Leadership

Six ways to succeed with a new staff

Getting promoted into a CIO role is exciting... until you need to start managing people! Benny Sisko provides you with six tips for being successful with your new staff.

For the new CIO, assuming responsibility for a staff can sometimes seem like a daunting challenge, especially if you've come up through the IT ranks.  While there are certainly many ways to screw it up, there are also many ways to succeed.  Here are six tips gleaned from my own sometimes painfully acquired experience.

Establish a vision

No matter how long you've been a CIO, your team has to know that you have big things - or at least a direction - in mind.  No one wants to work toward unclear goals that may or may not line up with the overall organizational strategy. Make sure that you continually communicate a vision to your staff and make sure that they have enough knowledge and information to be able to take part in informing that vision.

Get the right people on the team

Only lazy employees want other lazy employees around and employees with bad attitudes can destroy a team. Perhaps the hardest decisions that have to be made are those revolving around the people side of the organization.  After all, if a router goes bad, you don't mind chucking it out the door, but even the most negative or the laziest employee still needs a livelihood and it's far from easy to make the ultimate decision regarding the fate of another person.

That said, there comes a point when you can't put it off anymore. If you have a boat anchor on your staff that's bringing down the entire team and you've exhausted your other options, it's time to end the employer/employee relationship and bring someone in that can do the job and with a good attitude.  I've gone through this process and it's painful, but almost two years after I fired one-quarter of my staff, I now have a team on the ground that I trust. Our customer feedback ratings are through the roof, overall productivity is higher and no one on the staff feels like they're pulling more weight than someone else. I'm constantly stopped in the hallway to be told about the "service with a smile" that our staff gets from the new people.  The lesson: In the short run, letting people go is a gut-wrenching activity, but it's sometime the right thing to do.

Delegate... or at least try to

Right or wrong, my level of delegating is directly proportional to my faith in my staff. At the end of the day, I'm the one on the hook for making sure that IT's priorities are met so if I don't trust, it's hard to let go. With a robust, trustworthy staff it's been much easier to delegate in a way that makes sense for both me and the staff.  For those CIOs that have risen through the ranks, this is probably one of the most difficult behaviors to learn. We're taught to be hands-on problem solvers and all of a sudden, we're supposed to be expecting <gasp>  other people to do it for us!  Here's the ugly truth: If you don't learn to delegate, one of two things will happen: 1) Your staff will quit; 2) You will be in the unemployment line.

Involve others in key discussions

As the CIO, it's really easy to get stuck in a rut of attending the high level meetings yourself.  Of course, you should attend these meetings, but don't hog the glory. In my organization, my number two attends executive meetings when I'm away and, on occasion, joins me even when I'm attending. Our organization is also in the midst of a strategic planning dialog.  I've invited another manager on my team - below my number two - to take part in these discussions with me. My goal is to broaden his horizons beyond his day-to-day world and the effort is definitely paying off.  In the past year, he's clearly begun to have a better understanding of the "why" behind my actions in ways that I could never explain in words.

Clearly define priorities. This goes along with defining a vision, but whereas defining a vision is a sort of up-front activity, priority definition is an ongoing effort and can be harder than it sounds.  Remember, what you say to someone is only half of the story.  What they hear is the other half and can be wildly different.  When you assign a project or task, make sure the receiver understands its priority against other tasks and the full scope.  Obviously, over time, you'll learn to read each other better and might not have to be quite as detailed, but make sure you both understand your communication limits before you start making assumptions.

Overshare information

I schedule my staff meeting for immediately after executive staff meetings.  During my staff meetings, I share as much as possible with my staff.  Obviously, I don't go into sensitive personnel issues or other items that could be problematic.  However, my staff knew immediately from me that we wouldn't be getting raises this year and why.  Some people in other departments didn't know until an email went out a couple of weeks later.  I can tell you that my staff reacted very, very well to the bad news.  No one was mad or angry with the company.  I asked them why they weren't mad and they told me that I'd been keeping them well-apprised of our budget difficulties so they weren't surprised in the least by the salary news.  I operate on the principle that I never want my boss to be surprised... on the flip side, I don't want my staff to be unpleasantly surprised, either.

Listen and don't be afraid to back down

This one is the most important point, so I've saved it for last.  When it comes to your job, listen twice as much as you talk.  When it comes to staff, listen to their concerns and listen to their sometimes vehement pushback.  If they're right, give in.  If they're wrong, don't.  I've been on both sides of this before.  In a previous position, I had two members of my staff in my office arguing that they could not possibly complete the project list that I had put before them in the time frame I specified.  Not once did they provide me with good reasons beyond "we can't do it" so I stood my ground.  In my current position, I had a staff member raise concerns about an upgrade schedule I had proposed.  She came to me with a bulleted list of items that would be affected and reasons why waiting a month made more sense.  She was right so I backed down and we changed the schedule.  In both cases, the end result was fantastic.  In "project list" example I listed, on my last day, one of the people that had been pushing back thanked me for pushing them to new heights both in their skill levels and in the way that they were perceived by the organization.

Summary

I'm definitely not claiming to be some sort of superhuman here; for every success story, there are many more "teachable moments" that have probably helped me to learn more than all of the successes combined.  But, when it comes to managing my staff, these are six items that have served me well.

