CXO

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.

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