CXO

Boost performance by training your technical stars in management skills

Many IT personnel are promoted to the level of manager because of their technical skills and may not have the management skills to handle the job. Apply these tips for getting your technical managers trained.


CIO Republic’s monthly column, CIO HR Corner, focuses on helping IT executives and leaders find the right answers and approaches for staffing and personnel issues. If you have a question you’d like CIO Republic columnist Peter Woolford to answer, e-mail it to us.

Question
Normally in our IT organization, people are promoted due to their technical knowledge. The fact is, many of these people would benefit from some kind of management training. Can you recommend any programs that I can implement for my technical managers?

Answer
You raise a great point. Technical people typically ask for technical training, but often what they need most is managerial, people-skills, and leadership training.

You aren't alone in your desire to add soft skills to your technical staff. Consider this quote from the 3/17/03 issue of Business Week: "IBM is spending $100 Million to teach 30,000 employees to lead, not control their staff, so workers won't feel like cogs in a machine."

The types of training that would benefit your group fall into several skill categories: understanding people, leading people, and managing projects.

Engineers and technologists typically aren't the best at reading people. A number of programs related to reading people are available, ranging from simple to numbingly complex. The simpler programs often provide the greatest benefit with the smallest time investment. A number of these programs categorize people's personalities into four quadrants. Some systems use animals and others use descriptive labels. (For example, a reserved, cautious person is an Owl in one system and an Analytical in another.) These systems are simple enough to teach to all of your management team, or even better, to your entire department.

The Wilson Learning model, the one I know best, can dramatically improve people's ability to understand one another. I learned a simple version years ago and it is now ingrained in our company culture. The offerings on the Wilson Learning Web site are quite extensive and could give you a wide range of choices for training your team.

Not all training needs to be formal. A management book that builds on this reading-people premise is You've Only Got Three Seconds: How to Make the Right Impression in Your Business and Social Life by Camille Lavington. Instead of focusing on how to read people, Camille teaches you how to present yourself.

The book starts:

"THEY’VE GOT YOUR NUMBER

Get used to it. The real world has your number. It only takes people three seconds to know where you’re coming from. Within a few seconds they can size you up. It’s not a comforting prospect to be judged so hastily, but that’s the way it is.”

The book takes you through considerable self-examination, so you can plan for the impression you want to present. You could make this book or a similar one the basis of a training session for your staff.

Leadership coaches and clubs
I also recommend two types of leadership programs: leadership coaches and leadership clubs. Both programs are much more involved than evaluating social styles and require much greater time commitments. Also be aware that they are tailored to improve the performance of an individual manager, not the entire management team.

A leadership coach is typically an outside consultant assigned to a particularly promising manager. The purpose of the relationship is to make that manager highly effective and to groom the manager for rapid promotion. The coach will work with the manager to enhance strengths and correct weaknesses. The coach will teach the manager the latest management techniques, with advice on how to apply them immediately and directly within the company. Note that this program will be much more effective if the coach is from outside the company. The coached manager can then focus on improving leadership skills and working through difficult situations and issues with the coach without fear of recrimination.

The leadership coach approach is highly customizable. On the other hand, it is costly and helps only one manager. If your training resources are limited, you may want to distribute resources around the management team more evenly.

A leadership club is another highly effective way to improve the management talent in your company. For example, a popular program in Boston is the Regional Leadership Forum from the Society for Information Management.

This yearlong program focuses on leadership, priorities, and values. The group meets monthly, reviews a management book, and discusses how to apply the ideas in their own companies. In addition, participants attend several weekend retreats. The typical feedback at year-end is that this program is a "life-changing experience." Again, however, only one manager from a given company typically attends the program each year.

A low-budget alternative would be to organize a book review club yourself. Have your managers take turns leading the discussion on a management book each month.

Another option that spans hard and soft skills is methodology training. It's appropriate for a team, and this training is not as "soft" as the programs I've mentioned. You might consider training your staff in the latest development methodologies such as Agile methods. There are also a number of project management programs available—one of the more popular ones is PMI certification.

Don't forget to train yourself
One other thought for you: Maybe you're the one who needs the training. Have you considered how all of your technical managers would benefit from an improvement in your own managerial skills? Maybe the first priority is to get you connected with a leadership coach. You and your new coach can then decide which team program makes the most sense for your group and your budget.

Whatever your decision, bear in mind that successful projects don't happen by accident. Start by evaluating the skills of your team (both as a unit and as individuals), identifying your resources, and establishing training objectives. If you’re lucky enough to have in-house HR and training resources, tap into them. By doing your homework, you should be able to arrive at a customized training model that will not only accelerate team members’ personal and professional development but boost performance and retention as well.

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