 is a big deal for employee morale, both for the new employee as well as your existing employees who see what’s going on.

Download the New Employee Orientation Checklist Here:

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7 things YOU can do to create a greener office

If you believe, like we do at ToolKit Café, that no man or woman is an island and that we all have a responsibility to take care of our planet, then we hope you enjoy this set of seven keys to being green at work.

1. Wear clothing that can adjust to the poor environmental controls that all offices seem to have.

This tip provides a virtually free and extremely easy way to use less energy. The large spaces and number of people in most offices make it virtually impossible to control the office environment to everyone’s satisfaction. Making it worse are the folks who hide small heaters under their desk. Don’t be one of those people. Instead, wear light clothing in layers, no matter what time of year. The ability to remove or add a jacket or sweater as  the office temperature fluctuates (or you move from room to room, meeting to meeting), enables you not only to be comfortable, but more productive.

2. Instruct your callers on enabling power management software.

The EPA estimates that providing computers with “sleep mode” reduces their energy use by 60 to 70 percent. Help Desk analysts who are concerned about unnecessary energy use are in a perfect position to encourage this practice. Many calls are filled with awkward moments where both the analyst and the caller are waiting for a reboot, a program to download, or any number of annoying computer delays. These times are a great opportunity to ask the caller if they are using power management and instruct those who aren’t. Don’t preach or even inform about the need to be green. Save that for your personal blog. If the caller isn’t interested, drop it. If there seems to be interest, use the time to set them up.

3. Turn off printers and other desktop devices when you leave work.

Many offices leave shared systems running during off hours. As wasteful as it is, it’s understandable. Waiting for printers and copiers to warm up is can be a hassle. A good solution is to work in a team. Ask coworkers who share your concern to take responsibility for turning devices off and on. If early birds are willing to take the power on responsibility those warm up times won’t affect productivity.

4. Create a Car pool forum or database for coworkers.

With gas prices creating more and more concern ride sharing is a great deal more attractive to many workers. Offer to set up a way for would be car poolers to find each other. If your company doesn’t have a employee forum ask management to allow or even help you create one for ride sharing. Green is hot so they may be more receptive than they were in the past.

5.  Clean up the old coffee mugs hanging around the office.

Most offices have break rooms with sinks. The cabinets under those sinks are generally loaded down with disgusting old mugs left by previous employees. Take the initiative to clean them out and offer them to employees who are still using paper or Styrofoam cups.

6. Reuse water bottles.

Even though we’re finding out that much bottled water comes from a tap and not a spring, we’re still buying it. Probably because a cold bottle of water is very convenient. Instead of throwing the plastic bottle in the recycling bin consider real recycling. Refill it with tap and put it in the fridge for the next day. It’s just as convenient as the $1.00 bottle in the vending machine and it’s free.

7. Don’t use cubicle lights when overheads are on.

Most cubicles are equipped with lighting below the overhead bins. They are great after hours when the overheads are turned off. During the day they are unnecessary and should be kept off.

How green are you?

We want to know what you think about these seven tips, so please post your comments below and share your tips for a greener office.

Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

Managing the dangers of IT support

Many years ago, when I was head of a regional IT support team for a very large corporation, I was asked to swap out a router card in one of our larger warehouses. Normally this would not have been a problem. We kept spare cards for all the routers and it was easy to schedule a 30-minute downtime while the work was done. However, this warehouse was different. For some reason, long before I took over support, the network center was installed in a box that hung from the ceiling, 30 feet up. To make physical changes, a tech had to stand in a cage while a forklift raised the cage to the top of the highest shelf. Once there the tech would step out of the cage and straddle an open area about three feet wide.

Fear versus Phobia

Some people refer to a fear of heights as a phobia. I think that is just wrong. Phobias are baseless fears. I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure falling from a 30-foot high rack to a concrete floor would have an adverse affect on my ability to keep the few brain cells I have left trapped in my head, not to mention what it would do to my limbs, neck, and spine.  I really did not want to change that card so I asked if any other team members were willing and got a volunteer right away. That might sound like problem solved, but the volunteer had a head, limbs, neck and spine as well, and even if he wasn’t worried about them, I was. I had no sleep the night before the scheduled change.

Research your Risks

The card change went off without a hitch and everyone laughed at me for being such a wimp, but I was not happy. As a team leader I felt like my first responsibility was to make sure that no one on the team was killed in the line of duty.  I know that sounds like an easy task, since we were in a suburban office building and fighting computer viruses instead of the Taliban, but when a regional manager demands people travel by fork lift, it becomes a problem. I needed to do some research.

Put Safety First

I found that, like all large companies, we had a corporate safety policy and we were not following it. I was able to arrange for special training in working in high places and safety gear. We still had to go up in the cage, but the cage was chained securely to the fork lift first. Also we got safety straps and hooks to secure us to the racks before we stepped out of the cage.   It made things a great deal safer.

