Tactical Advice

7 Management Tips That Can Make a Good IT Staff Great

This story appears in the November 2005 issue of BizTech Magazine.

You can have the best-qualified information technology staff with the hottest technical skills, but without good management, it's unlikely they'll perform at the top of their game.

IT management consultants and CIOs from both small and large companies offer their best-practices management techniques to get the most from your IT team.

1: Empower Your Employees

Give employees a role in making decisions and let them implement their ideas.

"IT people are happiest when they feel they are making a significant contribution to the organization," says David Luce, CIO of Rockefeller Group International, a commercial real estate company in New York City. "Make people feel more involved by zeroing in on business processes, so that they feel part of it in the work that they do."


2: Create a Learning Environment

Promote personal and professional growth. "It's important for technology people to feel that they have an opportunity to grow," says Nancy Markle, a veteran CIO who formerly worked for Arthur Andersen of Chicago and Fannie Mae of Washington, D.C.


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If possible, offer training and career-planning opportunities so they can develop their strengths and satisfy interests. This can build stronger loyalty than just giving raises. "The typical bonus or pay raise has a motivating effect for about 48 hours," says Stephen Pickett, CIO of Penske, a transportation services company in Reading, Pa.


3: Evaluate Frequently

Review your employees' performance more often than once a year. Many Japanese companies require personal evaluations every six months, points out John Stevenson, CIO of Sharp Electronics of Mahwah, N.J. "It's a tremendous tool that helps us get in touch with each person's motivations and what makes them happy," Stevenson says.


4: Build a Team

Don't just give orders, but try to have the IT staff work together as a team. "IT people are experts in their field. They don't like to be subject to arbitrary control," says Naomi Stanford, a business transformation consultant at SiloSmashers, an IT management consulting company in Fairfax, Va.

When an IT team works well together and accomplishes its goals, the personal and professional satisfaction becomes a reward in itself and a great motivator for the next project, Stanford says.

Especially in small businesses, the entire company should function as a team; managers need to be willing to pitch in personally to finish a project, says Christopher Downs, senior vice president at New Resources Consulting, an IT management consultant in Milwaukee.

"Show your staff that you're willing to work supportively to ensure their collective success," Downs says.Downs recalls when, as an IT manager, he was in charge of rolling out new PCs to more than 500 salespeople at 19 sales offices. Time was short, resources were scarce and Downs had to train all the salespeople as well. His boss offered to go to sales offices to help with the training. "Tell me where you need help," said his boss. "I'll work for you that week."


5: Encourage Communication

"There is no such thing as too much communication," says Alain Benzaken, vice president of technology for TheLadders.com, an Internet job placement firm in New York. "Technology people don't tend to communicate too well, but it is one of the skills we look for in our hiring interviews."

Ask for employees' opinions, and help them learn to speak in business terms rather than technical terms. "This helps [IT staff members] to become more business-oriented, to think like a business person and to talk the language that business people speak," Markle adds.

Most important, the CEO and IT manager need to be able to communicate easily with each other. CEOs should be able to rely on their IT managers to help them understand what they need to know about technology.

"If you're not comfortable talking about technology with your IT manager, then either get your IT manager a coach or get yourself a different IT manager," Markle says. On the other hand, CEOs need to be willing to go the extra mile to understand technology, at least on a basic level.


6: Ensure Alignment

Make sure IT staff understand how technology actually meshes with the business' mission and strategy. Have IT employees work with users in different parts of the company, perhaps even doing a user's job for a day, Stanford suggests. When giving your IT staff an assignment, describe it in terms of the associated business goal: Raise productivity by 20 percent, for example. This helps them recognize their strategic role in the company, Stanford says.


7: Watch Their Backs

Protect your IT people from the encroachments of people seeking technical help. Make sure managers in the company don't swamp the IT team with unreasonable demands, Benzaken says.

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