Tech & Work

The golden rules for managing and retaining a solid staff

Even the best hires can languish on the vine if they're not treated with fairness and respect. Here are some rules to help you manage your people the right way.


By Jim Miotke, CompTIA A+, i-Net+, Network+ Certified

Finding outstanding employees can sometimes be a Herculean task. Far too often, managers feel like the battle is over once they’ve placed good people in the positions they have open. But savvy managers know that this isn’t the case. What you do going forward to retain and cultivate your staff is the real challenge.

Here are, in my opinion, the 10 most important behaviors a manager can practice.

1. Responsibly delegate authority
If there’s one thing an educated, certified tech does not need today, it’s somebody micromanaging his or her every move. Let your people do their job; that’s why you hired them, right? All IT managers at every level know this fact, yet there are those who still haven't let go of the reins.

If your new hire isn't cutting it, cut your losses, move on, and get the right person for the job. The cost of hiring/firing is expensive, but does it outweigh a server crash or 20 gigabytes of data being compromised? Probably not.

2. Scorn in private, praise in public
This is every manager’s credo, but sometimes it’s overlooked or bypassed. Your people need to know when they're on track, when they're off topic, when to speak up, when to bite their tongues, and when to say when. Publicly reward those that excel, and privately discipline those that screw up.

3. Rethink, review, and reward
One of my biggest concerns as a manager is: "Do my people think they're doing quality, productive work?" This evaluation strategy has enabled me to better gauge my expectations, the goals I have set for my department, and the goals my bosses have expected me to attain. Overall, this strategy has helped me to nip a lot of potential problem areas in the bud.

I employ an evaluation process in which I expect my people, and those beneath them, to do self-evaluations on a monthly basis, and, on a tertiary basis (every three months, as opposed to quarterly), I try to evaluate or review each employee as well. From this point, all projected bonuses/pay raises can be distributed throughout the year, and a single deciding factor won't stop me from advancing people who otherwise deserve the reward.

Let’s say Joe is supposed to be in line for a dollar raise, and one factor decides he isn't getting it. He's worked all year long—in his mind—for nothing. If he's being reviewed more than twice per year, and he has received two 33-cent raises already, then the last 33 cents won't be such a letdown. Besides, he will have been recognized twice already during the year. This process has made me some enemies, but, more often than not, it has proved very effective. This tracking process keeps you tuned in to your people and leads to more effective management.

4. Pay your people what they’re worth
Whatever salary calculators you’re using, keep your people—at least within scope—financially content. You can also think outside of strict salary raises if that type of money isn’t available, and come up with other ways to boost your team’s financial happiness.

For example, one of the deals I’ve used is discount vacation packages. Get the company you work for signed up, and then your company can buy vacation packages dirt cheap. When your senior database administrator needs two weeks' vacation time in early spring to take the family to Disney, buy their airfare, hotel accommodations, or rental car through the company. Have "ABC Widget Company" corporate logos/trademarks splattered all over their freebie packaging. Another option is to offer a no-fee rental car if your people are having car troubles, or offer a ride in via a company van.

5. Make it a big deal when your people do really good things
I was once a developer of a very extensive project with many subdepartments, and we were nearing the end of the project—according to the timeline. The truth was that we were far from finished. A colleague of mine made great strides with a single module of code that quickly tied many of the processes together, and, because of his efforts, we were coming very close to getting our timeline back. My coworker didn't need to go the extra mile, putting in a ton of free overtime, but he did, and the project leapt forward.

The programmer said nothing about his accomplishment. But our little team treated him to pizza and beer that night, and we reveled in his accomplishments.

This programmer ended up leaving the team before we finished the project because no one from management acknowledged him or his efforts. Was it simply his job to further the project? Sure. Was it a management requirement to take him aside and give him an ego boost by simply saying, "Great job, Joe!"? Absolutely.If you're a manager, and you can't do this kind of thing, change jobs.

6. Listen, listen, listen, then do, do, do
Whether it’s good or bad, people talk about their coworkers. Listen to everything they say, and try to digest all of it. If you can afford a perpetuating review process, try to tie the "things people say" about an employee into the interview process during that employee’s reviews. Use lead-in type questions to get to problem areas. For example, if you hear from others that an employee is hard to communicate with, in the review, ask that employee, "How would you judge your communication skills?" and "How do you think your coworkers would rate your communication skills?"

Make the review process hinge on your employees’ self-evaluations. If they think they don't deserve a raise/promotion and if, in all fairness, they don’t deserve it, don't give them one.

7. Include your team in key management decisions
On Friday, don't tell your team, "On Monday, we're switching from Internet Information Server to Red Hat Linux 9.0, and everybody needs to be ready for the migration." If you're lucky, you might have one or two of all 11 vacancies filled in a month or two.

If you’re migrating software via an executive decision, bring in everyone that it will affect from an IT point of view. And I mean everyone. Be frank about the decision management has made, and leave no room for error. If the move is simply to save the company money, make all of that information available to those who will be affected by the move, and tell them that this is going to save the company money.

8. Be fair
Always have a single straightforward policy implementation plan, with alternatives where specifically applicable. Don't show favoritism. Do reward. Don't disregard. Do make dissatisfaction known and resolve issues. Don't walk away from pressing issues. Do make yourself available. Don't jump to conclusions. Do get all of the facts. Be objective.

9. Rethink the obvious
Just because it worked on paper and in the beta/test stage does not necessarily mean you’ll have a smooth migration/implementation. Ask for questions, then ask those who asked the questions to provide solutions. Dismantle the solutions and plug in what-ifs. If the budget permits, get outside consulting/help for problem areas/processes. Never be afraid to ask for help or better clarification. Retool and move forward; look back and reanalyze.

10. Never accept complacency
Always strive to be informed, to recertify, to reevaluate, to be a leader. Make do with what you are budgeted with, but always try to squeeze every ounce of energy out of every tool at your disposal.

Jim Miotke is the president/CEO of idbDeveloper.com.

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