Leadership

New IT manager: How to hit the ground running

The first 30 days in your new IT manager position sets the stage for things to come. Here are some strategies for gearing up, from assessing the present state of your staff to outlining your expectations.

Your performance during the first month as a new IT manager is critical to your success. Whether you are taking your first job as an IT manager or moving to a management role in another company, the first 30 days on the job will set the stage for either success or struggle.You've worked long and hard to get the shot at becoming "the manager." You are considered one of the best in the business in your technical role, well liked by your peers and managers, and you are conscientious and hard working. While that may sound like a formula for success, it may not be. Obviously, your technical accomplishments are a plus, but the skills you need in a management position are very different. Being a player and part of a team is entirely different than leading the team. The transition and how you handle it are the keys to success.

Learn to accomplish through the team

The best advice I received when transitioning from a technical role to a management role was this: "You can't remain the technical expert if you expect to become an excellent manager." This doesn't mean that you shouldn't be capable of dealing with technical issues. The difference is that the manager focuses on how to identify and apply the right technical resources to solve an IT problem, not trying to solve the issues by him or herself.The bottom line is that if you are solving day-to-day technical issues, you aren't managing, and, when that's the case, the organization is accomplishing far less than what it could. It's more important to understand that you can accomplish more as a team than as individuals.

I have a firm belief that IT management skills can be learned just as you can learn to play a better game of golf. It's also true that some people will simply become stronger managers than others even if exposed to exactly the same body of knowledge. I also believe that too often the weaknesses that exist in IT managers are a result of not being exposed to what it takes to become a successful manager. Learn the basic traits of the successful IT manager and incorporate them into your "management style" and you will surpass many that never "get it."

Take full advantage of the honeymoon

The first 30 days as a new IT manager are your honeymoon period. Take full advantage of this period by first understanding what people need and want from their IT manager.

Senior management wants:

  • Proactive leadership
  • Predictable results
  • Achieved goals
  • Results that make a difference (especially financial)
  • No headaches

The IT staff wants:

  • Direction and to know what's going on in the company
  • Focus
  • Leadership to help them achieve more
  • Management support
  • To be part of a successful organization and company

In the first 30 days, you have an opportunity to show others by example the type of organization you plan to manage. Here's how:

First, assess the organization's needs and list every issue on a sheet of paper.

If you aren't sure how to assess your IT situation, solicit help from other IT managers or someone that you know and trust from outside the company. The TechRepublic download "IT due diligence report template" is an excellent tool that would help a young manager by providing additional structure to an assessment.

Second, prioritize the initiatives that address your most critical issues.

Again, use seasoned managers to help you quantify and prioritize the issues that exist. A sign of strength is when a new manager asks for help, not when he or she tries to go it alone. Pick out the items that are the most needed, have positive financial impact, and/or that can be addressed quickly. These issues should make up a big part of your immediate plan.

Third, develop a 90-day plan.

This is the key to gaining initial management credibility with everyone around you. The plan is the substance that people are looking for that sets you apart from other managers. When you develop it, be sure you have plenty of room to achieve or exceed your plan. Fail and you lose credibility; succeed and your credibility goes up a notch.

Your 90-day plan should include the following:

  • Top three to five priorities for your organization to meet the needs of the company and include tangible justification for doing each project
  • Priorities that address immediate client satisfaction issues
  • Skill gaps or a lack of depth in the IT department and your plan to address that
  • A sense of what your direction will be after your immediate tactical issues are taken care of (i.e., what you are positioning the organization for)
  • Major responsibility assignments and focus within your organization

Before you roll out a new plan, always verify your plan with senior management of the company to ensure it is consistent with company objectives. No one wants a new manager coming in and going left when everyone else is pushing to the right.

Most managers do not take a proactive approach to building a plan that states quantitatively where he or she is headed. The tendency is to wait until a plan is asked for. Show initiative and ensure your plan syncs up with the company's objectives. Senior managers need help from those who can take charge in a positive manner and who can achieve results through others.