What I learned from that experience is being prepared for potential danger and protecting your team is just as important for an IT manager as it is for beat cop. It may not come up as often but when it does you want to be ready. That’s true about everything in management. Few managers are prepared the first time an employee must be fired or when large numbers of assets are discovered missing.  We never forget a lesson we learn the hard way, but sometimes it’s better to learn from the experience of others. Mike Sisco has that experience and offers it to us in The Practical IT Manager Gold Series, 10 books can get an IT manager though any crisis. I highly recommend it to any and all IT managers. I also think it’s a great investment for the IT tech who would like to manage. IT’s never too early to learn to think like a pro and learn to lead a team practically.

What’s your danger zone?

Have you or members of your team had to deal with dangerous situations while trying to provide IT support? Post a comment below and tell us what you think about workplace dangers for IT professionals. Are your people at risk?

Update your security training with “Never click on any antivirus message EVER!”

IT managers of companies from county government offices to Fortune 500 companies have one very important thing in common: They employ humans. Sadly, no matter how much coaching and training and reminders we give users via email, Webinar, Web-based training, and PowerPoint presentations — sometimes they get it wrong. This is the story of one such user.

Ransomware strikes in 2013

I thought ransomware was relegated to mythical status, the Kraken of malware killed by the Perseus network perimeter operating system (PNPOS). But no. I got a call this week from a frantic user who said, “I got a message from AVG saying it found an infected file and to click here to remove it, and when I did, I got this weird screen saying the FBI had impounded my computer because of illegal activity, and I have to pay $500 to get the computer released!” Srsly.

Say what? I trotted myself down to the client’s office and sure enough, this user who should have known better had invoked a bad case of ransomware.  It said that if the user entered the numbers from a certain type of prepaid card, the computer would be released in 1 to 4 business days after that. (Y’right.)  My Emergency Repair Disks (ERDs) in hand, I rebooted and booted from CD and got error messages about a corrupt boot sector. I got to a command prompt and by DIR command there appeared to be data, but I couldn’t get devices recognized to copy files off. It was a mess.

Lesson Learned: Remind users about malware

We drilled a hole in the hard drive of that PC and configured a new one. This user was embarrassed because, frankly, she should have known better. It was hot, she was stressed, she clicked without thinking.  In big corporate network environments, we like to think it’s next to impossible for a user even to get a chance to enable malware. But if it gets through, someone will click on it.

Do you do periodic information security training with your users? If so, make sure that you remind users what you want them do if and when they counter suspicious emails or pop-up messages.  If you don’t do annual information security training for all users in your organization, start now. First, you can write a short email reminding All Users that if ever they see a message about “cleaning” or “removing an infected file” or the like, they should click on what? Class? Class? NOTHING! Remind your users to call the help desk if they get any suspicious email or pop-up messages on their work-provided computers.

Need a malware policy? Download our template as a free sample of our Ultimate IT Policy Toolkit!

If you don’t have a formal policy in place that tells users how you as IT manager are implementing antivirus solutions on your network, it may be hard to enforce violations of common sense IT policy, like, “don’t click on or download anything you weren’t expecting, even messages about infected files.”

The Malware Security Policy includes several rules that you can customize to define the malware policy for your organization. Here’s the rule that’s relevant to telling users what to do (and not to do) if they encounter malware:

Users must not attempt to eradicate computer viruses. If users suspect infection by a virus, they must immediately call the IT Department and refrain from attempting any type of troubleshooting on their own. Computer virus eradication must only be performed by authorized personnel who have been approved by the IT Department to do that work.

Download Toolkit Cafe’s Malware Security Policy Here!

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Have you dealt with ransomware?

If you or your users have encountered ransomware, share your experience by sending an email to [email protected] or by posting a comment below.


It’s the end of webmail as we know it

With apologies to R.E.M., it’s the end of webmail as we know it. Big, corporate webmail, that is. As a consulting IT manager, I  feel fine (about it), and so should you. To add your two cents to the discussion, please take a minute to participate in ToolkitCafe’s Summer Email Survey below.

Why your webmail policy should be no policy at all

Recently, I wrote about my feeling that IT managers should  have a clear email security in place so  users who bring their own devices or accept the devices issued by the company know what they’re supposed to do to protect private business information. In that piece, I reported that a large company was taking Outlook Web Access (OWA) away from their users.

In that environment, the IT Department also took away the ability to synchronize Outlook with plain Web mail. Smart phone users must install and use the approved application (GOOD) if they want to continue getting work emails on their phones. And users still have the option to use the company’s Virtual Private Network (VPN), but gone are the days when employees can log into work email via OWA from any hotel-lobby PC or wifi hot.

Take our survey and watch for the results

To share your opinion about the end of webmail, please post a comment below or, to comment privately, send a note to [email protected].



Take ToolKit Café’s Summer Email Poll

If you take away webmail, will your business operations implode?

Here at ToolKit Café, our virtual team members connect via Gmail accounts. However, we’ve heard from a number of readers who say their companies are changing the way they provide email access to their users. Please help us identify trends in email access by taking our Summer Email Poll. Bookmark and check back for the results.