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

21 comments
don.howard
don.howard

I wish all management people would learn this lesson.

highlander718
highlander718

If one does not know these basic things, one is not only not enough prepared to be a CIO but would have problems in middle management positions as well, therefor I cannot see how he/she would even get to think about being a CIO.

kldosman
kldosman

Thanks But those strategies needs a person with strong personality and self confidence

jwhitby3
jwhitby3

Well written article. Regarding letting go of the old staff. There is little question that if people are underperforming, then something needs to be done, no question. However, it's deciding what that something is, that can be the real challenge. Some people would be amazed at what sitting down with your staff one on one and just listening can do for your team. I don't mean why they are slacking at work, listen to what is happening in their life OUTSIDE of work. If you have a large staff this may take a while. Then again, Rome wasn't built in a day. I realize this comes under the heading "all other options", but it may well make all the difference.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Just a cautionary note, your 'old' staff might not be lazy, they may have simply given up. Not many successes have to be unpraised stolen or ignored in favour of the last failure, before you won't get anymore... A poor team is generally a subconscious choice by their manager, sometimes a conscious one. Turning that around by wholesale replacement means little if the underlying causes aren't corrected. 10 out of 10 for listen more than you speak, can't and won't are two different animals.

gpolens
gpolens

Spot on. There are few blogs that I agree more with.

Techtoo
Techtoo

Well, before letting that "one-quarter of staff in my team" go, I would ask myself whether those staff have had performance problem long before or they just started become not so productivity since I have taking over the team. If the answer is the latter, I would do a self-evaluation first.

Mordsith
Mordsith

I second that one. Even if it's bad news, I'd rather hear it first from an upfront manager than second hand - or worse yet, distorted from a little too much time in the gossip mill - from another employee.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

The first 1999, were how to lose convincingly at golf. :D

JamesRL
JamesRL

As I was explaining to a younger staff member who wondered why we hadn't let go a low performer earlier, your own staff are at least a known quantity. They have presumably been trained and have experience in the organization. It is prudent from a management perspective to give them the chance to succeed. A manager may have to provide coaching, training, tools whatever to help. If you have done a "reasonable" amount and the employee isn't engaged, isn't trying, doesn't care, then its time to think of termination. Many managers are too lazy to go through these kinds of steps. But there are no guarentees that new hires will be an improvement, unless the manager is a better interviewer than performance coach. James

fatman65535
fatman65535

The reason why some staff members may appear to be "lazy" is because they have been demoralized due to excessive cutbacks, and layoffs. Another demoralizer is seeing executives rake in bonuses, while the 'rank and file' keep on taking the hit. You can continue to believe in your fantasy of "laziness" in these situations; but IMHO, you are only deluding yourself. One last comment, those companies that have treated their 'rank and file' workers like expendable commodities; may get a dose of reality when the economy turns around. That reality will be increased employee churn. When employees have options as to a choice of employers, the dirt bag employers will be 'expendable'. What goes around.........

JamesRL
JamesRL

I can only play golf with friends, no one else has the patience.... James

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

who punished failure and stole success, leaving you with a demoralised team, simply going thru the motions. What would constitute a reasonable effort? A buck up or you are out speech? Lots' of waffle about how people are our most important asset and a pay cut, because you are not duing well? Even worse at the monent of course, becuase it would be difficult to go for the simplest option and buy your way out it! I've worked for far more lazy people than I've worked with, given that my personal choice is to work with my managers..... Doesn't matter how well you interview if you then commence to manage your new enthusiastic hire poorly. Might as well have kept the previous lazy one and saved the company some money.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Don't make it sound like there are no lazy employees. Your tale doesn't fit companies like the one I work for. No one got raises this year at any level. No bonuses, except for the hourly direct labor employees, those on the bottom-most rung, who recently received $500. Now explain away the lazy employees, because some of them are still here. As to those who are demoralized, I assume they're looking for other work. They may not be able to find anything, but if they aren't even looking they bear partial responsibility for their moral.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

through, it will happen after this one as well. Any organisation capable of coming thru the recession, will have a small core of very effective people, judging when to stop crapping on them before they've already gone, is something very few companies seem to get right..

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Hooking the ball so it lands behind the tee, doesn't qualify. :p

JamesRL
JamesRL

As I mentioned in another post in another thread, one of my employers paid bonuses on customer and employee satisfaction. Managers were expected on working on improving those scores or get no bonus. And I can tell you my current employer tracks that, and I will find out at employee review time. James

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

staff retention as managerial success. The OP seemed to have an implicit assumption that 'lazy staff' could be fixed by a swap. Might be true, there again likely not. Either they are being rewarded for laziness, or they aren't being rewarded for anything more, in my experience.

JamesRL
JamesRL

You do have to act on "lazy" or incompetent employees. But you do have to give them the opportunity to improve. My company never cuts base pay. But they do have demotions, and when that happens it impacts bonus levels. I know a couple of staff who have been taken out of supervsior roles because clearly they were not a good fit. But both are contributing well as individuals now. If a bad manager was negatively impacting the a large team, and had a long track record of it, I'd be less inclined to give them a long time to get their act together. It would be more like a few months and if they can't improve then out. But the problem with lazy managers is that they avoid having the conversation. James