You will also become a hit with your staff when they see a plan come together quickly. Your IT staff members want to achieve positive results, and they become empowered and motivated to achieve more when they can see the target clearly articulated by their manager. Even more powerful is when key members of the IT staff are able to help you develop the plan. As long as they're getting credit for the results, you're in good shape. Always remember that when the team is successful, its manager is successful. Managers should always give credit to the team for successes and take the hit for failures. Do this and your troops will rally behind you under the toughest situations.

Bottom line for IT Leaders

Your performance during the first month as a new IT manager is critical to your success.  Initial impressions are worth a lot, so take advantage of them by creating a fast start.

7 comments
Meesha
Meesha

Thanks Mike Sisco, this was a very validating article on "better" (best) management practices. Some years ago, as I approached my new senior IT position, it was very clear that although I loved being tactical, I was best deployed as a strategic asset for the organization. Yes, I talk techie and do so everyday with my staff. However, I also do "business speak" which is expected at the senior levels. I often use a 90 day action plan template for both the strategy and communication to all levels in the organization. It helps me keep abreast of what the organization wants, needs, expects, etc. while also allowing for huge input by IT staff while developing their individual workplans. Doing this in 90 day increments is far easier for all than simply trying to task out a five year strategic plan. The 90 day Action Plan starts with the six Pillars - People, Service, Quality, Finance, Growth and Innovation. And then lists six criteria - 1.Issues/Concerns/Survey Items ("What do I need to improve?"), 2. Goals (From What to What?), 3.Action Steps (How will I accomplish this goal and who will help?), 4. Target Dates (When will this action be taken/how often?),5.Time (# of hours per week/month), and 6. Results/Measure of Success (Progress/Status). Filling in this grid in a consultative process ensures everyone is on the same page at almost exactly the same time. Expectations and communications are much clearer for all. Overall productivity increases, even for those less than "stellar" performing staff members. Give the action plan a try; I have no doubts it will be a management tool you will use over and over again.

YourAverageManager
YourAverageManager

Mike, the article provides good advice at any management level. One CIO advised me to listen, take notes and learn for the first 90 days, let them get used to you first, establish relationships, and rational plans based on good communications and facts. I would like to take a look at the "IT due diligence report template", is it possible to post the correct link here?

WiseITOne
WiseITOne

It would have been nice to read this article back in February when I first started; however, I think (and not to boast) I did good so far. I have a unique situation where I am responsible for tactical issues and strategic growth, so the comment about not being technical doesn't apply since I have the expectation of doing everything that deals with communication: Server room, end user, security, video conference room, cell phones, VOIP...everything. It is an awesome job and I love it. Honestly, I don't really understand what a manager does that sits around all day stragizing about what to do next. I just don't believe they actually do much besides try and think of the next big thing. Am I wrong? It was a good article though and I did tackle three large projects: server room upgrade, cell phone corp. account, and VOIP upgrade with a T1 upgrade. I gave plenty of time for project completion: 90 days and communicated the phases of each project.

gq_4_2000
gq_4_2000

Could you point me out to where this article is located? I just got thrust into this position and I have more than a little to keep me busy. Any and all help would be helpful. I need to know how to setup the policies that I need as well as how to do the inventory. I need help with licensing as well as where to order and how. Please help.

wurzil
wurzil

I am a new IT Manager and only been in this position for a few months. I've been going it alone for several years and they finally decided I could look after our systems! But I now have new challenges of dealing differently with senior management, I have more backing from the MD, and I have my first real live human to train! So I found this article useful on all these fronts, as it is completely different being a manager of systems and staff, then just being a techie. Please excuse my lazy wording as it is very early and I haven't woken up yet!!

jpk
jpk

Wade, Sounds to me like you're a one-man IT shop. Although, and I've worked for those companies myself, the title granted is often IT Manager or Director, it's a little misleading in my experience. There's quite a bit of difference between being responsible for the direct technical needs and being responsible to manage a team of people that perform those duties. I think that's where your confusion stems from. When managing a technical team and being responsible to senior management for the productivity of that team, there is a whole lot of "stragizing" (sic) needed to make that happen.

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