Assess your IT capability and capacity with our IT Employee Skills Matrix

If you’re the new IT manager or consultant on the block, one of the first things you should do in your IT organization is conduct an IT skills assessment. A key component of this discovery process, determining the capability and capacity of your IT staff, will tell you what your organization can do and how much it can do in terms of providing IT support.

Failing to understand the “supply side” of IT support makes it impossible to manage your client’s expectations and achieve IT success.

An IT employee skills inventory can be accomplished quickly and easily using a simple tool–an IT Employee Skills Matrix.

This simple tool helps you quantify the skills you have and quickly identify the skill gaps that exist so you can prioritize training and education for your team.

The tool is completely customizable to add any skill type you want to list as a need in your organization, from soft skills like communication or presentation skills to very specific technical skills like Cisco router configuration or Crystal Reports writing.

Click here to download Mike’s Employee Skills Matrix


Quick steps:

  1. List your employees by name and responsibility in the first two columns. I like to group them by function (Programmers, Help Desk, PC Techs, etc.) so I can focus on each group.
  2. List the skills you need on your team in the columns at the top. You can be as specific or as general as you want. You should also list both technical and non-technical skills.
  3. If you have conducted an IT assessment, you should have gained a perspective as to how many resources you need for specific skills. If you haven’t done an assessment, now is a good time to look at it. Insert a row at the top of the template and call it “IT skills needed”. For each skill, put the number of people you think need to have this skill.
  4. Now, do your inventory. Work through each employee and put the number “1” in each cell reflecting he or she has the skill.
  5. The Total Row at the bottom will keep a running total of the total number of people you have in place with each skill.
  6. The GAP Row highlights where you lack sufficient number of people with each skill.

You can conduct an IT employee skills inventory quickly with this tool. You can use the results to assist in managing your support business. Even better, this assessment provides insight on where you have skills gaps so you can focus training or new hiring to address mission critical skill gaps.

Download Mike’s Employee Skills Matrix for Free!

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If you don’t have an email security policy, wake up! (and use our free sample policy)

Does your organization have a formal email security policy in place? If  that question makes you snicker and mutter to yourself, “Well, duh! Of course, we do,” congratulations. You’re a good and smart IT Manager.  Of all the IT policies in all the gin joints in all the world, a strong email security policy is one you can’t afford to be without.

Download our email security policy, please

email security policy live

If you’ve been too busy to implement an IT policy program — you know, because you’re putting out fires, hiring and managing good technicians, analysts, DBAs, programmers, and call center professionals, and configuring your Storage Area Network to keep up with an ever-growing mountain of user data and email messages — start today.  The folks at Toolkit Café will make it easy for you to get started. Just download our Email Security Policy.  It’s part of the Ultimate IT Policies Toolkit, and it’s easy to customize for your shop.


Click here to download the Email Policy Template

How to use the email security policy

The sample email security policy consists of five rules. The first four rules put all employees on notice that corporate email isn’t private and will be monitored and scanned for viruses.  (If you’re not currently monitoring email activity or scanning incoming messages for viruses, I’ll talk about what you should be doing in another rant.)  If you’re also scanning incoming or outgoing messages for sensitive information, you can customize this template to include a rule that informs users that outgoing messages will be scanned for content. If you want users to encrypt messages before they send sensitive information, you can add that rule, too.

The fifth rule prohibits using the company email system for “illegal, offensive, or harassing communications.” If your company doesn’t currently have a Code of Conduct or human resources policy that defines what constitutes illegal, offensive, or harassing communications, you can delete that rule.

After you customize the email security policy template, get it approved by your senior management team. Then publish that policy where your users can see it.

Whither email retention?

You might notice that the sample email policy is silent on how long copies of corporate email messages should be stored. That’s intentional, because most shops answer the question of “How long do we keep email messages?” in their Data Retention and Destruction policy.  If you don’t have a data retention and destruction policy, by all means, add a rule to your Email Security policy that establishes how long your company is going to retain email messages.  Depending on your industry, you may have to keep everything forever, or you may be able to delete all emails when they reach two years and one day old.

On another note: Whither Web mail?

I consult for a company whose management  recently asked the question, “Do we need to offer Web mail?” An audit of the Information Technology function included a finding that offering Outlook Web Access (OWA) posed a security risk, because employees can download and print company-owned documents from any computer with Internet access, using the Web mail portal.

After listening to a lot of whining from the lines of business, the IT manager determined that the risks of Web mail outweighed the benefits, and his company’s senior managers agreed.  They turned off the OWA site and implemented a program that allows employees to request smart phone access or a company-issued laptop when they  absolutely, positively MUST check their work email accounts when out of the office.

Does your company offer Web-based access to the company email system?  Post your thoughts in a comment below or drop me a line, and I’ll share the most interesting comments in another blog post.

Download The Email Security Template for Free!

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